Specialized Postwar Markets: Ethnic and Academy
In this and the Parts following, I survey typical markets for Michelob from the 1950s through the 1970s, relying on media ads and other sources. Before 1961, when the beer was first bottled, the market was either upscale, ethnic, or generic “beer enthusiast”.
Acerbic author and critic H.L. Mencken, the so-called Sage of Baltimore, was an example of the last and perhaps the second, given his German-American background.
Without claiming to be comprehensive, these Parts should give an idea where Michelob typically was consumed or sold, and the demographic intended by the marketing.
The two instances in this post are examples of a pre-war demographic that continued into the postwar period.
One of the first ads for Michelob, in 1896, was in a Baltimore German newspaper, from the Cafe Berlin on West Lafayette Street as we saw earlier.
64 years and numerous wars later, in August 1960, a beverage distributor in Rochester, New York advertised both Michelob and Budweiser in Rochester Abendpost, a German-language newspaper:
There is an appeal here based on ethnicity, but otherwise un-variegated; that is, social segmentation does not play a role.
Similar ads were placed by Lake Beverage Co. in the same paper until at least 1965. The paper shut its doors in 1967.
Also in August (beer month after all), this time in 1973, Try-it Distributing Co. placed an ad for Michelob, Budweiser, and Philadelphia’s Schmidt in Deutscher Wochenspiegel, another German paper in Rochester. It is surprising how many there were.
Similar advertisements probably appeared in other American media oriented to Germany or other Central European heritage, regardless of publication language in fact.
The Greek letter societies were strongholds of Michelob affection, and the general association continued after World War II. Consider this ad from Phi Sigma Kappa in February 1961, in The Concordiensis, a student newspaper in Schenectady, New York.
Phi Sigma Kappa had strong East Coast and Ivy League associations prior to continued expansion in the country.
The ad is headlined “Have a Blast”. A sub-text, among others, is beer blast, a staple university entertainment aka kegger. Michelob is the only beer mentioned; readers who drank beer with discrimination knew that said it all.
A university but non-fraternity or Ivy League setting where Michelob featured was the student bar Wigwam, adjacent to The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. It was 1952, the Korean war still on.
The university was erected on public land and belongs, in effect, to two adjoining cities, Champaign and Urbana. Suppliers and contractors greeting the opening of the Wigwam in a full page spread in the college paper, Daily Illini:
New Jersey-based Champale was owned by brewing entrepreneur Louis Hertzberg, as I discussed earlier. Bubbly light Champale was billed as a wine-like beverage, suitable for those who didn’t favour the “brown October brew”.
It’s an odd phrase, redolent of the 19th century or even earlier. There wasn’t much brown October beer in America in the early Nuclear Age.* Given the context, maybe the copywriter had combed old poetry for beer references.
Lowenbrau of Munich proudly offered both light and dark lager. Clearly some Munich breweries had ramped up for an export trade, only seven years after World War II.
The box ad for Michelob showed it in stellar company even apart Lowenbrau and Champale, whose upmarket image was inherent. There was an old import favourite, Bass ale, another Munich beer of fame, Pschorr, Canada’s O’Keefe Ale, Czech Pilsner, and more.
Milwaukee’s Blatz also appeared. Interestingly, as we saw earlier, Blatz was bracketed with Michelob once before in Illinois, in 1919. Maybe the same distributor handled both products.
The broad import range, in the rural Midwest of 1952, is notable here. The college setting explains everything, as with the Faculty it implied an international community, of people or at least interests, hence an extension of the usual national taste.
The onset of craft brewing, with its variety, continued the process, as students were early proponents of craft beer. The appeal of geography was less patent than when Heineken and Bass ruled, but still implicit in what craft beer was doing.
And the aspect of taste adventure differed not at all.
As to the Wigwam, it endured into the 1960s, and even later in different incarnations. An alumni webpage of The University of Illinois sets out the arc. Urban redevelopment finally cleared the block; nothing remains of the bar or the structure that housed it.
Part VI follows.
Note: source of each image above is linked in the text. The first two were sourced from NYS Historical Newspapers. The last three, from Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Or very much of it in England, by then.