Hamm's Brewery

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Hamm's)
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the former Theo. Hamm's Brewing Co. All Hamm's Brands are now brewed by the Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Theo. Hamm Brewing Co.
Industry Alcoholic beverage
Predecessor Andrew F. Keller, Excelsior Brewery
Successor Olympia Brewing Co.
Stroh Brewing Company
Founded 1865
Founder Theodore Hamm
Headquarters St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Area served
Key people
  • Andrew F. Keller
  • Theodore Hamm
  • Louise Hamm
  • William Hamm
  • William Hamm Jr.


  • Hamm's Premium
  • Hamm's Special Light
  • Hamm's Golden Draft
Brewery overlooks Swede Hollow in St. Paul

The Theodore Hamm's Brewing Company was the name of an American brewing company in St. Paul, Minnesota. As Hamm's expanded, breweries were also acquired in other cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and Baltimore.


The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was established in 1865 when a German immigrant Theodore Hamm (1825-1903)[1] inherited the Excelsior Brewery from his friend and business associate A. F. Keller, who had perished in California seeking his fortune in the gold fields. Unable to finance the venture himself, Keller had entered into a partnership with Hamm to secure funding. Upon Keller's death, Hamm inherited the small brewery and flour mill in the east side wilderness of St. Paul, Minnesota. Keller had constructed his brewery in 1860 over artesian wells in a section of the Phalen Creek valley in St. Paul known as Swede Hollow. Hamm, a butcher by trade and local salon owner, first hired Jacob Schmidt as a brew master. Jacob Schmidt remained with the company until the early 1880s, becoming a close family friend of the Hamms. Jacob Schmidt left the company after an argument ensued over Louise Hamm's disciplinary actions to Schmidt's daughter, Marie. By 1884, Schmidt was a partner at the North Star Brewery not far from Hamm's brewery. By 1899 he had established his own brewery on the site of the former Stalhmann Brewery site. In need of a new brewmaster, Hamm hired Christopher Figge who would start a tradition of three generations of Hamm's Brewmasters, with his son William and grandson William II taking the position. By the 1880s, the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was reportedly the second largest in Minnesota.

During Prohibition, the company survived by producing soft drinks and other food products, enabling it to expand rapidly through acquisitions after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. From 1933 until 1965 Hamm's saw much success; much of this can be attributed to William C. Figge Jr. taking over as President in 1951. Figge expanded the Hamm's brand into a national entity with breweries in St. Paul, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and Houston, Texas. The latter two were short-lived and closed soon after they opened. As the company celebrated its 100th anniversary, the family decided to sell the brewery and leave the ever more competitive brewing industry to focus on its other ventures like its successful real estate company.

History of ownership[edit]

In 1965 the company was acquired by Heublein. In 1971 Hamm's was sold to a group of Hamm's distributors which in turn sold it to Olympia Brewing Company in 1975. In 1983 Pabst purchased Olympia along with Hamm's. It was at this time that the St. Paul flagship brewery was traded to the Stroh Brewing Company; Stroh's continued to operate the brewery until 1997. When it closed, the operation ended a 137-year brewing tradition on the site. Its buildings were shuttered, and subsequently vandalized, demolished or left to decay. Miller Brewing acquired the brand from Pabst in 1999. Miller was later purchased by South African Breweries and the name was changed to SABMiller. Subsequently, SABMiller formed a joint venture combining their US and Puerto Rican assets with those of MolsonCoors to form MillerCoors, the current owner and brewer of the Hamm's Brand.[2] MillerCoors now produces three Hamm's beers: Premium, Golden Draft, and Special Light.[3]


St. Paul brewery[edit]

The flagship brewery of the former Hamm's empire was in St. Paul. Brewing began on the site in 1860, when Andrew F. Keller established the Pittsburgh Excelsior Brewery. Keller, a friend of Theodore Hamm, planned for the two of them to travel to California for the "second gold rush." Louise forbade her husband from leaving her alone with three children in the wild frontier town of St. Paul. Unbeknownst to his wife, Hamm staked all of his savings and mortgaged his beer garden in Keller for his trip and homestead in California. As collateral, Keller gave the deed to his small brewery and flour mill located on the east side of St. Paul to Hamm.

Upon Keller's death in 1865, all of Hamm's savings, homestead and stake were lost. Losing his beer garden, Hamm moved his family to the brewery. Through constant expansion and improvements, the brewery soon became the largest in the state. The most notable expansion was the state of the art Brew House, which was built in 1893. In 1897 the wash house and part of the bottling plant were built, both of which still stand. The brewery was in an almost constant state of expansion from 1933 until 1948. It added a new power house, bottling facilities, malt house, grain storage, stock houses, shipping docks, office space, garages, and more. The brewery shut its doors in 1997 under the ownership of the Stroh Brewing Company. The property was sold to a real estate investor who in turn sold the southern half (the more historic portion of the brewery) to the City of St. Paul, including the original Brew House. The city, however, left these buildings to decay and crumble. The northern portion of the brewery today is mostly inhabited by various businesses including a trapeze school. As of 2013 businesses have started to return to the historical southern portion of the brewery. The keg and wash house are currently home to the Flat Earth Brewing Company. Stock house number three is home to Urban Organics, and the carpenter shop houses the 11 Wells Distillery.

A sizable portion of the brewery is still abandoned, including the brew house. Today, the Hamm's brewery is a popular location for urban explorers, graffiti artists, vandals, and thieves.[citation needed]

San Francisco brewery[edit]

In 1953, Hamm's purchased its second brewery from the Rainier Brewing Company. Hamm's opened its San Francisco brewery in 1954 at 1550 Bryant Street. Its 20-by-80 foot sign, with a three-dimensional 13-foot beer chalice on top, appeared in the first Dirty Harry film and was a local landmark. The brewery closed in 1972. In the early 1980s, the beer vats were first squatted and then rented out to punk rock bands. Known as "The Vats", the brewery was a center of San Francisco punk rock culture with about 200 bands using individual vats as music studios. The building was renovated in the mid 1980s and converted into offices and showroom space.[4]

Los Angeles brewery[edit]

In 1958 Hamm's purchased the former Acme Brewery on 49th street in Los Angeles, California. The brewery had been owned by the New York-based Liebmann Breweries since 1954. The brewery was operated by Hamm's until 1972.

Baltimore brewery[edit]

In 1959 the Gunther Brewery of Baltimore, Maryland, was purchased. The mistake was made to discontinue the Gunther brand turning much of the Baltimore population against Hamm's. The breweries reputation was further tarnished by a frozen batch of beer that made its way to market. After a failed attempt to re-introduce the Gunther brand the brewery was sold to the Schaefer Brewing Company of New York after only four years of operation in 1963.

Houston brewery[edit]

A final attempt at expansion was made in 1963 with the purchase of the Gulf Brewing Company of Houston, Texas. The brewery had been started in 1933 by the famous Howard Hughes. This venture was more successful but by 1965 with Heublein's purchase of Hamm's its breweries started to close one by one, with Houston being the first in 1967.


While Hamm's is no longer an independent brewing company, it is still sold in select markets under the Hamm's brand and label. The beer is brewed and sold by MillerCoors of Chicago, Illinois.

Several beers are produced: the original Hamm's Premium, a pale lager; Hamm's Golden Draft; and Hamm's Special Light. Hamm's has been having a resurgence of sorts in the Minnesota and Wisconsin markets, a nostalgic antidote to the burgeoning craft-brewing scene.


The name is most famous not for the company's beverages, but for its advertising jingle and its mascot, the Hamm's Beer bear.


The original jingle, with lyrics by Nelle Richmond Eberhart and music by Charles Wakefield Cadman was derived from a 1909 art song entitled "From The Land of Sky-Blue Water". It was first used on radio and later on television. It started with tom-tom drums, then a chorus intoned (partial lyrics):

From the Land of Sky Blue Waters [(Echo) Waters]
Comes the water best for brewing,
Hamm's the Beer Refreshing,
Hamm's the Beer Refreshing,

Hamm's Bear[edit]

The Hamm's Beer bear (or The Hamm's Bear) was a cartoon mascot used in television production and print advertisements for the beer. The animated character was the first of its kind in the beer industry. In a typical TV spot, the bear would dance around in a pastoral setting while the "Land of Sky Blue Waters" advertising jingle played in the background. In 1999, Advertising Age Magazine called the Hamm's Bear the key element of one of the best ad campaigns in the last 100 years. A statue of the mascot was erected in a St. Paul, Minnesota in 2005.


The Hamm’s ads were the first to use an animated "spokesperson" for a beer,[5] although the perpetually mute character eventually only learned to speak one line: "It bears repeating!"[6] The Hamm's Bear was created by Patrick DesJarlait following an idea first sketched on a restaurant napkin in 1952. The resultant advertising campaign—launched in 1953—was produced by the Campbell Mithun Advertising Agency.[7] The original idea for the mascot came from Cleo Hoval, an account representative with Campbell Mithun, who finally asked a business acquaintance, Ray Tollefson, to draw the bear after discarding other prior attempts by his own marketing co-workers. Cleo liked the bear that Ray drew. Tollefson eventually drew many scenes and humorous situations into which he could put the bear in the ongoing Hamm's advertising campaign. He also created an in-house book for Campbell Mithun, "How to Draw the Hamm's Bear," since so many agency artists would have to be able to draw the Hamm's Bear accurately. Tollefson went on to create such characters as the Little Flame Girl for Minnegasco and Albert & Stanley for Grain Belt Beer.[8]

Use and public acceptance[edit]

The Hamm's Bear was featured on an endless array of signs, glassware, and promotional merchandise. Commercials featuring the klutzy cartoon bear with a bewildered but cheerful grin—often pictured in television ads tripping over canoes, logs, or its own feet—were considered an overwhelming success.[7][9][10]

Although they were silly, the commercials were well written. The commercials were smarter and funnier than most non-advertising cartoons of the time.[11] Each spot held genuine entertainment value for viewers (and had a miniature story-line containing a plot, some form of conflict, and usually a final resolution), guaranteeing TV audiences would pay attention. Also, the background use of actual imagery from Minnesota's natural wilderness helped get across the product's emphasis on natural and pure ingredients much more effectively than mere advertising copy could.[10] The founder of Campbell Mithun, the ad agency that created the Hamm's Bear, once said, "We believe the legend of the Hamm's bear, like that of Paul Bunyan, will grow greater and greater as time goes on."[11]

Hamm's went on to become one of the first companies to create a national pro-sports and college-sports branding campaign. According to Moira F. Harris’ book, "The Paws of Refreshment: The Story of Hamm’s Beer Advertising," Hamm's claimed to be the biggest TV and sports radio beer sponsor in the country by 1964.[11] The Hamm’s Bear ads were run in support not only of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings; but also of the Chicago Blackhawks, White Sox, Cubs and Bears; the Kansas City A’s; San Francisco Giants and 49ers; the Los Angeles Rams; Houston Oilers; Baltimore Orioles; Green Bay Packers; and Dallas Cowboys.[5]

The Audit Research Bureau reported that nationwide, in 1965, the Hamm's Bear mascot was the "best liked" advertisement. Considering that Hamm's commercials only aired in 31 states, this is quite an accomplishment.[10] The Hamm's Bear mascot was the key element of the campaign which ranked 75th in the "Best Ad Campaign of the 20th Century" as named by Advertising Age Magazine in 1999.[9][12] The character was so well known (and identified so closely with the state of Minnesota) that in 2000, the St. Paul Pioneer Press named the Hamm's Bear as one of the "150 Most Influential Minnesotans of the Past 150 Years".[10]

By that time, however, the current parent company, Miller Brewing, had drastically reduced the bear's use due to concerns it might be interpreted as an attempt to market beer to children (just as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco had recently been forced to discontinue its Joe Camel character for similar reasons).


In 2002, to commemorate the bear's 50th anniversary, a St. Paul-based group of Hamm's memorabilia collectors, the Hamm's Club, proposed erecting a six-foot granite statue of the bear near a waterfall named for William Hamm (a former company president), which is in Como Park.[13] The statue was placed instead in the Seventh Street Mall in September 2005.

In popular culture[edit]

In Minnesota after World War II and into the mid-century, "Hamm's" was a common synonym for beer, as in "It's been a long day – let's get a Hamm's", or packing for a summer picnic, "Don't forget to put in the Hamm's!"[citation needed]

William Hamm, Jr. was kidnapped in Saint Paul by the Barker-Karpis Gang in the 1930s. The subsequent investigation by the FBI employed the first attempt at raising latent fingerprints from paper ransom notes.[14]

In the David Frizzell song "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home", the wife mentions the Hamm's Bear in the lyrics, referring to a Hamm's Bear clock, used in many bars, i.e.: "When the Hamm's Bear says it's closing time, you won't have far to crawl".[11][15]

John Cusack's character, Robert Gordon, drinks Hamm's almost exclusively in the 2000 comedy High Fidelity.[citation needed]

In gratitude for Edward H. Hamm Jr. financing the film God Bless America (film) filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait got a tattoo of the Hamm's Bear on his chest.[16]


  1. ^ www.historyontheweb.org
  2. ^ MillerCoors: Financials Archived 2011-08-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Brands Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine. at MillerCoors.com
  4. ^ M.D.C. and The Vats at FoundSF.org
  5. ^ a b Brand of Sky Blue Waters; by Don Jacobson; November 17, 2004; accessed January 2014.
  6. ^ Ten Greatest Alcohol Icons of All Times; The Story Behind the Face on the Bottle; article; by Frank Kelly Rich; Modern Drunkard Magazine on line; accessed January 2014.
  7. ^ a b Hamm's Bear Historic Marker Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.; dedicated in 2005; Hamm;s Club; reference MN MSM 00001; at Seventh Street Place, W. 7th Pl. and St. Peter St. (Latitude (N/S): 44.946833 – Longitude (E/W): -93.096911).
  8. ^ Ray Tollefson, artist, dies at 91; February 22, 2002; Obituary article; Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune; accessed January 2014.
  9. ^ a b Flat Earth Brings Beer Brewing Back to Old Hamm's Site; 06/10/2013; article; by Frederick Melo; Twin Cities.com (Twin Cities Pioneer Press online); accessed January 2014
  10. ^ a b c d Beer and Television: Perfectly Tuned In; by Carl H. Miller; Article Reprinted from "All About Beer Magazine" (by permission of the author); Beer History on line; accessed January 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d The Paws of Refreshment: The Story of Hamm's Beer Advertising; 2000; book; by Moira F. Harris; Pogo Press; retrieved January 2014.
  12. ^ Note: for Hamm's Beer: From the Land of Sky Blue Waters
  13. ^ Note: Although it would not mention the word "beer," the City Council declined the offer in 2003, in part because the original location was near a playground.
  14. ^ "Latent Prints in the 1933 Hamm Kidnapping". FBI. p. 2. Archived from the original on 2016-12-25. 
  15. ^ Gene O'Brien, Broadcast; May 23, 1977
  16. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3W5MWL4_YE&t=2s

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°57′45″N 93°4′17″W / 44.96250°N 93.07139°W / 44.96250; -93.07139