If Schlitz is “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous,” as one of its oldest slogans proclaimed, then Milwaukee is the city that always had a soft spot in its heart for the 19th-century lager. To the world, Schlitz was hyped for its Gusto, quality ingredients, and extraordinary sales—as recently as 1976, Schlitz was the second-best-selling beer in America. But in Milwaukee, Schlitz was a beer taken seriously by serious Milwaukee beer drinkers, which, if you’ve been to Milwaukee, is high praise indeed.
The roots of this storied beer date to 1850, when a young Joseph Schlitz worked as a bookkeeper for August Krug, who owned a tavern brewery at the corner of 3rd and Walnut streets. Small breweries were common in the 1800s thanks to a lack of refrigeration, which kept production local. Thus, by 1853, it was enough to brew 300 barrels of beer a year.
When Krug passed away in 1856, Schlitz took over the brewery, married Krug’s widow, and eventually named the company after himself. By 1859, output had reached 2,000 barrels a year, and by 1902 it had crested at one million, making Schlitz the largest brewery in the world.
For collectors of beer cans and bottles, two Schlitz innovations are of particular interest. The first was its introduction of a brown bottle in 1911, which prevented light from spoiling the beverage inside. The second was the “pop top” can, which appeared in 1963.
Other items prized by Schlitz collectors and fans are signs featuring the company’s trademark “Belted Globe” logo. Some of these revolving electric globes, which are largely blue, have brackets so they can be mounted on a tavern wall—collectors have long known that they look just as good in a family rec room. Others were flatter in profile so that they could be placed where less-obtrusive signage was required.
And then there were the hanging vintage Schlitz lights from the 1950s and ’60s. Shaped like buoys or fishing floats, whose red, yellow, and aqua bottoms were paired with white tops, these lights hung from curved poles that were strapped together where the fixture met the wall. It was a simple and graphic design that fit in perfectly with the Mid-century Modern look that was sweeping the nation.
Other items of interest to collectors include Lionel boxcars with the Schlitz logo on their sides, beer tap knobs, and clocks, which ranged from ornate, gilt-metal timepieces with Roman numeral faces to simple cash-register clocks that quickly communicated the Schlitz brand and hour of the day...
In 1982, Stroh's of Detroit acquired Schlitz and in 1999 Pabst decided to try its hand at running the brand. For a while, the beer was only available in cans, but in 2008 it was once again being bottled in traditional brown glass.
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