The Hamm`s Brewery Past, Present and Future

Mark Thompson
History of the Twin Cities
Instructor Garth Hiebert
The Hamm's Brewery Past, Present and Future
The story of the Hamm’s Brewery is about the growth of a small brewery through three
generations of two families to national prominence. The story is about the employees and the
brewery’s ties to the local community. The story takes us to the selling of the brewery and to the
eventual closing of the plant. Today the brewery has a new owner and no longer operates as a
brewery. The future possibilities of new and creative uses of the brewery will be a challenge as
Hamm’s Brewery moves into the 21st century.
A young German immigrant couple Theodore and Louise Hamm, in 1856 found a home
in St. Paul, Minnesota. They established a boarding house called Sailors Rest in1859 close to the
levee where one would get a glimpse of St Paul. Somewhat later they got into the saloon
business. Creek. In1864 happenstance put Theodore on another course as entrepreneur Andrew
F. Keller owner of a small brewery called the Excelsior Brewery then producing 500 barrels a
year needed money for expansion. Theodore borrowed the money with the brewery as collateral
and when Keller defaulted on the loan Theodore Hamm’s was now the owner of a brewery.
(Flanigan 8-10)
The Hamm’s Brewery wasn’t the only brewery in the neighborhood. The Drewery
Brewery opened by Edward Drewery was right next door. The brewery, later a manufacture of
pop, was torn down in the 1950’s to make way for the Hamm’s administration building. (Pioneer
press 5/24/98). Edward Phalen first inhabited this area around 1837 claiming the future site of
the Hamm’s Brewery as his second claim for his homestead where he built a cabin. Soon
discharged soldiers would follow him from Fort Snelling to this large ravine with a creek
running through it later named after its first settler. In 1850 Swedish immigrants began settling
this valley, which became known as “Svenska Dalen” now called Swede Hollow. (Kunz 45-50)
Following the building of the railroads these upwardly mobile Swedes began to make their way
up to what’s now Payne Avenue and began developing this new commercial district. Swede
Hollow was later inhabited by Irish, Polish, Italian and finally Mexicans until it was closed down
and burnt to the ground in 1956 by the City for having unsanitary water. (Sunrise 12/1990) In
writing Memories of North and South Phalen Creek, Michael Sanchelli writes that the City
covered up the South Phalen Creek in 1936. The North Phalen creek met the same fate in 1958.
In the 1880’s a building boom occurred on both upper and lower Payne Avenue. Payne Avenue
became a commercial street and, the Hamm’s Brewery, Whirlpool and 3m formed an industrial
corridor giving people living in this neighborhood a place to work within walking distance from
home. (Kunz 48-49).
Theodore shortly after he acquired his brewery moved from his home on the levee and
settled near the brewery. A beer garden and boarding house would follow. Theodore raised cattle
and operated the mill to produce brew for his partner, the first brewmaster Jacob Schmidt. A
biergarten was opened by Louise and Katherine Schmidt and the residents were fed and served
Hamm’s beer. The next spring Hamm and Schmidt began to encourage their workers to settle
near the brewery and Theodore sold his land to his workers and the East Side of St. Paul began to
grow. As single men asked to work at the brewery Louise made plans for the building of
dormitories and for feeding these men three meals a day. A noon meal was prepared daily for the
married men. (Flanigan 15,Miller 17) As described in “Hamm’s The Story of 100 Years in the
Land of Sky Blue Waters,” Theodore was generous to his employees, giving a Christmas basket
filed with food and silver dollars to coincide with ones years of service with the brewery. His
friends and workers called him “Bruderle Hamm”,"little brother.” And when he helped organize
the first union for his workers, he found himself elected as president. (5)
Two events influenced the course of the brewery through 1965 when the brewery was
sold. The first was death of Theodore Hamm the oldest Hamm son in1870 whom was being
groomed for to succeed his father in running the brewery. The second event was the leaving of
Jacob Schmidt as the first brewmaster to join North Star Brewery in1884, which he soon took
over, and eventually becoming president of the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company in1889.
(Flanagan16) William Hamm, the next oldest son, was taken out of school at the age of 13 years
and taught the brewery business. He would later succeed his father. In need of a brewmaster
Chris Figge became the second brewmaster whom was followed by his son and later his
grandson who went onto become the president of Hamm’s. (Miller 24) The brewing process was
secretly passed down from father to son three generations of one family of skilled brewmasters.
(Theo Hamm Brewing Co. 6) With William Jr. Hamm following his father as president there
were three generations of two families who controlled the brewery until it was sold in1965.
The size of the work force grew, as did the total number of barrels brewed. In 1865 there
were 5 employees that brewed 500 barrels a year that grew to 75 employees brewing 40,000
barrels a year in1885. In 1894 the brewery expanded to include a bottling works and that was
followed by artificial refrigeration in1895. In1894 an open house was held and free samples of
beer were handed out and the long tradition of brewery tours began, along with the creation of a
booklet a “Modern Brewery” in 1903. It explained the brewing process and illustrated all the
rooms in the brewery. (Harris 2-3) In 1886 Theodore and Louise made a trip back to their
homeland in Herbolzheim, Germany. While his father was away William built a mansion for his
father at 671 Greenbrier, Street, St. Paul. The Hamm’s mansion joins 3 other houses that were
occupied by 3 Hamm sisters. Theodore lived there until his death and it was then occupied by
William until his death and it remained unoccupied by a Hamm’s family member until it was
burned down by an arsonist in 4/21/1954 .On Theodore’s return home from his homeland, he
saw the need for a shift in leadership to his son William. The brewery was incorporated in 1896,
leaving Theodore with the title of president and William having the title of vice-president and
secretary. The line to succession of the brewery was thus established as the brewery remained in
domain of the Hamm’s family for 100 years.
The brewery continued to expand from 8,000 barrels in 1879 to 26,00 barrels in1882 to
600,000 barrels in1915. This growth was stymied from 1919-1933 during prohibition. Theodore
died in 7/31/1903 leaving an estate valued at $1,114,388.20. The five sisters were given 500
shares to the brewery with the rest of the brewery being left to William.
William Hamm, having been indoctrinated to the brewery at a young age, was well
prepared to take on the role as president of the brewery. William was the first Borealis Rex in the
first St. Paul winter carnival in1886. He also was very much involved in the civic duties of the
city. From 1889-1890 he was a city council member and council president in1890. From 18901902 he worked with the park board to develop the park system. And he privately donated a plot
of land near his home later to be named Cannon Park. William expanded his business interest to
form Hamm’s Reality in1896. Hamm funded many developmental projects in downtown St Paul.
In 1899 Hamm’s became president in the Northwest Theater Circuit, which had 150 showhouses
in the Upper Midwest. Two motion picture theaters were built. The State Theater in Minneapolis
and the Capital Theater in St. Paul.About the same time the Hamm’s Building was built and still
stands today. (Flanigan28)
When William died in 6/10/1931,his estate totaled $4,225,247. William Jr. took over as
president and later as chairman of the board in 1965.He became part of a haunting event on June
15, 1933, when he was kidnapped by the Karpis Gang who received a $100,000 ransom and later
released him. (Flanigan65, 86).
During prohibition the plant was kept open where they produced an array of products
including near beer, industrial alcohol syrups and soft drinks (Hamm’s 10). Soon after the death
of his father William Hamm Jr. started the greatest expansion effort in the tenure of the brewery.
The capacity was doubled and the plant was modernized. (Brewery Age.) The article “ “Dateline
April 7, 1933 PROHIBITION ENDS!” describes the scene following the end of Prohibition.
Upon the proclamation of the end of Prohibition on April, 7,1933 the Brewery was ready to
deliver."As long-drawn whistle blasts signaled legalization of 3.2% beer at 12:01 today, long
lines of trucks piled high with kegs and cases rumbled out of St. Paul’s two brewery yards and
one half hour later, those who wanted to were quaffing their first drink of their first beverage.”
Fifteen days before the proclamation Hamm was preparing for the news. EC Nippolt, vice
president and general manager of the company estimated that an increase of at least double the
number of employees from 150to300or400. An estimate from newspaper accounts reveals an
expenditure of $300,000 in immediate improvements to be made to the plant.
Production continued to increase until World War II when the allocation of resources
slowed the brewery down but nonetheless the quality of the brew continued with wives of
employees being hired as their husbands went off too war. (Theo Hamm Brewing Co.)
Between 1946 and 1954 a major expansion effort took place with a cost of $16,000,000
and in 1952 written in Here’s How at Hamm’s published by the brewery the plant had expanded
to cover twenty acres, increased its employees to1300 and the number of barrels produced
reached 1,500,000. At this time William Jr. took on the role of Chairman of the Board, William
Figge became president, and the general manager was De Walt H. Ankeny. Production kept
increasing as the Minneapolis Tribune on February 22,1957 quoted Vice President Ankeny
stating that 3,374,849 barrels were produced. Henry Turnbull, director of marketing in1957,
predicted through the acquisition of other breweries the plant capacity would total 4,500,000
barrels, a total not to be reached. (Flanigan89-90)
Expansion efforts were soon under way as Hamm’s purchased the Rainier Brewing
company in San Francisco and tore it down to rebuild to its standards in 1954.In 1958 a new
plant in Los Angeles was opened and in1963 one in Houston was built. All breweries used
identical equipment insuring the same uniform quality brew. Just as in the early days with
Theodore Hamm the at the helm the relationships with the employees was paramount to its
success. But now to stay competitive a new focus was on advertising and marketing. President
Figge was quoted as saying, “Competition in the brewing is becoming increasingly intense. Only
those who can lead in the development of imaginative marketing activities will survive”. (Theo
Hamm Brewing Co.)
Moira Harris in The Paws of Refreshment describes in detail the history of Hamm’s
advertising. In 1945 the Campbell-Mithun agency won the Hamm’s account. In looking for a
way to sell its beer nationally the agency came up with two slogans “America’s most refreshing
beer,” and From the Land of Sky Blue Waters.” Eventually these two ideas were merged in the
1950’s to read Refreshing as the Land of Sky Blue Waters.The slogan was the backdrop to
scenic photographs depicting a northern lake with trees. Minnesota resort owners soon aided the
campaign by posting calendar signs of the Hamm’s advertising on its premises. The State of
Minnesota was so appreciative of the added publicity that it named a lake after the brewery
president William Figge, Lake Figge. (Pioneer Press9/06/56) the brewery won many point of
purchase awards with its billboards. Hamm's also won two consecutive awards for the top float
in the Tournament of Roses parade. Hamm’s continued to participate in the St.Paul Winter
Carnival. Probably the most famous advertisement was the Bear. Although credit is hard to
pinpoint perhaps it was Cleo Hovel working for the Campbell-Mithun agency who first created
and later sketched this soon to be famous bear. In surveys conducted by Television and
Television Age magazines in 1957 the Bear commercial was rated, as the best liked. (Harris18)
In 1965 with Hamm’s celebrating its 100th year as a family owned business the brewery
was now the 8th largest in the nation selling 3,800,000 barrels in 1964. Family members were
ready to diversify their investments and a buyer for the brewery was sought. Heublein, Inc.
bought the brewery for 65 million. Two years later after two consecutive years of loses the
brewery again was sold. A group of Hamm’s distributors bought the brewery for $10,4 million in
October 1973. This operation was under capitalized and was forced to sell. A family owned West
Coast brewery Olympia Brewing Company for $13.7 million bought the brewery. They operated
the plant from 1975-1983. The final buyer was Pabst Brewing Company who bought the brewery
in1983. In 1983 Pabst traded the plant to Stroh for Stroh’s plant in Tampa, Florida. (Harris 2829) After 1983 the brewery would no longer produce Hamm’s beer and no member of the
Hamm’s family would be associated with the brewery. William. Hamm Jr. died
8/20/70.Flanagan (100/109)
The one legacy that still continues today is the Hamm’s Foundation established
8/29/1952. The articles of incorporation state their purpose, “to make donations to charitable,
scientific, and educational purposes, and particularly to initiate, promote, subsidize, and carry on
research in man’s relationship with his fellow men, and to grant educational scholarships and
fellowships in any art or science.” The Foundation chose to focus its help in Minnesota and
particularly in Ramsey County and St. Paul. The Hamm’s employees were the beneficiaries of
the scholarship program. The Hamm’s Memorial Psychiatric Clinic and the Radio Talking Book
were favorites of the first president of the Hamm’s Foundation, Margaret Hamm Kelley, the
eldest sister. (Flanigan 103)
The East Side review 10/20/97 tells of the story of a fork lift driver for the Stroh’s
brewery, Pat Bowlin, who spotted management tossing out heaps of old Hamm’s memorabilia.
In a state of shock Pat grabbed and stored away as much of this memorabilia as he could. Pat’s
family history with the Hamm’s brewery includes a combined 101 years of service starting with
his uncle who was hired as a salesman for the Brewery in 1933 following the end of Prohibition.
Pat started working at the brewery in 1953 and along with his collection of Hamm’s memorabilia
has his share of interesting stories of the brewery. Upon hearing of the plans for the Stroh’s
brewery closing its plant and for 350 workers a loss of a job on 11/24/97, the community reacted
with sadness. As Peter Amunson, owner of Borgstom Pharmacy on Payne Avenue for 75 years
says,”The vitality of the East Side has been based on this type of business” (Star Trib 9/26/97) At
the retiree’s last breakfast at the Sky Blue Water room 4 days prior to the closing of Stroh’s they
all agreed that the best thing that ever happen to beer was the bear and the worst thing that ever
happen to beer was the dumping of the bear. (St Paul PioneerPress 11/1/97) Well the bear got
brought back to life but can the same happen to the brewery?
The Star Tribune 2/25/98 reports that the St Paul Port Authority at a public meeting with
100-150 people in attendance told of its plans to raze the brewery making its way for an
industrial park. However, in the midst of this controversy a real-estate investor Howard Gelb’s
offer to the Stroh’s Brewery was accepted. His plans for the site not to include demolition are for
a light manufacturing and warehouse business. (Mpls Star Tribune 3/21/98) In the meantime The
Friends of Swede Hollow, through its Historic Hamm Brewery Initiative, is working with the
owner and other partners to find new and creative uses for the brewery such as education, arts
entertainment, business and technological development. (Du Paul) In fact the Friends of Swede
hollow sponsored a Design Charette 4/14/00 which included architects and developers to come
up with a developmental plan. The future plans for the brewery are still clouded with
speculation. The Friends of Swede Hollow welcomes any ideas that lead to the development and
preservation of this historic site.
Theo Hamm brewing Co."From the land of sky blue waters”
Theo Hamm Brewing Co. “From The Land of Sky Blue Waters”
Theo Hamm Brewing Co”.From the land of sky blue waters”
Works Sited
Boxmeyer, Don “Hearts & Hamm’s" St. Paul Pioneer Press 1 Nov 1997:C1+.
Brueggeman, Gary. “Eye On The Past.” Sunrise (St. Paul) Dec.1990: 3.
Du Paul, Karen. Photographs from The Design Charette Invitation April 2000.
Du Paul, Karen.”Historic Hamm Brewery Neighborhood Initiative” St Paul.
Duchschere, Kevin “Stroh Accepts Offer for Brewery Site; Developer Plans to Reuse Buildings”
Minneapolis Star Tribune 21 Mar1998: B1+.
Flanagan, John T. Theodore Hamm In Minnesota: His Family and Brewery. Minneapolis: Pogo
Press 1989.
“Hamm’s a Pioneer Brewery That Never Stopped Modernizing.” Brewery Age.
Hamm’s Beer.Advertisement.Pabst Brewing Co. Milwaukee, WI. 1991.
Harris, Moira F. The Paws of Refreshment The Story of Hamm Beer Advertising. Pogo Press
Kennedy, Tony and Tevlin, Jon. “Stroh closing ST Paul Brewery” Minneapolis Star Tribune 26
Sept 1997:A1+.
Kunz, Virginia B.Discover St.Paul: A Short History of Seven St Paul Neighborhoods. Ed.
Leslie, Lurdes Medrano. “Best Use of Brewery Land Is to Raze It, Study Says” Minneapolis Star
Tribune 25 Feb 1998.
Meryhew Richard “Brewery has been vital part of the neighborhood’s fabric”Minnepolis Star
Tribune 9 Sept 1997: A16.
Muller,Louise “Theodore and Louise Hamm: Their Story.”.Louise’s Legacy: Hamm Family
Stories.M.Harris Ed. Pogo Press,1998
Sanchelli Michael.”Memories of North and South Phalen.” Minnesota Historical Society
Sherman Amy “A Little Island to Yourself.” St. Paul Pioneer Press 24 May.1998
Sherman Amy “The Hamm’s historian you’ve never met: Patrick Bowlin” The East Side Review
St. Paul, 20 Oct 1997:1+.
St Paul Pioneer Press. Staff Photo April 22,1954.
St. Paul Pioneer Press. “ Lake named for William Figge” 6 Sept 1956.
Theo Hamm Brewery Co. “From the land of Sky Blue Waters” Photographs.
Theo Hamm Brewing Co. “Hamm’s The Story of 100 Years In The Land of Sky Blue Waters”.
St. Paul .
Theo Hamm Brewing Co.Reflections from the land of sky blue water.vol6.no2,”Dateline April
7,1933 PROHIBITION ENDS!” William Curtis Ed.St. Paul March,April1958.