G. Heileman Brewing Company

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G. Heileman Brewing Company
Industry Alcoholic Beverage
Fate Acquired by Stroh Brewing Company
Founded November 13, 1858 as The City Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin
Founders Gottlieb Heileman and John Gund
Defunct 1996 after Stroh Acquisition
Key people
Gottlieb Heileman, Johanna Heileman, E.T. Mueller, Roy Kumm, and Russel G. Cleary


The G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, United States, was a brewery firm that operated from 1858 to 1996. It was ultimately acquired by Stroh's, and its independent existence ceased. From 1872 until its acquisition, the brewery bore the family name of its co-founder, brewer Gottlieb Heileman.

Background[edit]

In 1858 Gottlieb Heileman, an immigrant from Württemberg, joined in a business venture with John Gund, an immigrant from Baden. Together the pair of German expatriates founded The City Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1858. [1] The City Brewery produced beer at a modest rate, sticking to just local and regional production. The beer produced at the City Brewery primarily went to local hotels and bars. Because hotels and bars were their primary target, Heileman and Gund collaborated on the International Hotel, formerly the Augusta Hotel, which the pair bought and rebuilt after a fire in 1862. [2] The Hotel provided them additional income.

In 1872, however, the pair had a falling out due to several factors, foremost among them being Gund’s desire to expand the brewery and Heileman’s desire to stay local. Following the dissolution of the partnership, Gund bought Heileman’s shares of the International Hotel and Heileman bought Gund’s shares of the City Brewery.[3] Gund went on to found the Gund Brewing Company whereas Heileman renamed the City Brewery the G. Heileman’s City Brewery.

History[edit]

1872-1920[edit]

Newspaper for Old Style Lager, from 1911.

The G. Heileman Brewery came to exist after the dissolution of the Gund/Heileman partnership in 1872. Still under Heileman’s direction, the company remained a local brewery, producing only 3,000 barrels of beer a year for La Crosse and the surrounding community.[1] Heileman died in 1878.

Because the company was family held, following Heileman’s death, ownership passed on to his widow, Johanna, who was to control the company until their nine year old son, Henry, was ready to take over.[1] Along with her brother-in-law, who was Johanna’s foreman in the brewery, the Heileman Brewery finally started expanding. By 1880 they were producing more than 7,000 barrels of beer. Eventually, Johanna’s son-in-law, Emil T. Mueller, joined the family business. The three of them incorporated the company in 1890, calling it the G. Heileman Brewing Company – the name it held until it’s closing in 1991.[4]

G. Heileman Brew House, circa 1910

Following the death of Henry Heileman, the heir to the company, in 1895, Mueller became Vice President of the company, behind only Johanna, one of the first female CEO’s in the history of the United States. It was also around the time of Henry’s death that Heileman began developing their historic Old Style Brand. By 1902 the company was producing around 160,000 barrels of Old Style Lager.[5] It was also that year that the company voted in a union, the last brewer in La Crosse to do so, allowing the company to expand even further. By 1915 Heileman had expanded to serving over 30 states nationwide.[3] Johanna died in 1917, shortly after reaching 34 distribution states and only three years before Prohibition began in 1920.

1920-1933: Prohibition[edit]

Prohibition was signed into law officially on January 17th, 1920 making it illegal to produce any beverage with more than half a percent of alcohol. Heileman quickly reorganized, dropping their Old Style Lager in favor of a new product, New Style Lager, which contained less than ½ a percent of alcohol. Heileman also began producing soda beverages and “malt tonics” with very little success – the company only sold 20,000 barrels in 1926. The company finally hit success with their production of Malt Syrup, which they made with the intention of consumers using it in private beer-making.[4]

Thus Heileman barely made it through Prohibition. Gund Brewery, founded after the Heileman/Gund partnership broke up, was unable to stay afloat during this time. A fire in September 1931 almost ran Heileman out of business, causing upwards of $50,000 in damages.[3] The company continued to squeak by until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Congress modified the 19th Amendment, after which Heileman resumed all beer-making duties.

1933-1987[edit]

Mueller introduced what was to become Heileman's leading "premium" beer label, Heileman's Old Style Beer, in 1902. Building on a strategy begun by his predecessors, Cleary accelerated an acquisition and consolidation effort in the 1970s and early 1980s that gathered a significant percentage of old-line brewery names and intellectual properties into the Heileman family. Heileman acquired 13 breweries between 1959 and 1980. But in 1987 he lost control of the firm to Alan Bond of Australia in a leveraged buyout.

1987-1996[edit]

Bond, who already controlled the Tooheys name and beer interests in Australia, hoped to build a worldwide brewing combine. Lacking cash, he financed the acquisition of G. Heileman with junk bonds. The collapse of Bond's financial empire led indirectly to the end of Heileman's existence as an independent brewer. The private equity firm Hicks, Muse bought G. Heileman in 1994, and sold the company to competitor Stroh Brewery Company two years later. G. Heileman's brewery names and intellectual properties became part of the Pabst Brewing Company, the current owner, when Stroh was split between Pabst and the Miller Brewing Company. Pabst oversees the brewing of several well-known Heileman brands, including Old Style and Special Export, under the G. Heileman name.

Historic U.S. brewing names that were consolidated into G. Heileman during its final years include Black Label, Blatz, Blitz-Weinhard, Drewry's, Falls City, Grain Belt, Gluek Brewing, National Bohemian, Olympia, Rainier, Christian Schmidt, Jacob Schmidt, and Wiedemann. At its height the Heileman's combination was the third largest brewer in the United States, behind Anheuser-Busch and Miller.

As a direct result of the Alan Bond collapse, the G. Heileman Brewing Company declared bankruptcy in January 1991. The troubled firm sought salvation with an aggressive push into the malt liquor market. In a controversial move, company leadership developed a new brand of malt liquor to be named Power Master. "Power Master" brand of malt liquor was brewed with an alcohol by volume of 7.4%, significantly higher than existing malt liquor brands.

Protestors cited Heileman's distribution and advertising strategies as evidence that the company was targeting the high-alcohol beverage toward urban African-Americans, especially in Chicago, one of Heileman's core markets. Fr. Michael Pfleger took a leading role in opposing Power Master, helping to organize a threatened boycott of one of Heileman's established malt liquor brands, Colt 45 which, at the time, had an alcohol percentage of 5.6%. The Colt 45 boycott was called off when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives succeeded, in July 1991, in persuading Heileman to pull the "Power Master" brand from the market.[6]

Today[edit]

As of 2016, the former Heileman's flagship brewery in La Crosse is owned and operated by the City Brewing Company. The brewery chose to use the name that the former Heileman's used as its startup name in 1858-1872. City Brewing brews beer and packages bottled tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks. It does not have the right to use any of the intellectual property, including beer brand names, associated with the G. Heileman Brewing Company.

World's Largest Six Pack[edit]

In 1969 designer Roy Wilson and the G. Heileman Brewing Company constructed a set of metal tanks, holding a total of 22,220 barrels of beer, adjacent to their La Crosse brewery. The tanks were used for inventory storage and were painted in the colors of a six-pack of Old Style. For publicity purposes, the brewery called the tanks the World's Largest Six-Pack. The tanks continued in use as of 2016 by City Brewing, although the Old Style logo had been painted over and replaced by vinyl plastic sheaths printed with the colors and packaging style of City's La Crosse Lager.[7]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Schwantes, Benjamin. "The Best of Partners – The Best of Rivals: Gottlieb Heileman, John Gund, and the Rise of the La Crosse Brewing Industry". Immigrant Entrepreneurship. Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 
  2. ^ Hill, Edwin (1978). A Checklist of La Crosse Hotels and Motels: 1840s - 1967. La Crosse, WI: University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. p. 92. 
  3. ^ a b c Koeller, Paul D.; DeLano, David H. (2004). Brewed with Style: The Story of the House of Heileman. La Crosse, WI: University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. 
  4. ^ a b The House of Heileman: A Brief History. La Crosse, WI: G. Heileman Brewing Company 1987 Annual Report. 1987. 
  5. ^ "History". Old Style Beer. Pabst Brewing Company. 
  6. ^ Eichenwald, Kurt (1991-07-04). "Company News: U.S. Rescinds Approval of A Malt Liquor". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  7. ^ Kirby, Doug; Smith, Ken; Wilkins, Mike. "Return of the World's Largest Six Pack." Roadside America, 2008.

Sources[edit]

  • Brewed with Style: The Story of the House of Heileman, Paul Koeller and David H. Delano, 2004, published by the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse Foundation and City Brewing Company.

External links[edit]