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Grandpa Graf's (also known as Graf's Root Beer,Graf's, or Gran'pa Graf's) is a carbonated soft drink that can presently be purchased in eastern and northern Wisconsin groceries. The beverage is a root beer flavored drink that originated in 1873 from John Graf.
The origins of Grandpa Graf's root beer dates back to 1873, where John Graf first brewed the root beer on S. 41st St. and W. Greenfield Ave. in West Milwaukee. Graf then formed his own company, being Graf Beverages, that produced a wide variety of soft drinks. Graf continued to brew soft drinks, but it is his root beer that is remembered the most. John Graf's image is still on the can of root beer, in his memory of creating the hallowed beverage. His legacy was passed onto his son after his death in 1930, where his daughter (Sylvia Graf) took presidency of the company. Once she died in 1963, Lawrie O. Graf. Lawrie Graf was well known for his creative engineering skills and his education in chemistry from his study at Marquette University, and helped the company come to a national status. It was said that Graf's beverages were being shipped by the train full all across the country. The company hit national notice quickly. Lawrie Graf continued to run the company until 1968, where he sold the company to P & V Atlas Industrial Center. Lawrie retired, and died in 1998, at the age of 84, ending the Graf legacy.
P & V Atlas Industrial Center owned Graf products, but failed to keep the product in good status. So Graf products were sold to Canada Dry Company. They too failed to keep Graf products flourishing, so they sold Graf to Canfield Company in 1984, situated in Chicago, where they still own Graf products.
Today, Graf products are still being produced, but in very small quantities. Canfield sells mostly Grandpa Graf's root beer, and is mostly shipped to Wisconsin locations. In a 1993 Graf employee reunion, one employee recalls time working at one of the plants. "It was a family-oriented, fun place to work."
Grandpa Graf's root beer has slowly diminished over time, and it is becoming harder and harder to find places that keep it in stock. The soda is currently sold in northern, eastern, and southern Wisconsin (most abundant in Milwaukee). Today, Canfield produces Grandpa Graf's, and ships it to other places in Minnesota, Michigan, and where it is produced (Chicago).
In its first days, Grandpa Graf's was called Graf's root beer. It was John Graf's grandson, Lawrie Graf, who entitled it Grandpa Graf's, and gave it the magical logo of John Graf's face. Lawrie Graf enlisted the aid of cartoonist Sid Stone to create the caricature of his grandfather, which is the image we know as, "The Grandpa".
In due time, the logo was changed to fit the changing culture, but all in all the logo was left with a more cartoonish touch, with only a few colors. The can was given the root beer color, capping the lid on Grandpa Graf's greatness.
The soda was also produced in glass bottles, which also carried the Grandpa's image on the cap. The same image that is on the can today, was on the bottle cap then in the later versions of the cap. The glass bottled root beer was not as popular as the canned products. Grandpa Graf's is known for its "ZIP" and burst of flavor, which was apparently found more in the canned beverages than the glass bottles beverages of Grandpa Graf's
Grandpa Graf's was well known in the 1940s to 1960s for its "new" styles and flavors that were not seen in a root beer. According to a 1946 news report, Graf's was producing eight freight car loads of carbonated bottled water or soda every day. This led to the widespread of Grandpa Graf's, and was at its peak in the mid to late 1950s. Graf's was among one of the first companies in the nation to use flat-top can, and also introduced sugar-free sodas. Also, the Graf company was one of the first to use the quart sized bottle, also known as the "family" size bottle. Plus, Graf was one of the first to experiment with the twist-cap bottle, which is now very common today. Graf's won numerous awards in the 1940s, 50's, and 60's. They were best known for their root beer and 50/50 flavored sodas which included lime and grapefruit.