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Index to Wisconsin Brewery and Related Articles


Local History Index - Index to Wisconsin Brewery and Related Articles


Pabst Brewing Company

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly, copyright 1996

Last Revised 01/11/2016


PABST, Frederick, one of the best known and most enterprising of Milwaukee's business men, is of Dutch ancestry, although his forefathers for several generations have been natives of Germany. 

    In 1470 Paul Pabst van Ohorn and his brother, Julius Pabst van Polsenheim, whose father had been executed at Antwerp for participation in some revolutionary proceedings, and his estate, doubtless confiscated, left Holland and settled in Saxony; and it is to these brothers that the German family of Pabst trace their origin. Frederick Pabst is the son of Gottlieb and Frederika Pabst, who were natives of Thuringen in Saxony; and in the little village of Nicolausreith, which was their home, Frederick was born on the 28th of March, 1836. The Page 253 father possessed something of an state, and was a man of importance in his native place; but he had heard of the large possibilities for enterprise and effort in America, and having friends in Milwaukee, he determined to see the "land of promise" for himself. Selling his property in Germany, he, with his wife and boy, sailed for America in 1848. After a short stay in New York the family came on the Milwaukee. Her they remained but a few months, when they went to Chicago, as the more promising place, specially for the boy. There he found employment in the Mansion House, and subsequently, the New York House, at five dollars a month and board. These positions he occupied for something over two years; in the meantime his mother had did of cholera, and the boy, now left largely to his own devices for a living, and having a passion for the traffic that is carried on by water, and an ambition to is to importance in that line, he secured a position as cabin boy in one of Captain Sam. Ward's steamers which were plying on the great lakes. He saved his earnings and as he was advanced from time to time to more important positions and his wages were increased, he ere long found himself possessed of a considerable sum of money. This he invested in the line of his ambition, and became part owner of the steamer Comet. By the time he was twenty-one he had advanced to the position of captain of the steamer of which he had become part owner. Hence his title of captain. This business be followed for several years; and, as it was then much more profitable than it is now, Captain Pabst ere long found himself in possession of a handsome property. 

    In 1862, Captain Pabst was married to Marie Best, daughter of Philip Best, the early owner of the Best brewery. Captain Pabst, with that business sagacity which has always characterized him, saw in this brewery the germ of what Dr. Sam Johnson pronounced, in a similar case, "the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice," and he determined to change his business, and secure  an interest in it. Converting his steamer and other property into cash, he invested it in the brewing company, and this was the beginning of his great fortune. From his connection with the brewery dates a new era in its history. The captain infused into it, at once, something of his own indomitable energy, and it leaped almost immediately into commanding prominence among the institutions of the kind in this country. He introduced into it new methods, new machinery, new facilities for the manufacture of beer, and greatly increased the amount of the product and relatively reduced the cost. His ambition was not satisfied--he wanted a larger market for the product than merely the local on, and he established agencies in all the leading cities of the country, so that now the consumption of Milwaukee beer outside of the city is as 9 to 1. This beer is not all consumed in the United States, but much of it s exported to foreign countries. It is probably not true that Captain Pabst is entitled to all the credit for the wonderful growth of this business, but a large share of it is his. When he embarked in the business, he was ignorant of its details, but he went diligently to work to familiarize himself with them, and it was not long before he was as well informed in all departments of the trade as if he had been bred to it, for he had studied it from all its sides, and his knowledge was more comprehensive than that of the professional manufacturer could be. The capital stock of the Pabst Brewing company is ten millions of dollars, and its annual product over one million barrels, making it the largest brewery in the world. 

    But Captain Pabst is not only a brewer. He is a business man of broad views, and has done much to benefit Milwaukee, both in a material and from an artistic point of view. He was the principal force in establishing the Wisconsin National bank, and among the fine buildings which owe their origin to him are the present St. Charles Hotel building, the office building on the corner of East Water and Wisconsin streets, and the Pabst theater, and he has contributed in various ways not only to the beautifying of the city, but to its fame as the metropolis of the state and its liberality in good works. His princely gift of fourteen thousand dollars to Milwaukee for the entertainment of the old soldiers upon the occasion of the meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic in the city a few years ago will long be remembered by the old soldiers, and by the citizen of Milwaukee, as a deed which stamped him as a most generous man and one who is ready to do great things for the good name and honor of the city. It was, moreover, a most graceful recognition of what the country owes its old soldiers for their services and sacrifices for the maintenance of the government and its sacred institutions. 

    In the year 1889, in recognition of the ceaseless efforts of Captain Pabst, during the twenty-five years of his connection with it, to build the brewery into on of the directors of the company, by a unanimous vote, changed the name of the brewery from that of Best to Pabst, and so it now known all over the country, and in many localities it is not known by any other name, so rapidly and far has its fame spread. 

    Captain Pabst has a family of several sons and daughters, and his palatial home on Grand avenue is said to contain a cultivated and happy family. 

    Personally, he is a man of commanding presence, but genial and kind to all whom he meets. He is a man, as may be inferred from what has already been said, of great energy--one who thinks before he acts, when haste is not demanded by the circumstances; yet who can act with great rapidity when haste is necessary. He has great schemes in contemplation; and, if he lives, will doubtless surprise his friends and associates with what he will yet accomplish.

About Pabst Brewing

It was in 1844, when Wisconsin was still a United States Territory, that German immigrant brewer Jacob Best and his four sons opened a brewery on Chestnut Street hill in Milwaukee.

The original brew kettle had a capacity of just eighteen barrels. This modest undertaking was eventually to become today's Pabst Brewing Company, one of the largest brewers in the world.

In the mid 1850's Phillip Best set his sights on Chicago, 90 miles to the south, and there set up the company's first branch sales office and warehouse. On his many Lake Michigan boat trips to Chicago, Phillip was often accompanied by his daughter Maria. It was on these trips that they became acquainted with Frederick Pabst, a steamship captain on the Great Lakes.

Phillip found in the young captain a kindred spirit, with the same belief in the future of American industry that he had. The brewer was not the only Best to take notice of Fred Pabst.

The dashing captain's good looks and charm had captivated Phillip's daughter Maria. She, in turn, had won the captain's heart, and in 1862 Maria Best and Fred Pabst were wed.

When in 1864 Captain Pabst bought a half interest in the Phillip Best Brewing Company, the plant's production was 5,000 barrels a year. Nine years later, the output was 100,000 barrels and Captain Pabst was President of the Company.

At thirty-seven, the Captain was just beginning to show what he could do. He went out after the best brewmasters of his day, even traveling abroad to sell the virtues of living in America to the men he wanted to work at the Milwaukee brewery. He increased the capacity of his brewery by convincing the stockholders that the profits should be put into bigger and better equipment.

    Near the end of the 19th century, the Pabst Brewery was turning out more than one million barrels of beer annually, and using some 300,000 yards of blue ribbon each year to tie around the bottle necks of its popular Pabst Blue Ribbon brand.

Remaining Pabst breweries (Jan 2001) Pearl Brewery, San Antonio, Texas, and Pennsylvania. (only breweries mentioned, but they do subcontract out to other breweries like Miller)

Pabst affiliates tend to share distinctive bottle caps with a stein logo, featuring a rebus on the inside (when you can't figure out the rebus, you've had too much). Matt Mitchell has a list of these Ballantine rebus puzzles, and Gavin Spomer has a list of puzzles from Lucky Lager caps.

Pabst, Olympia, and Pearl have a web page with history and information on various beers, breweries, and companies, and to advertise their contract brewing services.

History: In 1840, Jacob Best, Sr. relocated his brewery from Mettenheim Germany to Milwaukee, WI as the Empire Brewery. In 1850, his sons Charles and Lorenz left the business and founded the competing Plank Road Brewery (now Miller). Sons Jacob Best, Jr. and Phillip continued the business, but had a falling out. Steamship captain Frederick Pabst married Phillip's daughter Maria in 1862. He soon joined the business, and in 1865, Pabst and Emil Schandein bought out the brewery. They expanded the brewery through the 1890's, and Pabst led U.S. sales between 1895 and 1902. After Prohibition, Pabst continued to do well until the 1980's. Heileman was among perspective purchasers, but in 1985, Paul Kamonovitz purchased the Pearl Brewing Co. (San Antonio, TX) as well as Pabst, Falstaff and General [Apps].

Now, Pabst is owned by S&W, which is overseeing the dismantling of this once great brewing empire, running its Omaha and Fort Wayne plants into the ground and disbursing its assets, as well as waging war against its own workers, past and present. Although the dispute over cancelled benefits for retired workers has been settled, (Solidarty, August/September 1998), you can see Tom O'Brien's web page for more information. CNN has an article on the closing of the Milwaukee plant.

The Pabst Theater

    The spirit of the Gay 90's haunts the Pabst Theater. By opening the heavy, bronze doors and stepping into the ornate, rococo lobby with the sparkle of the chandelier, you step back in time 100 years. Built in 1895, the Pabst Theater is as important in Milwaukee's culture today as it was on opening night in November 1895.

    The Pabst Theater, on the corner of Water and Wells, sprang from the ashes of the Stadt Theater's fire in the winter of 1895. On January 15, 1895, at about 11 a.m., the Stadt Theater, an opera and German language theater house, started on fire due to defective wiring. The stage crew and a lady's club had been decorating for a Charity Ball for that night. Flames quickly leaped from decorative bunting to the massive drapery, taking only minutes to fill the theater with fire and smoke. Everyone made it out safely, with many going to the Die Deutscher Cafe next door to await the outcome.

    Losing little time, four fire companies came to fight the blaze within minutes. Though they fought a valiant fight, the water from the hoses froze into sheets of ice and smoke reduced visibility. By 2 p.m., with the fire put out, the Stadt resembled a "black wreck" coated with tons of ice.

    People mourned the wreck of the Stadt, as the theater had become a center for Milwaukee's burgeoning social and cultural scene. In 1895, Milwaukee had a great reputation as the center of German culture in America: 50 percent of Milwaukeeans came from German ancestry and 20 percent spoke only German. The Milwaukee Sentinel and the Milwaukee Journal both reported the importance of the German Theater.

    When Captain Frederick Pabst, owner of the Stadt, heard of the tragedy, he said only, "Rebuild at once." The Sentinel expressed gratitude that the Stadt would be rebuilt; and the Journal expressed hopefulness that the new theater would also become home to other performance groups, stating "art must be promoted as a matter of necessity."

    By March of 1895, Captain Pabst chose his architect a man from his own Pabst Brewing Co. offices, Otto Strack. German born and educated Strack moved to the United States in 1881, eventually making his way up to Milwaukee in 1888. His reputation for confidently eclectic design and technical mastery made him a perfect candidate for the job.

    Strack took on the daunting challenge presented to him. He had to accomplish four things: for starters, he had to fit his plans for the theater into the Stadt's former 210 x 80 plot; the new theater had to be as fireproof as technology allowed; it must have great acoustics and the traditional design must harkened back to the great European playhouses; and, possibly the greatest challenge Pabst wanted it complete by the Fall of 1895. Strack also had his own agenda he wanted to make life easier for stage people.

    His clever and innovative stage floor design incorporated extensive trapping and hydraulically operated risers. With the installation of the first all-electric stage lighting system, Strack greatly decreased the future threat of fire. An ingenious man, Strack created a t-bar/arbor hoisting system which became the standard lifting device for theaters everywhere. Other amenities included simpler pleasures such as freight elevators and storage spaces on premise.

    Strack understood theater form & function; and paid close attention to detail. Those elegantly sinuous balcony curves and guard rails serve as decoration, but also stiffen and strengthen the cantilevered structure. Decorative rosettes and plaster molding adorn the Pabst, looking beautiful while still performing a practical function they provide irregular surfaces which help shatter stray echoes, enriching the already wonderful acoustics. The architect also thought of the patron with generously proportioned and well-lit stairs and aisles; under-seat ventilation; excellent sightlines; complete fireproofing; and an abundance of accessible emergency exits. All of these modern amenities do not call undue attention to themselves, combining tested craftsmanship with the benefits of 19th century engineering. Renovations in the 20th century have only served to increase the comfort and safety of the Pabst Theater.

    Local craftsmen and suppliers furnished the Pabst's beautiful fixtures, from such names as Stark Brothers and Gimbels. On September 21, 1895, the Milwaukee Journal declared the Pabst would become "a playhouse comparable to any in the world in the completeness of its appointments, the richness of its decorations and the comfort it will afford to its patrons." At the theater one could sit in otherwise unaffordable luxury for the price of a ticket. The cost of the renovation was $2,500,000, an unheard of expenditure at the time.

    Nowadays the Pabst Theater still satisfies many of the cultural needs of Milwaukeeans. Musicians, actors and dancers regularly perform on this hallowed stage. Enraptured audiences still find comfort in the big, cushy seats under a bright and sparkling chandelier. And the ladies and gentlemen still wear their finery as they go to the Theater much as they did so long ago.

    Legendary stage and screen actress, the late Helen Hayes, said of the Pabst Theater, "The Pabst Theater's long and illustrious history is a credit to Milwaukee, this nation and to the performing arts."

    The Pabst Theater is located at East Wells and Water Street and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Please call for ticket information. Free public tours are given on Saturday mornings at 11:30 a.m., private group tours available by appointment. 144 East Wells Street, Milwaukee / 414-286-3663

    The site of the Washington Highlands was originally part of a hops and Percheron horse farm owned by the famous Milwaukee brewer, Captain Frederick Pabst. In 1871, Pabst purchased 178 acres of land in the Town of Wauwatosa and later expanded the farm to more than 200 acres.

    Captain Pabst used the farm for the growing of hops used in the brewing of his company's beer. He also used the farm to breed and raise Percheron horses that were needed to pull beer wagons. The 1888 Silas Chapman map of Wauwatosa shows the 217-acre farm that is traversed by a meandering creek and also locates Pabst's residence, three dwellings, an office, assorted smaller buildings and six barns. In order to provide access to downtown Milwaukee, Captain Pabst opened a street in 1891 that ran east-west through the middle of his land (today known as Lloyd Street). Right-of-way was granted to the Milwaukee and Wauwatosa Rapid Transit Companies for the construction of a streetcar line.

    The land north of Lloyd Street was eventually subdivided into rectangular blocks and developed into residential properties. Even after Captain Pabst's death in 1904, the remaining 133 acres of farm south of Lloyd Street remained virtually unchanged. As late as 1910 the fields were still producing hops.

    Development continued in a westerly direction and eventually surrounded the remainder of the Pabst Farm. The City of Milwaukee opened the prestigious Washington Boulevard and provided a connecting link between the popular Washington Park and 60th Street. This intersection would eventually become the doorway to what would become the Washington Highlands. The heirs to Captain Pabst's estate chose to subdivide the farm and hired renowned German city planner Dr. Werner Hegemann (1881-1936) to design the subdivision. In 1916, Dr. Hegemann and American landscape architect, Elbert Peets (1886-1968) created a carefully considered land plan using the advanced concepts of England's Garden City Movement, The Garden City movement forwarded the concept that living environments should be healthful, peaceful and free from the intrusions of industrialization.  Karl Strauss is one of the world's most accomplished Master Brewers. In Minden, Germany where his father was the president of a small brewery, Karl was born on brewery premises and lived in the family quarters at the brewery while he was growing up (hence the claim that he has beer in his blood). As a young man, Karl left Minden to study in Bavaria where he earned his degree in the science of malting and brewing from the Technical University Munich at Weihenstephan.

___In 1939, Karl immigrated to the United States where he immediately was employed by the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Karl devoted forty-four years working for Pabst, advancing through the ranks of brewmasters until he ultimately became Vice President of Production and Master Brewer for all of Pabst's brewing operations, a position he held for twenty-five years until his retirement from Pabst. At Pabst peak production, Karl was responsible for brewing more than seventeen million barrels of beer per year.

___In his lifetime, he has brewed more than seven billion servings of beer, more than enough for every person on earth to enjoy a Karl Strauss beer. Karl is a past president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) and co-author of The Practical Brewer, the definitive handbook of brewing in America. He is also the only person ever to receive both the MBAA's Lifetime Achievement Award of Honor and the Award of Merit, considered to be the two highest honors in the American brewing industry. Karl retired from Pabst in 1983 and began a second career as a brewing consultant. Since 1983, he has traveled internationally to consult for large and small breweries on all aspects of production.

___As Master Brewer, Karl Strauss designs the brewery operations and processes used by Karl Strauss Breweries, formulates the beers produced, and personally trains our brewmasters.

Pabst Brewing's early history subject of Mansion exhibit

    Opening appropriately this month at the historic Pabst Mansion, 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave., is a special exhibition chronicling the early years of Milwaukee's Pabst Brewing Company when the company was the world's largest brewer.

    'Prosperity to Prohibition: The Pabst Brewing Company 1875-1933' will run from April 7 to July 30, examining the rise of the Pabst Brewing Company and its flamboyant leader, Captain Frederick Pabst who made the mansion his home.

    John C. Eastberg, historian for the mansion, is curator of the exhibit which will detail phases of the company's early development, from its participation in the Columbian World's Fair of 1893 to Pabst promotional materials and its famous ad campaign of 1895-'97.

'    Captain Pabst was the king of the American entrepreneurial spirit,' comments Eastberg. 'At one time he even operated one of the largest restaurants in America, Pabst Harlem in New York City, which could accommodate more than 1,400 in one seating.'

    Pabst Brewing Company began using its 'blue ribbon' advertising slogan years before it had won any brewing awards, notes Eastberg. Then, in 1893, the claim was validated when it received the coveted Gold Medal at the World's Fair in Chicago.

    Eastberg believes the company's 1895-'97international advertising campaign demonstrated Pabst's superior marketing skills. In 1895, Pabst ads explained that 'brewing was invented by the Egyptians' and showed the Pabst logo atop the pyramids. In 1896, Pabst advertised that 'brewing was developed by the Germans,' showing the Pabst logo on
familiar German structures. Finally, in 1897, the company told readers 'brewing was perfected in America by Pabst Brewing Company.'

    Although Pabst is no longer based in Milwaukee and is no longer an industry leader, its flagship 'Blue Ribbon' brand continues to be produced here under contract by its historic competitor, the Miller Brewing Company.

    Items in the exhibit include promotional books and pamphlets, silver from the Pabst restaurants, personal items from Captain Pabst, a Reed and Barton silver beer barrel, stock certificates and never-before-seen photos of the Pabst family.

    The Pabst Mansion is open from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon-3:30 p.m.

Pabst and Miller reported ready to split up Stroh

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Stroh Brewery Co. of Detroit is negotiating a sale to Pabst Brewing Co., which then would sell some Stroh brands to Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co., a newspaper reported today.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said that beer industry sources, including analysts, vendors, wholesalers and union officials, confirmed a deal was in the works.
The three-way deal, if consummated, would mean more sales, market share and jobs for Miller, the nation's No. 2 brewer behind Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis.
The newspaper said spokesmen at Miller and Stroh declined to comment and characterized the report as speculation and rumors. William Bitting, chairman of Mill Valley, Calif.-based S&P Co., Pabst's corporate owner, was unavailable for comment.
The sources said the deal would involve the following parts:
* Stroh, the nation's fourth-largest brewer, would no longer exist. Pabst would likely close most of Stroh's seven breweries, but the former G. Heileman Brewing Co. plant in La Crosse, one of Stroh's most efficient operations, could be spared.
* Pabst would own several of Stroh's best-known brands and would produce some of those brands at former Stroh breweries that would stay open, while other production would be done under contract by Miller.
* Pabst would sell some of Stroh's brands to Miller.


/Copyright Oct 29, 1998, The Detroit News

5/1/99 The sale of Stroh Brewery Co.'s operations to Miller Brewing Co. and Pabst Brewing Co. was completed Friday, ending Stroh's 149-year history and starting a new era for both Miller and Pabst. For Stroh's 555 employees in La Crosse, the deal likely will result in the loss of their jobs by October, assuming another beer company doesn't buy the La Crosse brewery. Beer industry sources say that's highly unlikely.

2/10/99 The sale of Stroh's Fogelsville brewery to Pabst unleashed a collective sigh of relief among workers worried about the plant's future. "The workers are relieved at this point," said Jim Maley, president of Teamsters Local 12, which represents Stroh hourly workers. "We knew something was in the works, but we didn't know what it was."

2/8/99 Stroh Brewery Co. is selling its beer brands to Pabst Brewing Co. and Miller Brewing Co. to concentrate on its real estate businesses. In the deals announced today, Pabst will acquire the Stroh's, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Schaefer, Old Style, Schmidt's, Lone Star, Special Export, McSorley's, Schlitz Malt Liquor, and Rainier brands. Miller, a unit of Philip Morris Cos. Inc., is buying Stroh's Henry Weinhard's and Mickeys brands.

J. Pabst & Sons Company, Hamilton
Central Avenue 

J. Pabst Sons Company, Originators of Pabst's Imperial Ginger Ale, 1916 "The J. Pabst Sons Company, bottlers of all kinds of pure carbonated and still drinks, and dealers in cidar and vinegar, was organized by Jacob Pabst, Sr., in 1876, and was incorporated under the above name in 1882. From the beginning the motto of the firm has been "Purity and Superiority." Realizing the great demand in this community for a high-grade distilled water, the firm installed an Aerox Polar Water Still and is now supplying distilled water for drinking and other purposes.

The company manufactures a full line of carbonated drinks and with special pride points to Imperial Ginger Ale which has won a wide reputation. Other drinks made by the firm and which are used to quench the thirst of thousands of persons are Grape Soda, Orange Soda, Cream Soda, Lemon Soda, Sarsaparilla, Cherry, and Champagne Mist. The firm is also the bottler of the famous Sher-A-Coca. This is highly recommended for indigestion and other gastric derangements, rheumatism, gout, and liver complaint. . ."

The J. Pabst Company was also the first bottlers of Pepsi Cola in the area beginning in 1910.

Other Reference Sources: American Breweries II by Dale P. Van Wieren; The Register of United States Breweries 1876-1976, Vol. I & II, by Manfred Friedrich & Donald Bull; The Pabst Brewing Company - The History of an American Brewer by Thomas C. Cochran; Breweries of Wisconsin by Jerry Apps; Badger Breweries: Past & Present by Wayne L. Kroll.; Men of Progress. Wisconsin. (pages 251-251) A selected list of biographical sketches and portraits of the leaders in business, professional and official life. Together with short notes on the history and character of Wisconsin.


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