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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Archive Record

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Object Name Print
Catalog Number 2015.fic.364b
Description Heileman Brewery print.
Collection La Crosse County Historical Society Collection
Title Heileman Brewery
People Nudd, Chris
Search Terms Heileman Brewery
Notes Part of a series of 15 prints by Chris Nudd "La Crosse Scenes".

Text with print:

"The brewing industry in La Crosse reached a peak in 1914, the year World War I broke out in Europe. In 1910 there were 1,640 men employed directly in local plants. Nine hundred thousand dollars was paid those 990 employees while the brewing interests paid out $630,000 annually for cereals to farmers from the surrounding area. Allied trades employed 150 men in the community, and they were paid $45,000 a year.

Over $1 million was paid the federal government in revenue by the five breweries in La Crosse in 1918 and over 1,200 people were employed by these breweries, their combined earnings amounting to well over a million dollars.

One of the greatest strokes of fortune for the brewery was when the Old Style label was developed and with it was presented a unique and picturesque history of beer making. The process in the manufacture of Old Style Lager together with the Old Style label created considerable fame for the brewery.

Even in 1917 the breweries didn't feel any material hardship because of World War I but the tax on beer was raised to $1.50 a barrel. By 1918, however, the country was beginning to feel the ravages of the war. The tax was doubled, and every barrel that was sold netted the Government $3. In 1919, the year prohibition went into effect, the tax was increased to $6 a barrel. Only two La Crosse breweries continued brewing the two and three-quarters per cent beer and they were halted in October of 1919 when the Supreme Court ruled it was illegal.

From 1919 to the spring of 1933, prohibition greatly reduced the company's'' sales. Heileman's created several soft drinks to fill in the gap and keep the plant working.

When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the company found itself in need of new capital after years of losses. Therefore, in April, stock was offered to the general public and today stockholders from all 50 states hold shares in the brewery. It has had an unbroken dividend record since 1933.

In 148 the brewery began a five-year expansion and modernizing program. In 1950 one of the most modern storage cellars in the world was completed. These new cellars permitted the firm to continue its process of "Kraeusening" allowing longer aging than any other beer available to the public.

Despite the obstacles encountered during periods of war, depression and prohibition, the brewery has grown from a three-barrel operation into a $12 million sales corporation-major factor in the economic structure of the city of La Crosse and surrounding area. The brewery as of 1962 had an annual capacity of 600,000 barrels per year.

After prohibition there was stiff competition between the breweries all over the country. Along with the five-cent glass of beer, regional brewers also have been disappearing. In 1945 there were 470 brewers in the country; today their ranks have shrunk to 107. Heileman Brewing Co. has been able to buck this trend and has been competing effectively with national brewers.

Over the past few years Heileman has been active on the acquisition front by purchasing the controlling interest in Kingsbury Brewery Co. in Sheboygan; the Fox Head Brewing Co. in Waukesha; the Wiedmann Brewing Co. in Newport, Kentucky, the Graumesiter brand from the Independent Milwaukee Brewers; the assets, labels and distribution rights of Gluek Brewing Co. in Twin Cities, and certain assets of the Oertel Brewing Co. of Louisville, Kentucky.

The firm made its first acquisition outside the brewing industry in 1967 when it bough the Machine Products Co. in La Crosse.

Roy E. Kumm, the firm's president, describes Heileman as a "semi-national" operation that is still basically a shipping brewery, such as it was in the early 1900's. The company's sales for 1968 totaled $31,917,449.

A story about G. Heileman Brewing Co. would not be complete without a word about Gambrinus, the patron saint of the old Teutonic brew industry. THe figure of King Gambrinus stands on a little lawn in front of the brewery.

The statue stands 15 feet in height and weighs 2,000 pounds. One foot is posed on a beer keg and the uplifted right hand holds a large beer glass. Gambrinus wears a purple suit, blue coat, a red cape trimmed in white and a golden crown.

The figure is a rare one in this country. It is said there is only one more like it, owned by a brewery in New Orleans.

Heileman purchased Gambrinus in 1939 for $100 from a defunct brewery. Its original cost was $3,000.

Gambrinus was enthroned in Holland and Belguim as patron saint of the brewers as early as the latter half of the 13th century. He was to the Teutonic people what Bacchus was in Roman mythology."