Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Independent Milwaukee Brewery, c. 1901

Its best-known beer, Braumeister, lasted into the 1990s.

By - Jul 12th, 2016 02:37 pm
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Independent Milwaukee Brewery, c. 1901. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Independent Milwaukee Brewery, c. 1901. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

The name Independent Milwaukee Brewery was perhaps not the most imaginative for a brewer. And by local standards the company was a relative newcomer, having been founded in 1901, more than half a century after Milwaukee’s earliest breweries began.

This cabinet photograph must date from the brewery’s earliest years, and shows a group of men with a loaded beer delivery wagon and a metal advertising sign of the brewery. These signs would normally be mounted outside of taverns serving the various products. Perhaps these gentlemen are officers of the company.

It was founded by five partners: Henry N. Bills, William Gutknecht, Charles Evers, Emil Czarnecki, and William Jung. Each put up $1000. Czarnecki was named the first president of the company. During prohibition, Bills bought out his partners and brought his sons, Henry H. Bills and Harry Bills, and son-in-law, Fred Elsner into the business. During prohibition, the company manufactured “near beer,” soda water (including “Bills Root Beer”) and malt syrup.

After prohibition ended, then-president Henry N. Bills was the first Wisconsin brewer to pay for the $1,000 permit to manufacture beer after Prohibition ended. The company sold four different beers with “Bill’s” on the label, including Bill’s Culmbacher Beer and Bill’s High Power Bock Beer.

The Independent Milwaukee Brewery was located on the South Side near the corner of 13th St. and Cleveland Ave., likely the site of this photograph. The best-known brand of the brewery was Braumeister, and that included five different versions of Braumeister. The company’s letterhead promoted Braumeister. But the company also made at least 12 other brews, including Deutscher Club Lager Beer and Log Cabin Beer.

Elsner joined the Independent Milwaukee Brewery in 1928 as a salesman. He was named company president in 1956, serving in that capacity until 1962, when the company was sold to larger rival G. Heileman of La Crosse. Heileman shuttered the Independent Milwaukee Brewery and would continue selling the Braumeister label, later selling it to the Peter Hand Brewing Co. of Chicago, which continued making and selling Braumeister until 1998.

Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.

8 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Independent Milwaukee Brewery, c. 1901”

  1. Dale Kehoss says:

    Great story. Makes me see the city with different eyes. More like this please.
    Another feature I enjoyed was “Bar Exam” which told the history of bar buildings going back many years. Please bring that back..Thanks.

  2. Thomas Ramstack says:

    I had a relative in New Berlin who ran a tavern on National Avenue. His large sign at the top of the building read:

    John Casper New Berlin–Central Hotel
    INDEPENDENT MILWAUKEE BRY. LAGER BEER
    John Casper was an immigrant from Alsace, France

    I thought that I was familiar with most early Milw. breweries but not this one.

  3. Doreen Stulo says:

    I remember this Brewery well as a child my grandmother lived across the street to the back of the building I remember the sadness when the building was torn down I remember stories told by my grandmother about her father going and getting nickel buckets thank you for refreshing the memories

  4. Sally Fischer says:

    My Dad who just turned 94 yesterday worked at this brewery checking gauges when he was 14! Yesterday I gave him a beer tray advertising Braumeister beer for his birthday!! It has Independent Milwaukee Brewery on the bottom!

  5. Bob G. says:

    Did not Peter Hand sell the label to Joseph Huber Brewing? Huber is now Minhas Craft Brewery. Do they now own the label?

  6. Steve J. Grzendzielewski Jr says:

    My dad worked at the brewery from the time he was discharged from the army at the end of WWII until it closed. We lived off of 12th and Arthur and I would stop in at the end of his work day where he would take me through the fermentation building located on the north side of Cleveland Ave. between the alley and west to 14th street. Fred Elsner’s office was located in this building next to the alley. I still have my dad’s braumeister beer sham glasses and delivery cap.

  7. Dan Johnson says:

    I have recently aquired a Independent Brewing Company pre-prohibition beer barrel in great condition. Not many of these could be still around the advertising is in great condition. A really nice piece of beer memorabilia !

  8. Mark says:

    I have some of this Braumeister, unopened if any collector is interested.

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