Breweries, History

History of the Blatz Brewing Company

The Blatz Brewing Co. history can be traced back to 1846 in the young city of Milwaukee. The brewery grew as one of the big 4 of Milwaukee and made significant contributions to the city’s beer industry. Unfortunately, pressures of the changing times and competition shut down the brewery and led to consolidation with other big breweries. A few remnants still survive in the city remind us of this former brewing giant of Milwaukee.

Before it was the Blatz Brewery, it was called the City Brewery. The small brewing operation was started by German immigrant John Braun in 1846, the same year Milwaukee was established as a city. Braun called his brewery City Brewery and was originally located on Main and Division Streets (N. Broadway and E. Juneau Ave.). In 1848, ValentinBlatz moved to Milwaukee and acquired a job at City Brewery. Blatz, wanting to work for himself, saved $500 to open his own brewery, coincidently, right next door to City Brewery.

Blatz was doing alright on his own, considering there was a lot of competition in the early years in Milwaukee. In 1851, his former boss, John Braun, at City Brewery died. Blatz bought Braun’s brewery and merged the breweries together and also married Braun’s widow. His merged brewery employed 4 people and produced about 500 barrels of beer. Blatz continued to expand his operations by constructing additional buildings and room to meet demand for his beer.

Tragedy struck on August 25, 1873, when a fire broke out in the brewing complex and destroyed a significant part of the brewery. The loss accumulated to about $143,000 in damages and destroyed the malt house, engine building, and most of the main building of the brewery. Blatz, luckily, did not lose his stock of beer. He continued to distribute the beer he had in storage and began to rebuild his brewery. He commenced the rebuilding his brewery within 2 months after the catastrophic fire and by January 1874 reconstruction was completed.

In 1875, Blatz began pushing out Milwaukee’s first bottled beer! Blatz had been successfully been selling his beer in the Milwaukee area, but ran into issues when trying to sell nationally. Shipping his beer out-of-state in barrels was difficult, so Blatz contracted Torchiani & Kremer of Milwaukee to bottle his beer. That year Blatz had 6,000 barrels, which amounts to approximately 128,000 bottles, of beer bottled. His decision to bottle beer was a success. His yearly sales had increased and so did the amount of beer he bottled. Blatz even found his bottled beer winning some awards at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Soon more breweries in Milwaukee would follow in his steps.

In 1889, Valentin Blatz incorporated his brewing interests (totaling $2,000,000) into the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company. Nearly 2 years later, Blatz sold his interests in the brewery to the Milwaukee and Chicago Breweries Ltd., which was owned by a group of British bankers. Blatz stayed on and served as the president of his brewery until his death in 1894.

Val. Blatz Brewing Co.

The famed brewery changed names again in 1927 to the Val. Blatz Brewing Co. and again in 1930 to the Blatz Brewing Co. Blatz’s sons, Albert and Valentin Jr., would also be involved with the brewery until their deaths in the 1920s. Albert served as the president after his father’s death and Valentin Jr. was the superintendent and vice president of the brewery.

The Blatz Brewing Company survived Prohibition years by producing candy, imitation beers and sodas. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Blatz Brewing Co., like other Milwaukee brewers, was exuberant of beers return and the chance to produce their trademark product once again.

Blatz survived a fire in 1873, that destroyed a significant part of the plant, and the dry years of Prohibition from 1920-1933, but more hard times were ahead. Blatz had grown significantly and was putting out over 1 million barrels a year from the 1940s and 1950s. By 1955, Blatz was in the top 4 of Milwaukee’s six breweries. What brought an end to the company was competition and the cost of production. In 1958, Pabst Brewing Company bought controlling interest of Blatz. By February 15, 1959, brewing operations had ceased at the Blatz brewery and production was moved to the Pabst brewery. Pabst encountered problems with anti-trust laws and was forced to sell and the G. Heileman Brewing Co. of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, took control of the Blatz brand.

Blatz Today

Today, Blatz beer is once again apart of the Pabst Brewing Co. profile. The former brewing complex that sprawled in the city of Milwaukee has been turned into stylish condominiums. This once major brewer has been reduced to a few nostalgic reminders. Blatz had forged a path and made a name for his brewery with only $500. He was the first to bottle his beer in Milwaukee and also the first to sell his beer nationally. Blatz established and ran his own carpenter shop, rail cars, cooper shops, machine shops , and a coal yard. He sold his business in 1891, but continued to preside over it until his death 3 years later. From 1891 to 1959, the Blatz brewery changed hands 3 more times before the brewery was shut down. Edward Landsberg bought controlling interest of the brewery in 1920. In 1943, control was shifted to Schenley Industries Inc., and finally to the Pabst Brewing Co. in 1958.

Similar fates befell on the other big contenders of Milwaukee. Miller Brewing Co. is the only surviving competitor of the once great Milwaukee breweries. Blatz, Schlitz and Pabst breweries have all been remodeled as residential and commercial lots.

For more information on the breweries of Milwaukee visit the Wisconsin Historical Society or the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

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