In 1851, when a Bavarian immigrant named Valentin Blatz founded the Milwaukee brewery that would eventually bear his name, he was part of a community of brewers whose lagers and pilsners would soon make the city’s name synonymous with beer. By all accounts, Blatz got an earlier start than many of his more-famous contemporaries—Frederic Miller bought the Plank Road Brewery in 1855, Joseph Schlitz took over the Krug family’s tavern brewery in 1856, and Frederick Pabst married into the family running Best Brewing in 1864.
Like these brewers and hundreds of others in the mid-19th century, Blatz was established to refresh the local population. In the 1870s, though, pasteurization allowed breweries like Blatz to expand. No doubt the most successful brewer of the post-pasteurization period was Anheuser-Busch, but by 1877, Blatz had facilities in Chicago, St. Paul, and New York City, and by 1881 its reach had stretched to Boston, Memphis, and New Orleans.
Despite this promising beginning, the Blatz name would not prove as long-lasting as those of its competitors, in part, perhaps, due to the decision in 1891 to sell the company to a London-based syndicate called the United States Brewing Company. Prohibition did not help either, as Blatz unsuccessfully tried to pivot to the production of root beer, ginger ale, and several types of non-alcoholic “Temperance” beer.
After World War II, Blatz tried to reinvent itself again by aligning its marketing with sporting events, particularly baseball. That’s when some of the most beloved examples of vintage breweriana were produced, a series of fanciful bar statues, whose cartoony figures had beer cans, bottles, and barrels for bodies. While some of these vintage Blatz bar statues resembled ice skaters and others proudly hoisted foam-topped mugs, the best known figures are the trio of baseball players—the catcher is shaped like a Blatz bottle, the runner a can, and the mustachioed umpire calling him safe at home has a barrel chest that’s really a Blatz beer barrel.
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