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How Did Schlitz Beer Make Milwaukee Famous?

Oct. 19, 2012
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“Life wasn’t watered down back then—neither was the beer,” says Schlitz’s current advertising campaign. Schlitz beer has seen a resurgence in the last decade by introducing a new—but old—classic 1960s beer formula: Gusto. Even with the new slogans, many people remember Schlitz as “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.”

In 1850, a young man named Joseph Schlitz immigrated to Milwaukee from Germany. August Krug, who owned a small tavern brewery, hired Joseph as a bookkeeper. Schlitz worked there for six years, until August’s death. Then Schlitz bought the brewery and renamed it the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co.  The business grew quickly after Schlitz took over. By 1859, Schlitz produced and sold 2,000 barrels of beer—more than six times the volume of beer produced in 1853.

Schlitz earned its nickname following a tragic event south of the Wisconsin border. The Great Chicago Fire killed hundreds and destroyed large tracts of the city of Chicago, including many of its breweries. Sometime after the fire, Schlitz sent hundreds of barrels of beer to the city. This earned Schlitz the nickname “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” The company introduced the slogan at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and expanded its territory into Chicago.

Schlitz continued to find success; in 1902, the company sold more than 1 million barrels of beer, making it one of the largest breweries in the world.

The company’s 1893 motto, however, would not last as long as expected. Following passage of the 18th Amendment, Prohibition was enacted in the United States in 1920. This amendment prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcohol, forcing breweries to make drastic changes. Schlitz Brewing Co. changed its slogan to “the drink that made Milwaukee famous.”

The company stayed afloat during the 13 years of Prohibition. With its ratification in 1933, the 21st amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, making alcohol legal to produce and distribute once again.  In turn, Schlitz Brewing Co. changed “drink” back to “beer” and continued to sell its famous brew for generations.

The jury is still out as to whether or not Schlitz really made Milwaukee famous, but many locals continue to enjoy the taste of an ice-cold Schlitz beer—and that makes it an indisputable Milwaukee tradition.


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