Every summer, thousands of people come to Milwaukee to celebrate German Fest with a pint or two of Milwaukee’s German beer.
Milwaukee’s German beer barons, Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller, have all made an impact in the city. They provided jobs for the community and they gave back its citizens.
But Milwaukee’s first brewers were not German; they were Welsh.
Brenda Magee, the author of Brewing in Milwaukee, says that Welsh brewers moved to Milwaukee in the 1840s. The Welsh brewers were successful overall, but faced harsh competition when the German brewers moved here in the 1850s.
“Seeing a need and not accustomed to the British drink, they felt they could make an improvement,” says Magee. “They could also cultivate their customer base and they could make a lot of people happy.”
What helped the beer barons was their community service. In October 1871, Chicago experienced its greatest fire in the city’s history. Wooden buildings went up in flames and the city needed supplies. Joseph Schlitz took this opportunity to help his neighbors out. He sent beer to Chicago via Lake Michigan to help out the Chicago residents and firemen.
The beer barons were patrons of the arts in Milwaukee and gave back to the community in other venues.
“Most of them had their orphanages and the holy sisters of some other type or organization,” says Magee. “So as far as the social aspects of things they contributed for, that was important to them.”
Today, Milwaukee residents attend games at Miller Park, shows at the Pabst Theater, and concerts at Uihlein Hall.
Brenda Magee, the author of Brewing in Milwaukee, is a historian at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. She will be signing books tomorrow at the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Food & Froth Festival from 4-6:45.