This Schlitz sign, from 1925, makes no mention of the product that made the company famous. (Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear)

The Story Behind This Non-Alcoholic Schlitz Brewing Sign

During Prohibition, Milwaukee’s beer brewers were forced to adapt – both in the products they sold and they way they marketed their brands.

By the dawn of Prohibition, the Schlitz Brewing Company had used its tagline, “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous,” to establish itself as the top-selling beer in the United States. The Schlitz story began in 1848, when August Krug hired a man named Joseph Schlitz as an accountant at his Krug Brewery. Eight years later, after Krug’s death, Schlitz married his former boss’s widow put his own name on the brewery. Following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, Schlitz’s took over the suddenly-beerless windy city and grew his brand into one of the most recognized in the nation.

This Schlitz sign, from 1925, makes no mention of the product that made the company famous. (Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear)
photo by Tyler Yomantas

A big reason for the success of the product was its iconic advertising material. In the 1880s, the “belted globe” logo was introduced and the “Made Milwaukee Famous” tagline was added in the early 1890s. It was almost unthinkable that Schlitz would drop the tagline but, with the constitutional ban on alcoholic beverages, the brewery – and Milwaukee’s many other beermakers – would be forced to improvise in ways they had never imagined.

Although Milwaukee never really went “dry” during Prohibition, the city’s major breweries needed to find new ways to keep their brands alive and generate a profit. Miller Brewing – changing its name to “Miller Products” – produced a line of malted products, as well as soda and “near beer.” The transition was so disastrous that the Miller family put the company up for sale in 1925, but held on to it when no serious bidder emerged. Blatz, the third-largest brewer in the city, also got into the non-alcoholic beverage game. Pabst sold a malt extract drink marketed for nursing mothers and expanded into another beloved Wisconsin market, producing a cheese product called “Pabst-ett.” The bricks of cheese were aged in the brewery’s Milwaukee ice cellars and ended being pretty popular, with more than 8 million pounds sold during the 1930s.

Schlitz – renamed the “Schlitz Beverage Company” during Prohibition – adapted its famous slogan to “The Name that made Milwaukee Famous.” While many of Schlitz’s lower-profile moves during Prohibition, such as land investments and the sale of their share in the American Tobacco Company, kept the company profitable, its more visible ventures were less than successful. A “cereal beverage” called “Famo” failed to gain a significant following. A line of chocolate bars known as “Eline’s” (the phonetic spelling of the Uihlein family name, who had taken control of the company after Joseph Schlitz’s death) was a tremendous flop – the chocolate’s flavor was ruined by a fish-oil coated wrapped used on the product.

With the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, Milwaukee’s beermakers once again returned to what they knew best and their bottom lines regained their health. And Schlitz, once again the Beer that made Milwaukee Famous, was able to return that word to their advertising material.

Antique Milwaukee is a new Milwaukee Magazine web series that takes a closer look at objects and curiosities from around town that have a story to tell. We’ll reveal a piece of Milwaukee’s history through a new artifact in each installment.