Not Kidding Around Anymore
To this day, one of the favorite items in my collection is a simple license plate that reads, “Don’t worry, Dad, we’re drinking Genesee.” This item dates back to the early 1970s. If it were to be released today, the ramifications would fill all of the major news sources. Drinking and driving—and underage drinking, at that! Years ago, the beer environment was completely different.
In the mid-1800s, the United States was being populated by immigrants from Germany and other countries of central Europe where beer was considered a life-sustaining beverage with a number of healthy benefits. Because beer is boiled during the brewing process, this liquid was safer than water, milk, and other perishable liquids. As a great German proverb said, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, and in water there is bacteria.”
When breweries began to spring up at a prolific rate in the mid- to late-1800s, much of their advertising featured children and infants. Not until the Prohibition effort gained momentum did the idea of associating children with beer begin to seem odd. Germans grew up around beer and respected it as a food. Doctors recommended beer as an aide to nursing mothers. A collectable pre-Prohibition piece from the Claussen Brewing Association of Seattle is a tray that promotes Mother’s Malt as “Seattle’s Best Tonic.”
Some of the most sought-after breweriana items are those that feature kids in the advertisement. A great newspaper ad for Christian Moerlein features a toddler with the slogan, “Good for Little Tots.” The copy reads, “Moerlein’s National Export is good for the children because of the care with which it is brewed by the Moerlein process, after the good old honest German fashion—and of the best materials. It is as pure as can be, healthful and invigorating.” This type of ad was common in its day. Christian Moerlein, founded in 1853, was a successful Cincinnati brewery that, unfortunately, didn’t survive Prohibition.
The Indianapolis Brewing Co. issued a great metal plaque that featured an infant about to drink from a bottle of their Dusseldorfer brand. This item was very popular when it was on display as part of the Haydock collection at the Oldenberg Brewery in Fort Mitchell, KY.
Mike Rogan, a collecting friend from Indiana, has a great pre-Prohibition piece from the Hudepohl Brewing Co. of Cincinnati featuring a child. This self-framed tin piece features an infant bawling away as a dachshund laps up the spilled Hudepohl’s “Golden Jubilee” Bottle Beer. Two other dogs tug at the child’s clothes and one sucks on the child’s pacifier.
A pre-Prohibition brochure produced by Bruckman Brewery of Cincinnati shows a family enjoying their evening meal and actually shows the parents having a beer with their son. The brochure reflects an era in which many beers were brewed as “banquet” or “table” beers. These were lower alcohol beers brewed to be enjoyed at home by the entire family.
The Fischer Brewery of Strasbourg, France, still makes use of a young boy in its advertising today. The boy is seated on a wooden keg, leaning back slightly, while he enjoys a sip from a large beer mug. Fischer dates back to 1821 and is now owned by the Dutch brewer, Heineken.
Normally I do not use this column as a soapbox, but maybe the immigrants from Europe had the right idea. If we treated beer as the food source it is, we would respect it for its merits, and for its place as a life-sustaining beverage.
“Beer Dave” Gausepohl has collected breweriana since 1974 and has a personal collection of half a million items. He has visited over 1,500 breweries.