Friday, April 24, 2015

Uncle Sam: All-American Suds Salesman

The attention-getting advertising above has a very forceful Uncle Sam thrusting a mug of suds toward the viewer and emphatically intoning: “We want beer!”  Two prior posts have had Sam merchandising whiskey which is not surprising given the federal government’s intensive role in bonding whiskey warehouses and collecting taxes.  This same symbol of our Nation, from time to time, also has been tied to brewery products.  As shown here.
Among the oldest manifestations is the trade card above issued by the Anheuser-Busch company in connection with the forthcoming 1896 national party conventions in St.  Louis.  This ingenious card shows a group of 13 prominent American politicians sucking on straws placed in bottles of the company’s “Malt Nutrine,”  reputedly to help them overcome the hardships of the coming Presidential Campaign, both Democrats and Republicans. They include President Grover Cleveland (2nd left) and the ultimate winner that year,  William McKinley (the clean shaven one, center).  Uncle Sam is directing them all, while above famous newspaper editors are shown at work.  It is a remarkable illustration.
Uncle Sam showed up from time to time on advertising items with an international theme, as the nation’s breweries sought to sell their suds in European countries.   When the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company sought to introduce its beer into England, it issued a trade card that showed a dark-haired Sam tipping his cap to the image of Britannia.  She seems less than impressed with his presentation.   

Contrast that with the enthusiastic reception that Uncle is getting from an international audience that include, from left, a Spaniard, Frenchman, Englishman, German and Irishman.  This image appeared on a color lithographed serving tray from Cascade Beer, the product of the Union Brewing & Malting Company of San Francisco.  This organization was the result of a 1902 merger of two smaller breweries and subsequent purchase of a third.   The tray sold for a whopping $2,020 in 2015.
The Glencoe brewery of Glencoe, Minnesota, went a step further by naming its beer after the famous old gentleman.   Its choice of a name may have been dictated by the strong competition it received from outside beers, like Heileman’s and Hamm’s.  The brewery had received a setback in 1907 when a large fire gutted the brewery.   Although short on insurance money, the owners rebuilt and by 1915 were said to have increased production from 4,500 barrels before the fire to 13,000 barrels.  Their Uncle Sam New Style Lager Beer — later just Uncle Sam Beer, as shown here on can and bottle labels — was popular through that part of the Upper Midwest.
“Uncle Sam Ale” was the product of the Conroy Brothers of Troy, New York.  That city is closely identified with the creation of the notion of Uncle Sam.  As the story goes, Samuel Wilson of Troy, who was known as Uncle Sam, was an army meat inspector who stamped his initials on every barrel of salt meat for the military drink the War of 1812.  The legend grew until Uncle Sam and the United States became synonymous.  In 1961 Congress passed a resolution, signed by John Kennedy,  declaring that Troy was the official home of Uncle Sam.    

The Conrad Seipp Brewing Company of Chicago made use of the patriotic image to bring home the idea that Seipp’s Extra Pale Beer “meets every requirement of of the Pure Food Laws.” Those laws had been passed first in 1906 and essentially had nothing to do with beer so long as no extravagant health claims were made to consumers.  Seipp was a German immigrant who first began making beer in 1854 in the Windy City.  His brewery grew to dominate the Chicago beer market by the late 1870s, becoming one of the largest in the United States.  At its height it produced more than 250,000 barrels of beer annually. 
Washington, D.C., as the National Capital, could also make a claim on Uncle Sam.  Christian Heurich Brewing Company, the District of Columbia’s leading beer-maker,  used the image in a 1904  newspaper ad.   It claimed that its Maerzen, Senate and Lager beers were “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Beverage.”  Heurich had founded his brewery in 1872 and incorporated it in 1890.  It became the largest in Washington history, capable of producing 500,000 barrels of beer a year and 250 tons of ice daily.  It closed in 1956 because of a decline of sales and its impending demolition for a new bridge over the Potomac.
Although neither Milwaukee nor the Fred Miller Brewing Company had any special claim on Uncle Sam,  he appeared in an ad with the “Miller High Life Girl,” a modestly dressed, very perky young woman who often was depicted with a tray of beverage.  The image originally was painted by an anonymous artist in the early 1900s.  By legend the young lady was patterned after brewery founder Frederick Miller’s granddaughter.  The message of the ad was: “Uncle Sam and the Miller High Life Girl are both known worldwide.  The one stands for the greatest country in the world and the other for the finest beer on earth.” In more recent years the figure was been revived by Miller as “The Girl in the Moon.”

Our final Uncle Sam is a distinctly humorous version from the Lion Brewery in Detroit.  It shows a young looking Sam, holding a stein of beer and riding a goat, symbol of bock beer,  through a framework of foliage.  The image is dated 1881.  Bernhard Stroh founded the brewery in 1850 and continued to operate it under that name until 1882 when it became the B. Stroh Brewing Co. and eventually the Stroh Brewing Company.  The firm survived Prohibition by selling ice, ice cream and near beer.  In my youth Stroh’s was my beer of choice at $2.50 a case or a little over a dime a bottle.

Uncle Sam has been put to many purposes over the years since his creation as a symbol of our country.   It probably was inevitable that he would wind up on ads for one of America’s most popular beverages.  Let’s hoist one for Uncle Sam!

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