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written by Gerald Karwowski

Racines’ Brewing and Bottling Industry

Racine, Wisconsin has a great and historic past. This past was left by hard working people from all walks of life, each leaving something of value. A small but interesting portion of that heritage was left by the brewers and bottlers who settled here. These people left an excellent variety of embossed beer bottles which are a lasting record of a past era.
This article is intended to bring out the historical value of the relics left by these people and to preserve their part in our city’s past. It also serves as a date guide to aid persons who have found an interest in old Racine bottles. I hope the information I have gathered will help you enjoy a part of Racine’s yesteryear and marvel in the beauty of such a simple object as a bottle. Racine’s pioneer breweries of the 1850s, 1860s and early 1870s did not bottle very much beer. Their products were stored and sold in barrels and kegs of various sizes. The reason most brewers avoided bottled beer was the spoilage problem. This problem was finally solved with the discovery of the pasteurization process in the mid 1870s. This new process enabled brewers to control the harmful bacteria, the general cause of beer spoilage. Once the beer had gone through the pasteurization steaming process, it could be bottled and stored for longer periods of time without spoiling.
There were other problems concerning the use of bottled beer. The early beer bottles had to be corked. These corks were wired to the bottle by hand, a time consuming process which was costly and basically inefficient.
With the invention of the lightning stopper by Charles de Quillfeld of New York City in 1875, the beer industry had a new practical closure. The device can be described as a toggle or linkage type lever-operating seal for jars or bottles. The device was secured to the bottle by a tie wire and had two complete loops on opposite sides that served as fulcrums for the loops. The lever wire also had two loops that held the bail wire which centered over the stopper. When the lever was lowered with the stopper in place, the stopper was pulled down into the mouth of the bottle and was locked in place against the side of the neck by being moved past the center of the most tension.
In 1893 Karl Hutter patented the Hutter porcelain stopper a cone-shaped plug with a rubber washer or ring attached at the bottom. This stopper was held in place with the same type of wire bail that was used on the lightning stopper. Both of these stoppers were utilized extensively on beer bottles until around 1915 and are still popular closures in foreign countries today.
The crown cap closure, an invention of William Painter, revolutionized the beverage bottling industry. Patented in 1892, this was a metal cap with corrugated edges and a cork lining sealed on a bottle top with a capping press. The crown cap closure was not widely used until the bottle manufacturers converted to automatic bottlemaking machines. The crown cap could only be used on bottle tops of uniform size. A version of this cap is still used today.
Between the years 1870 and 1920 very interesting specimens of bottles and closures were produced. These years therefore, are of particular interest to many bottle collectors


What is Beer?

Many beverages have been sold under the title of beer. In order to qualify as a beer, the beverage must be a farinaceou (starchy) grain which was boiled (brewed) and fermented. Prior to prohibition many products were sold as beer, ginger beer, lemon beer, spruce beer, birch beer, root beer, ect. In almost all cases these products were manufactured and sold by soda water companies. These companies did not have the facilities for brewing, thus their products cannot be considered as true beer. Most were nothing but carbonated beverages with flavoring added.
Beer as we drink it today, first came to us in the 1840s in the wake of a massive German migration. These latter-day Germans had outdone their ancestors in producing a superlative golden effervescent brew they called "lager." The secret was in their vats. As the beer was fermented rather slowly and at low temperatures, it was lagered, or stored --- hence the name --- and in the process it gave off a gas that was later reintroduced into the brew --- hence carbonation. Lager was usually stored for four to six months before being used. During this period of storing, it developed its characteristic sparkle. With improved methods including artificial carbonation, the long storage periods were no longer needed.
Lager beer soon became the most popular type beer consumed. Today 90 percent of all beer we make owes its origin to those immigrant brewmasters who nurtured their yeast cultures all the way to the midwestern towns that their beer was to make famous.
Since water accounts for about 90 percent of the finished product, they founded their breweries near abundant supplies of fresh, clear water. The water had to be pure and free of mineral salts to ensure uniformity in the brewing process.
One- hundred years ago Racine had six operating breweries . By 1920 that number had dwindled to two, E. Klinkert Brewing Company and Racine Malt Company.
When prohibition was enacted in January of 1920 the Klinkert Brewing Co., Racine’s largest brewery, began to manufacture near beer. Racine Malt Co. also continued its line of temperance malt tonics, but lack of sales and poor profits forced Klinkerts’ to close. Racine Malt Co. changed hands and began to manufacture soda waters.
After the repeal of prohibition in 1932, Racine was totally dependent on the large Milwaukee breweries which began to monopolize the industry. Milwaukee breweries went into full production filling the market with their new products. With new and modern packaging and transportation methods, the need for local beer bottling was eliminated. The large brewing companies also began to convert to beer cans which proved to be more durable for distance shipments.
In 1931 Klinkerts’ razed the old and largest portion of their brewery. A new brewing complex was needed. The firm made every effort to rebuild, but Ernst Klinkert was eighty-eight years old and unable to head the rebuilding effort. His sons, Louis and Frank had found new fields of business endeavor. Financing to replace the brewery so soon after prohibition was almost impossible to obtain.
It was at this point that the Racine brewing industry became history.
All that remains are a few old buildings and of course the bottles and related relics. With these items, Racine’s brewing history will never be totally left in old dusty books or fading memories. It is a history that will live for hundreds, even thousands of years.


Frederick Heck Brewery

Frederick Heck was born in Germany October 15, 1824 and came to America in 1846. He was employed in Milwaukee breweries for about two years before coming to Racine. In 1848 Heck and a Milwaukee brewer John Brown ( Braun ?) opened the Heck & Brown City Brewery in Racine. In 1851 John Brown died and the brewery was sold.
In 1852 Heck and F. Beebe opened a new brewery, Heck & Beebe’s at 8th and Center Streets. Philip Heck purchased Beebe’s portion of the business in 1858 and the firm was known as Heck & Co.
In 1874 Ernst Klinkert was employed as manager of Heck’s brewery. He retained this position until 1878 when he bought an interest in the Schelling brewery at 8th St. and Washington Ave.
The Heck brewery covered nearly four city lots in 1876 and had five cellars, two for fermenting purposes and three for lager beer stock. In 1879 the firm employed six men. Annually producing over 5,000 barrels of lager and sage beer. Heck’s brewery was the largest of the period with a business that extended to Illinois and throughout Wisconsin. When the firm closed in 1881, Heck and his wife moved back to Milwaukee where he died in 1904.


Ernst Klinkert Brewery

Ernst C. Klinkert was born in Frankfort, Germany November 11, 1844 and came to this country in 1862. He lived in St. Louis for six years and in 1868 moved to Milwaukee where he was employed by the Valentine Blatz Brewery. He gained added experience with the Frederick
Heck brewery of Racine in the early 1870s. Then in 1878 Klinkert entered into a partnership with Phillip E. Schelling and operated the City Brewery at 8th St. and Washington Ave.. By 1879 Klinkert bought out Schelling and became the sole owner of the business.
Klinkerts’ Brewery, 800 Washington Ave., was the largest of several Racine breweries in existence at various periods in the citys’ history. The business was incorporated in 1904 with a capital investment of $500,000. From 20 to 30 men were employed at the brewery manufacturing and bottling of their golden brews.

Klinkert, to meet the competition of the larger Milwaukee breweries purchased a number of tavern buildings in Racine. He then leased the taverns to persons who would sell his brews exclusively.
The company operated until January of 1920 when prohibition caused the shut down. For a short time during prohibition Klinkert’s manufactured "near Beer." But soon there after the business closed.
In 1931 Klinkert was forced to raze the old brewery buildings. The buildings had become a financial burden to the once thriving company. The only building that was spared was the bottling department which still stands today at 8th St and Washington Ave..

When prohibition ended, attempts were made to reopen the brewery. The Company planned to build a new brewery at the same location. This would have a brewing capacity of 100,000 barrels, twice the amount manufactured in the old one. But due to a lack of financial support, the reopening attempts were in vain.


Simon F. Gates Bottling Company

Simon F. Gates was born in Wurtenburg, Germany on June 27, 1831. At the age of twenty he emigrated from Germany to New Jersey where he remained until 1856, when he came to Racine. Gates was a poor man, but he had good health and ambition. He began at the bottom of the ladder as a laboring man and a brewer. His salary was just $20 per month. He later became a transfer agent for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, a position he held for twenty years.
In 1876 Gates became the transfer agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. He also opened a bottling plant. Bottling for a number of the larger Milwaukee breweries. In that year he became the agent for the Phillip Best Brewing Co. and Powell Ale Brewing Co., both of Milwaukee. By 1879 Gates also became the agent for Valentine Blatz Brewery of Milwaukee and later for Besley's Waukegan Brewing Co. of Waukegan, Illinois.
The Gates Bottling Works was first located at 915 Milwaukee Ave.. In 1889 the Phillip Best Brewing Company changed its name and became the Pabst Brewing Co.

When Simon died in September of 1891, his wife, Caroline took over the well established bottling firm. In 1893 Caroline, as company president incorporated the S. F. Gates Bottling Co. with a capitol of $10,000. The newly formed company built a new Pabst Tavern and bottling plant at 567-569 State St.
S. F. Gates Co. employed ten men in the late 1890s and made deliveries throughout the City of Racine and in parts of the county. The Company also owned a number of tavern buildings which they leased to proprietors who would only sell Pabst beers. One example of a Gates Pabst tavern still stands at 1436 Junction Ave.
In 1923 the S. F. Gates Co. closed after forty-seven years of outstanding business, falling victim to prohibition.


Theodore Schulte Bottling Company


In 1887 Theodore Schulte bought Frank Schneider’s bottling works located at 1233 Villa St. within that year Schulte became the Racine bottling agent for the Joseph Schiltz Brewing Company of Milwaukee.
With the added bottling and storage problem, Schulte soon had to move to a larger and better suited location with railroad access. In 1889 the plant and office were moved to 1313 14th St. By 1895 the business was handling about 125 boxcar loads of beer per year.

Theodore Schulte continued bottling for Schiltz until prohibition, after which he went into retirement . His business became the Schulte’s Beverage Co., continuing until the mid 1930s.

Theodore Schulte was active in Racine’s social activities and was a lifelong member of the Schulte Band. The Schulte Band played for many social occasions in Racine from the late 1870s on.


Belle City Brewing Company


Hans C. Olsen was born in Denmark near the city of Nakskov on Mach 31, 1848. In the spring of 1868 Hans came to Racine. Being a skilled mechanic, he found his first job with the Fish Bros. Wagon Works. In 1976 he became one of the founders of the Folkets Avis(The Danish Peoples Paper). By 1883 Hans became the wholesale agent and bottler for the Milwaukee-based Jacob Obermann Brewing Company. Then in 1895 he formed a partnership with Fred A. Brown and opened the Belle City Brewing Co.
The brewery was located at b1210 and 1506 State St.. The firm manufactured "Crown Malt Tonic" a pleasant and healthful strictly non -intoxicating and pure. Made from the best malt and hops, it was equally beneficial to both sick and healthy. All crown malt beers and tonics were guaranteed wholesome and were shipped to all parts of the country.
In 1910 Andrew Feddersen joined the firm and it was renamed the Racine Malt Company. Two years later Andrew became the sole owner of the company. The business was moved to a new location at 1502-04 May St. where it continued to operate until closing in early 1920.



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