The Oshkosh Brewing Company was a brewery formally headquartered in my college town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was only until recently that I learned of this brewery and began to uncover some of the company’s history. Sadly, the old brewery fell victim to the wrecking ball in 1986 destroying the physical evidence of the company’s existence. Only one of the smaller brick buildings remains on the old Oshkosh Brewing Company grounds on Doty Street in Oshkosh. A big shed now sits were the original brick structure once stood.
The Oshkosh Brewing Company was formally started in 1894 when three breweries in Oshkosh merged together. The breweries involved in the merger were; Brooklyn Brewery, Union Brewery. and the Gambrinus Brewery. The merger was the result of tough economic times that came out of a financial depression a year earlier. Another push factor was competition moving in from Milwaukee. Pabst Brewing Company and Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company were both moving their products up to the beer drinkers in Oshkosh. Carloads of beer from Milwaukee breweries made their way to beer halls in Oshkosh and the local brewers were struggling to compete. The proprietors of those breweries met in the courthouse in Oshkosh in the spring of 1894 to officially merge their breweries together and form one strong brewing entity.
The men who merged their beer brewing company’s together wanted to keep the merger under the radar. On the official document that made the merger legal, the phrase “do not print” was written at the top to prevent the newspapers from leaking the information out. Their attempts to secretly create a new brewery could not be kept secret and soon everyone knew of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Why did these men want to keep this hidden? Did it hurt their pride that they couldn’t make it on their own and had to join forces with local competition, or was it to have the element of surprise on their beer competitors in Milwaukee? Who knows, but they seemed bashful of recognizing the company they had formed.
Oshkosh Brewing Company Board-1894
August Horn – President
John Glatz – Vice President
William Glatz – Treasurer
Lorenz Kuenzl – Superintendent
Slowly the proprietors of the new firm began to embrace their identity as the Oshkosh Brewing Company and began to build and expand their products and operations. The new brewing company utilized equipment and operated out the former individual breweries that came together to from the Oshkosh Brewing Company. At the turn of the century, the Oshkosh Brewing Company was putting out 50,000 barrels of beer annually. To increase production, a new brewery was commissioned in May 1911 and was slated for opening in May 1912. It was built on the site of the Brooklyn Brewery on the corner of West 16th Avenue and Doty Street.
Around 1900 the company adopted the logo of Chief Oshkosh of the Menominee indian tribe, for which the city of Oshkosh was named after. A giant emblem stood on the front of the building for many years and was saved from the wrecking ball in 1986. It is now on display outside at the Oshkosh Public Museum.
The Oshkosh Brewing Company continued brewing and distributing many different beers, including Chief Oshkosh Beer, until 1971. In October of that year, beer production ceased at the brewery and within a few weeks the Oshkosh Brewing Company was sold to another Oshkosh brewery, Peoples Brewing Company. The Peoples Brewing Company met the same fate and was closed a few years later. Times were tough on the local breweries and it was hard to compete and keep up with the big breweries down in Milwaukee. Nearly 77 years after its creation, the Oshkosh Brewing Company was shut down never to reopen. In 1986 the buildings of the former brewing complex were demolished to make space for new developement in the Oshkosh area.
There were many breweries in the Oshkosh area in the 19th century. As time went on a few of the bigger and stronger ones remained. Alas, these local breweries met the same fate of the former ones. Trying to compete with the national breweries was a venture the local Oshkosh breweries had a rough time coping with. It is still amazing that my college town had itself a couple of notable breweries that stuck it out against Schlitz, Miller and Pabst down in Milwaukee. I would like to see an exhibit at the Oshkosh Public Museum to remember breweries of Oshkosh’s past. Maybe it can be a project I can work on with them in the future.