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A look at the life and legacy of Joseph Schlitz & his impact on beer in Milwaukee

Wisconsin Historical Society
Portrait of Joseph Schlitz.

Joseph Schlitz helped make Milwaukee famous for its beer. He owned and operated the Schlitz Brewing Company, starting in the 1850s. The company grew into the familiar name most Wisconsinites can recognize.

Jerry Janiszewski is an Old World Wisconsin volunteer brewer and also a member of the museum's brewing experience committee. He shares more about the life and legacy of Joseph Schlitz.

Janiszewski starts, "It's incredible to examine his life because he only lived for 43 years and he was born in Mainz, which back then was called the Kingdom of Prussia. He was born in 1831 and he set foot in New York on June 15 of 1849 and made his way to Milwaukee."

In 1850, Schlitz started working as a bookkeeper for August Krug Brewing Company in Milwaukee. After marrying the widowed owner of the Krug Brewery, Schlitz renamed the company Schlitz Brewing Company and built a new brewery on Third and Walnut streets.

Janiszewski notes it was the Great Chicago Fire that really got Schlitz rolling. The fire burned down many of the Chicago's breweries so Schlitz and other Milwaukee brewers supplied beer to them, and later started distributing beer in Chicago.

Unfortunately in 1875, Schlitz was traveling to Germany and the ship he was on crashed into rocks near England. Over 300 people were killed, and his body was never recovered.

Still, his family continued to lead the brewery to be the largest in the U.S. by 1902.

Janiszewski says the Schlitz company did a lot for the Milwaukee community — for example in 1879, they opened Schlitz Park. "It was an area where families could picnic in the pavilion, visit a zoo, go bowling or have a concert at the theater ... and of course, Schlitz beer was available to all the adults there to enjoy."

Schlitz went on to became the beer that made Milwaukee famous in 1894 and the company also became known for their wonderful beer halls, Janiszewski says.

"It's interesting because there's sort of history repeating itself. And we can enjoy the craft breweries here in a city beer gardens, which sort of vanished and they're coming back. And we also have a new generation of beer barons. It's neat to see how it's revolving again," he adds.

Tavern Tuesdays is in partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society and Old World Wisconsin to bring you stories about beer and brewing in our state. We'll be sharing these histories with you leading up to the grand opening of Old World Wisconsin’s new brewing experience.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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