History of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company

Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company
(USGenWeb Archives )

The history of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company begins before it was called Schlitz. In 1849, George August Krug started and managed a small brewery and saloon in Milwaukee. In 1850 Joseph Schlitz immigrated to the United States and made his home in Milwaukee.  Krug hired Schlitz as the bookkeeper for his prospering little brewery, producing around 300 barrels of beer.  In 1856 Krug died and Schlitz took over as the manager and sealed the deal of ownership when he married Krug’s widow, Anna Krug, in 1858.

Schlitz’s brewery really took off in 1871 after the Great Chicago Fire had destroyed a significant part of the Chicago, Illinois. Many were killed and left homeless after the blaze, so Schlitz took it upon himself to ship barrels of beer down to the citizens of Chicago as aid ( if you want to think of it that way). Schlitz instantly made a name for himself and established a market in Chicago for his beer. The Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was incorporated in 1874, and Schlitz began to expand his brewing operations. However, Schlitz was lost at sea on a voyage back from Germany in 1875. Following his death, control of the company went to the Uihlein family, nephews to Krug.

In 1886, the Belted Globe, as it became known as, became the trademark of the brewery.  In the years following the Great Chicago Fire, when Schlitz shipped hundreds of barrels of his beer to the charred city, his brewery had earned the slogan as “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous”, which was made official at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. (Coincidently it was unveiled in Chicago). In 1902, Schlitz became the largest brewery in the world, selling over 1 million barrels of beer that year. Around 1912, Schlitz started selling its beer in brown bottles, which was proven to block out light in order to prevent the beer from spoiling.

The brewing business was booming in Milwaukee at the turn of the century. However, prohibition hit the brewing industry hard in 1920s. The breweries, unable to legally make beer, had to find other products to produce. Schlitz was renamed to the Joseph Schlitz Beverage Company and sold Schlitz Ginger Ale and other sodas until the end of prohibition in 1933. That year Milwaukee’s beer industry hummed with productivity and Schlitz and the other Milwaukee breweries switched back to making beer.  Schlitz began marketing color magazine ads shortly after the end of prohibition, and once again came out as one of the top competitors in the beer industry.

After World War II Schlitz introduced new products including the 7oz “Little Joe”, 16oz flat top beer can, 24oz “Tall Boy”, aluminum soft top can, and the pop top can. In the 1960’s the company ran its new slogan of “Real Gusto”.  The brewery was competing neck-in-neck with Anheuser-Busch out of St. Louis, Missouri. Schlitz held the title as the leading brewer until the late 50s when the Anheuser-Busch took permanent lead.

Following those years a number of catastrophic events took its toll on the company. Management made some poor decisions of changing the recipe and quickening the fermenting process. This resulted in a poor quality beer that was often said to have produced mucus like consistency sludge forming in the beer. Instead of recalling the tainted product and changing the recipe back, management insisted they were producing a safe and quality brew. The result was millions of unhappy consumers and whole lot of setback in the marketing and distribution. The company was loosing money, and it wasn’t until the damage was completely done that company dumped its beer and apologized. In 1982 Schlitz closed its operations in Milwaukee and sold to Stroh’s Brewery in Detroit, Michigan. In 1999 Pabst Brewing Company acquired Stroh’s and the Schlitz brand came along with it. Schlitz Beer was reintroduced in 2007 and marketed as the, ‘Classic 60’s Formula’ and can be bought in cans and bottles.

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