The history of brewing (and building breweries) in Milwaukee


Elevated view of the Schlitz Brewery facilities.

General View of Schlitz Brewery

More than any other industry, brewing beer has been central to Milwaukee’s identity since the early 1840s when the first breweries formed. 

These early breweries were primarily small artisanal shops, sometimes associated with a nearby saloon, beer hall, or restaurant--similar to today’s brewpubs.  Many of the breweries were located along the Milwaukee River, which provided water for the brewing process as well as ice for conditioning the beer.  They were small, one- or two-story wood-frame structures which housed not only the entire brewing process but the residence of the brewer and their family.


Best's South Side Brewery.

Best’s South Side Brewery ~1843-1908

In the 1850s major manufacturers like Pabst (then known as Best), Schlitz, Blatz, Miller, and Gettelman emerged and later began exporting to the Chicago population.  This increased demand prompted brewers to expand their plants in order to introduce the latest in mechanized brewing technologies.  A key feature of the new industrial breweries was the separation of the brewing process into different buildings for malting, brewing, fermenting, storage, and packaging. 


Interior view of Pawling & Harnischfeger hoist cranes in a Schlitz brewery where men are working with beer barrels.

Early Pawling & Harnischfeger hoist cranes in a Schlitz brewery

By the 1870s Milwaukee’s major industrial brewers were serving not only the regional markets but the national and international markets as well.  Milwaukee brewers adopted “scientific brewing”—using pasteurization techniques and chemistry formulas—and were among the first to introduce mechanized production systems, bottling machinery, and artificial refrigeration.


Hand-colored postcard of the interior of the Schlitz Palm Garden. Located on N. 3rd Street, south of W. Wisconsin Avenue, the Schlitz Palm Garden opened on July 3, 1886 and was one of the most popular and opulent in Milwaukee.

Hand-colored postcard of the interior of the Schlitz Palm Garden

Middle front outer panel and tri-fold menu from The Gargoyle, with a gargoyle sitting atop the framed illustration of the entryway of the restaurant and a man at the wheel of a car parked in front. The menu inside features a framed view of the dining room flanked by two gargoyles, as well as illustrations of the Corner in the Rathskeller, the Private Dining Room, the Main Stairway, and the Orchestra Balcony. Printed in color.

Menu from the Gargoyle Resturant

Milwaukee’s brewer’s also purchased and built beer gardens and beer halls, hotels, restaurants, theaters and even amusement parks.  They created notable destinations like the Schlitz Palm Garden and the Pabst Gargoyle Restaurant, and their homes and factories remain in the city today.




Brewing | Encyclopedia of Milwaukee—  https://emke.uwm.edu/entry/brewing/

“This is what made Milwaukee Famous”  - Greetings from Milwaukee: Selections from the Thomas and Jean Ross Bliffert Postcard Collection, Archives. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. 

All other images from the Wisconsin Historical Society www.wisconsinhistory.org

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