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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz

Peoples was America's first Black-owned brewery


Milwaukee is and has always been America's beer capital, so it makes perfect sense that the country's first African American brewery was born here.

Theodore Mack Sr. was a former Pabst employee with a dream to launch America's first Black brewery. A man of action, Mack assembled a group of investors with the hopes of purchasing the Blatz brand from Pabst in 1969 after the federal government forced its sale.

Although that fell through, Mack, then 40 years old, was not dissuaded.

"We decided we would keep looking for a brewery," Mack later said. What they found was Peoples Brewery, founded in Oshkosh in 1912 by Bavarian-born Joseph J. Nigl. Peoples ranked 10th among the 14 breweries in Wisconsin at the time.

"We decided on Peoples Brewery here in Oshkosh because the location was close to Milwaukee and the physical plant was in good shape."

By mid-April 1970, Mack and company made a deal to buy Peoples for an undisclosed amount (although estimates of its worth were placed at about $435,000-$500,000) and Henry S. Crosby, spokesman for the group, explained its importance to the Milwaukee Courier:

"There are no other Black breweries anywhere in the U.S. and hardly any Black businesses of this size. ... (It's important because) one, (it will) place Blacks in decision making position, and two, offer stock to the members of the Black community as soon as the mechanism is set up."

And that stock was the key for Mack. He told reporters at the time that he hoped the community would get involved in the business and buy shares to make the venture a successful one for the African American community.

By mid-summer, it was reported that 65,000 shares at $5 apiece had been released. Not long after, Peoples bought a complex at 3002 W. Wright St. in Milwaukee with a garage, office space and a small warehouse. Production began in late autumn with a special holiday beer.

At the same time, Peoples was focusing on integration, and all 21 of the employees at the brewery -- which was pumping out about 25,000 barrels of beer each year -- were kept on. Although it wasn't running at capacity, the brewery was already producing more beer than previous owners had. At the end of the year, the company had added 15 more employees.

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Talkbacks

micsonnleitner | Dec. 24, 2006 at 10:29 p.m. (report)

My grandfather was the assistant brew-master for Peoples, but he passed away before I was ever able to ask him about the beer recipes. Are they available anywhere that anyone knows of?

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