In May 2015 I posted on this blog a series of humorous trade cards and postcards from Milwaukee sources, including breweries, that poked fun at its image as America’s “beer town.” In the intervening months I have collected an additional group of similar images that also deserve viewing.
The “Happy Days in Milwaukee” postcard provides an appropriate opening to the topic. Here we are looking at a vested gent who apparently is fishing while sucking on a beer keg floating beside his boat. He also has a bottle of beer within his reach behind the lawn chair in which he is reclining. The well-stuffed gent also appears to have caught a fish whose tail sticks up in the bow of the boat. Relaxation at its best.
The well-dress, top-hatted figure in the postcard above similar looks relaxed — or more likely drunk. He is a two-fisted drinker, with a stein of beer in either hand. The reference to Wurzburger flowing in Milwaukee is puzzling since it refers to a beer first brewed by a German bishop in 1643. Among the earliest German beers to be imported into the U.S., it was made only in Wurzburg, never in Milwaukee.
There follows the images of a stout burgher in a bowler hat drinking straight from the barrel, providing “One View of Milwaukee, according to the captions. This postcard came in more than one version with the colors of the drinker’s clothing changing while the basic concept did not.
“Touring Milwaukee” is a more subtle reminder of the many large breweries that once graced the city. The vehicle illustrated has a beer barrel with spigot as the engine and two open steins as the headlights. For good measure the driver has a third stein ready at hand. Two containers at the side are labeled with favorite Milwaukee foods — “sauerkraut” and “frankfurter.”
In an oblique reference to the increasing strength of prohibitionary forces, the card above alludes to the fact that brewery owners largely were German in origin. Milwaukee is “Breweryville” and the five characters at the end of rope apparently their owners who, if Wisconsin goes “dry”: “We Germans must hang together side by each.” A similar card from Heilman Brewery in LaCrosse, Wisconsin has a slightly different message: “If this town goes dry, us Germans will hang togeder.”
The Jung beer trade card is known to collectors as a “mechanical.” When issued it contained a white powder that flowed, if tilted, from the huge stein in the imbiber’s hand down to the pitcher being filled by the rosy cheeked barmaid. Philipp Jung was born in Germany in 1845 and immigrated to Milwaukee in 1870. After working in the Jacob Best Brewery and marrying his daughter, Jung broke away to found his own brewery in 1879. It became a rival to the Best Brewery and its successor beer-maker run by another Best son-in-law, Frederick Pabst.
If you like puns, then a card likely issued by Milwaukee’s Schlitz Brewery may tickle your funny bone. It takes advantage of a fashion statement begun at the turn of the 20th century when Paul Poiret revolutionized women's dress by introducing a skirt that was that was long and fitted but frequently featured a slit that revealed the wearer’s ankles. The proximity of “slits” to “Schlitz” seems to have overcome the good sense of the card designer, leading to the image shown here.
Sometimes the humor involved in Milwaukee beer-related ephemera seems unintended. Such is the “Pabst Everywhere” card that shows four construction workers, apparently on their lunch break, one of whom is drinking from a large vessel. The tag line is “Pabst-Milwaukee is enjoyed by the workingman.” Yet one is left wondering how steady on the job these midday drinkers will be after drinking their lunch.
The final example is an advertisement for a 1904 Pabst Calendar showing 12 children from a wide range of countries, each attached to a month. This calendar could be obtained from the Milwaukee brewery for ten cents in coin or stamps.
It is called a “stork calendar” and shows a large bird front and center, one that apparently has brought the tots. It occurs to me that a subliminal message is: “Drink beer and make babies.” But it just may be me.
The identification of Milwaukee with beer long since has faded into obscurity.
The Jung Brewery closed with National Prohibition. Schlitz sold out in 1982. Pabst is a holding company with a blizzard of brands, no longer headquartered in in Milwaukee but in Los Angeles. Only Miller remains of the major breweries that once identified the city as “beer town.” Yet remaining to us are these reminders of a day when Milwaukee gloried in the suds —and laughed about it as well.