Fitger Brewing Company
Fitger's Brewing Company
The complex in Duluth in 2016
|NRHP Reference #||84001690|
|Added to NRHP||February 9, 1984|
The Fitger's Brewing Company brewed beer from 1881 to 1972, making it Duluth's oldest continually-operating industry. The brewery was located at 600 East Superior Street, on Lake Superior in the U.S. state of Minnesota. The complex included ten buildings including the garage/stable (shown), which was built in 1911. Over the life of the company this building housed the horses and vehicle used to deliver the brewery's product.
The first brewery in Duluth, Minnesota, was started by Sidney Luce in 1857. It was purchased in 1881 by Michael Fink, who decided to build a larger brewery a block and a half away on Superior Street. Construction of the new building began September 19, 1881, and was completed the next year. Dubbed Fink's Lake Superior Brewery, it included offices, sleeping quarters for employees, brewing facilities, and its own drinking establishment, the Brewery Saloon. Lake Superior Brewery sold its first beer in August 1882. The brewery was very successful from the beginning and sold beer as far west as Aitkin, Minnesota, and as far east as Thunder Bay, Ontario.
On November 11, 1882, Fink hired a young German brewmaster named August Fitger, a graduate from a premier German brewing school, Weihenstephan Brewing School in Munich (now part of Technical University of Munich, the German equivalent of the MIT and home of many Nobel laureates). Just months later, in April 1883, Fitger purchased half of the company for $18,000. It was agreed that the other half would be purchased by Percy Anneke, a native of Milwaukee and auditor and sales rep for Schlitz. Anneke was a friend of Fitger, and son of famous German-American political activist, abolitionist and feminist Mathilde Anneke and her husband Colonel Fritz Anneke. The company was renamed A. Fitger & Co./ Lake Superior Brewery.
Beer production continued for 40 years until Prohibition began in 1920, forcing breweries to close their doors or change production. Fitger's was able to fill markets other than beer to produce, and was one of the few brewers in the entire country that remained open throughout Prohibition. Fitger and Anneke sold their shares and retired to California. Percy's son Victor H. Anneke, who had taken over from his father in 1920, wanted to keep as many employees as possible, but the beer sales could not justify that. In order to keep employees, he decided to begin making soft drinks and candy and distributing cigars. Fitger and Anneke had set out a strategy several years earlier in order to keep the brewery open during Prohibition, which they only expected to last a short time. The company produced five-cent candy bars such as The King Bee Nougat, the Flapper, the Spark Plug, the Nut Goodie, and the Skookum. Candy sales steadily increased for several years, but did not ultimately prove profitable.
Fitger's was one of the first breweries to start distributing carbonated soft drinks by the bottle. The soft drinks were made in numerous flavors that often changed. Some of the usual flavors included grape, orange, and strawberry, but they also experimented with other flavors such as imitation chocolate milk shake, black calf, black cow, ginger ale, lemon soda, strawberry fizz, and carbonated water. Their experimenting lead them to the production of champagne-like beverages such as Extra Dry and Silver Spray. Both of which were immediate successes through mass amounts of advertising.
However, the most innovative idea for promoting Silver Spray came not from advertising and sales people but from Victor H. Anneke himself. In September 1927, Anneke opened the Silver Spray Gym at Fitger’s. He converted the building that had replaced the old brewery into a boxing gym, harnessing the popularity of the sport. The Silver Spray Gym was considered high-class for its time. The main floor was a boxing arena and the basement was a training facility. Anneke believed the gym would be a benefit to the community and also good publicity for Fitger’s. Many popular boxers visited the gym, making the facility well known, among them the German boxing legend Max Schmeling during his first tour of the U.S. in 1928.
When prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, the demand for strong Fitger’s beer grew. From 1933 to 1936, Fitger’s experienced tremendous growth and record sales. Much of the success was due to the company's continual creation of new products and innovative ways to market them. One of the most successful revolutions in the business was the invention of canned beer. Fitger’s became one of the first U.S. companies and the first in the Midwest to offer canned beer.
World War II and after
But with the onset of World War II, Fitger’s once again had to fight to stay open. It became extremely difficult to get supplies to keep the brewery going. Many resources were reused because of the lack of materials. Still, Fitger’s came out with new beers known as “War Beer”, watered down because ingredients were scarce and labor was shorthanded. Also since workers were limited because of the draft, women were brought in to work in the factory. Before Prohibition, there were more than 70 breweries in Minnesota and now only 23, with Fitger’s being one of them.
In 1944, the Beerhalter family bought the brewery.
After the war, regular beer returned with ingredients and labor. Fitger’s also managed to purchase brand-new equipment, and it was said that Fitger’s beer was now “more pure".
In 1972, Fitger’s received a letter from the State of Minnesota about two problems. Minnesota Pollution Control ordered the installation of expensive pollution abatement equipment and that State Highway Department planned to purchase some of Fitger’s property for the possible expansion of I-35. Fitger’s was unable to afford the equipment, and on September 30, 1972, it closed its doors, ending 115 years of brewing on the shores of Lake Superior.
The complex was eventually purchased by a group of prominent Duluth business owners, and reopened in December 1984. Two years later, the construction of Interstate 35 hurt business. In 1994, Fitger’s-on-the-Lake LLC became the new owners of the complex.
Today Fitger's houses a brewpub, a variety of retail stores and four restaurants. There is also a museum about the brewery and a self-guided tour of parts of the historic complex.
- National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Yearby, Jean (1985). "Fitger Brewery Complex". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
- Nord, Mary Ann (2003). The National Register of Historic Places in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 0-87351-448-3.
- Johnson, Clarence "Coopen" (2004) Fitger's The Brewery and Its People
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