When a group of color lithographs come along from a bygone day that seem to want preserving, I often try to give them a measure of future existence by placing them on this blog. Thus it was of particular interest to find group of late 19th Century illustrations of Milwaukee’s Empire Brewery, later known as the Best Brewery and even later as Pabst Brewery.
As a former resident of Milwaukee, I am very familiar with the brewery complex that in my day was known as Pabst. As a college student I have taken the brewery tour there on several occasions and my favorite local watering hole was the Forstkeller, a saloon in a former Methodist church adjacent to and owned by the brewery. With the brewery and Forstkeller now closed, I have collected two glass paperweights issued by the company. Shown here, top, is a weight that shows the Best complex in central Milwaukee that became Pabst. Below is a weight with a scene that introduces the Empire Brewery and Philip Best.
Phillip Best, shown in a lithograph below was the son of Jacob Best (1786-1861), a German born brewer who immigrated to the the U.S. in 1844 to join his four sons in Milwaukee. There he founded a brewery on Chestnut Street Hill that he called the Empire Brewery and ran it with his sons. After Jacob retired in 1853, Philip headed the operation and the company became known as Philip Best & Company. Philip died in 1869 and was memorialized in an illustration from a company booklet prepared for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
In the meantime Best’s daughter, Maria had met steamship captain named Frederick Pabst in 1860 and married him two years later. In 1864, Pabst purchased a half interest in the brewing company for $21,057.05 and became vice president. After the marriage of Best’s second daughter, Lisette in 1866, her husband, Emil Schandein also purchased the remaining half interest from Phillip Best. After Philip’s death Frederick took control of the brewery.
The 1869 purchase of the Melms Brewery by the Phillip Best & Co. would prove profitable. Phillip Best (1814-1869) died that same year and Pabst and Schandein took over management of the business. In the next two decades the Best Brewery, later Pabst, would grow at a spectacular rate. Helping to trigger this growth was a fluke of history, the Chicago fire of 1871, which would provide a new market for Milwaukee’s breweries as Chicago competitors would never recover. By 1874 Phillip Best Brewing Co. was the nation’s largest brewer.
When the Philadelphia exposition occurred two years later Pabst — at the height of its ascendance — was responsible for putting out a promotion booklet there in German, English and French. Among scenes were three of the earlier Empire Distillery, as seen below.
In addition to its north side Milwaukee location, the company subsequently opened a second brewery on the city’s heavily ethnic South Side. This facility had the advantage of being both on a water source and a railroad spur. It is shown below on three lithographs.
Pabst (1836-1904) was also a pioneer in providing his own bottling plant on premises at a time when beer rolled out of a brewery only in barrels, to be decanted into bottles by the distributors or other independent firms. A picture of that facility also was among the lithographs. Note the proximity to rail.
The final illustration in the booklet was a picture of the Frederick Pabst home, then on Grand Avenue, soon to be renamed Wisconsin Avenue. Later the Pabst family would sell the residence to the Catholic Diocese of Wisconsin and for years it was the residence of the Archbishop. Since 1998, it has been known as the Pabst Mansion and open to the public for tourist. Inside the decor is of the late 1900s and well worth a visit.
The Best Centennial booklet sold on eBay early in 2018 for $150 although far from pristine. It clearly is a prize in someone’s collection. I am happy that through the use of the computer and Internet it is possible to bring these lithographs to a wider audience.