Today, we all are enjoying the surge of microbreweries and beer production on Oregon. It’s one of the industries known to have developed in the Northwest, and microbreweries are a part of the culture of all towns in Oregon. It’s big business and even national beer companies are getting into the microbrew market. But this latest surge of the microbrew industry was not the first for the region. Beginning in the late 19th century there grew a beer industry in the northwest that in many ways rivals today’s developments. Every town had one, two or more breweries and brands like Olympia Brewing and Henry Weinhards, began in this time period. In Salem, there was an important beer, Salem Beer, which became an icon of the region.
In 1866 Samuel Adolph, an immigrant from Germany, founded the Pacific Brewery at Trade and Cottage streets. Adolph produced lager for the bars in town. The brewery burned down in 1869 and Adolph rebuilt at the corner of Trade and Commercial and called it the Salem Brewery. One other brewery in Salem, Pioneer Brewery, also began in 1866 but was closed by 1882.
In 1885 the brewery was bought by employees Maurice Klinger and Seraphin Beck who renamed it Capital Brewing. They produced and served draught beer until at least 1899 and expanded by buying the block across Trade Street to increase production. There they bottled their famous Salem Beer at the brewery. Half of the block was devoted to beer production and half to refrigeration and ice production which they called the Capital Brewery and Ice Works. Seraphin Beck died in 1900 and the property was sold at auction to Margaret Beck, Seraphin’s widow. The plant also had a rail spur line which served its transportation needs.
Mrs. Beck operated the brewery until 1903 when she sold it to Leopold Schmidt of Olympia Brewing Company through their agent Stanislaus Zynda. Zynda remained in Salem until 1904 as head of operations at the renamed Salem Brewing Association. Schmidt and the association’s board worked to expand operations to 10,000 barrels a year, expanded into bottling and increased ice production, and used a million pounds of hops a year.
In 1906 Salem Brewing Association purchased Albany Brewing Company who had an output of 8,000 barrels a year. Albany Brewing Company was stripped of equipment to upgrade the brewery in Salem and it was closed in 1908. In 1909 the association made extensive expansions to its plant by adding a steel wash house, a racking room, bottling house, and large cold storage room. That same year they purchased the Shasta Brewery from Frank Buchner of Redding, California. There they installed ice-making and bottling operations and produced Salem Beer for sale in northern California.
By 1912 Salem Brewery Association was a four story building with production three times its 1903 production of 3500 barrels annually. In 1913 the association expanded its beer listings to include Salamander Braü, which was marketed to German university students in the area. This new German titled brew was part of a new cultural movement within the American beer industry to emphasize and market its German cultural roots.
The early 20th century advertises for Salem Brewery Association were very interesting. Advertisements stating that people should replace water with beer, beer is a “liquid food,” and that beer was a family beverage, were common in local newspapers. Then in 1906 the association advertised that beer was a benefit to temperance in a much convoluted argument that noted that the 3.5 percent of alcohol in the beer at the time did not constitute an alcoholic beverage. Its likely that the association was working on arguments against prohibition which was already being discussed in 1906.
In 1906, Salem Brewery Association came out strongly against prohibition by sending letters around the state about the effect of prohibition on area jobs and the hops industry, an important agricultural crop and industry around Salem. In 1913, Salem City passed prohibition against alcohol, three years before state prohibition, and national prohibition in 1920. The association moved its management operations to Portland for two years until the statewide ban took effect. Beer ceased production at the Salem plant on May 31, 1915.
In 1915 the association merged its bottling and refrigeration operations with H.S. Giles of the Northwest Fruit Products Co. who was developing and bottling fruit juices. The fruit juice merger joined with plants in Bellingham and Olympia, Washington to produce and bottle fruit juices. In Salem, the ice-making operation became a creamery, the Marion Creamery and Produce Company. The brewery machinery was converted to making, bottling and storing apple and loganberry juice. The first juice produced for sale was called Applju, which was wildly popular. Loganberry fields were rare around Salem, the loganberry was first developed in 1882 in Oregon, and so the first loganberry Juice or Loju were produced in 1915. Loju was marketed in Southern California and was very successful. By 1917 Loju and Applju were being advertised nationally and were big sellers. In 1918 the company shipped 4 million bottles of Loju and 3.6 million bottles of Applju. The Company was also one of the largest producers of jams and jellies in the nation. Much of the success of the berry products is attributed to the growing conditions in the Willamette Valley where berry and apple crops were consistently larger and of better quality than similar producers in California.
This is the heyday of the fruit picking in the Willamette Valley. Laborers from many different sectors of society would annually became migrant farm-workers as they traveled in family groups to well known and well established farms to pick fruits and vegetables. Some of the pickers were Tribal members from the local reservations, others were immigrant peoples like Chinese and Japanese, and still others were black or poor whites from the inner cities. The Willamette Valley was so rich in produce and work that Tribal people would travel from eastern Oregon and even from Arizona to work in the fields. There grew up a rich migrant farm-worker culture in the region based on the richness of the agricultural areas of Washington, Oregon, and California.
In Salem, there was a bit of a competition as at least three different companies were producing fruit juices. One other large factory was the Phez Company (Pheasant Company) who worked to sell shares of the company in Salem newspapers. Phez also sued Northwest Fruit Growers for breach of contract in the state supreme court (for non-delivery of products), but lost the case. Phez was not as well developed in its juice products or marketing as Northwest was and yet worked to compete with them. In 1918 a merger formed between the Pheasant Fruit Company and Northwest Fruit Growers Association manager by H.S. Giles (Carey, History of Oregon).
Giles (Pheasant Fruit Growers Association) was responsible for forming the Willamette Valley Prune Association whose original products were dried prunes. Giles was faced with bumper crops of Loganberries in 1906 which they had difficulty finding buyers for. Therefore Giles and his scientists created the original loganberry juice bottling processes thereby creating a new product for marketing Loganberries and saving the industry.
By 1919 Loju was being advertised as a Phez product manufactured by Northwest Fruit Growers Association. Its unclear yet which company was prominent as both the Phez logo and Loju and Applju logos were present. They manufactured from five plants including Woodburn, Olympia being the largest where Applju was bottled, and Salem being the most prominent where Loju was bottled. The new collaboration continued into the 1930s with Phez being bought by a California Company.
Prohibition in Oregon is credited with creating the market for the juice industry including development of new berry varieties, new juices, and juice blends from the fertile agricultural crops of the Willamette Valley. Loju became a highly desired beverage that was offered in the finest restaurants and department stores to entice customers. Recipes and new blends for summer drinks were also developed. Curiously, the drink recipes use mixed-drink names but omit mention of the alcohol.
Due to the resource needs of World War 1, sugar became a scarce resource not allowing in non-essential industries like juices, and the company suffered greatly. The Northwest Fruit Products closed in 1920. The Marion Creamery continued operations until 1933 when nation prohibition was repealed. The Marion Creamery moved across Trade Street and continued operations, and the former Salem Brewing Association began organizing.
The new Salem Brewing Association was reincorporated under former employees and brew masters Frank Schmidt (son of Leopold), and Kola Neis with local investment. By October 1933 the first of the restored Salem Beer was ready for sale. Beer sales at this time suffered from effects of the Great Depression, and was marketed as Salem Beer or Schmidt’s Salem Beer with new artwork.
In 1937 Schmidt and other employees began leaving the company due to poor sales and a reputation for producing a bad product. For World War II the association produced Victory Club Beer, Victory Beer, Yankee Beer, and Polar Beer, and began bottling Salem Beer in a large half-gallon steinie size in 1942. The brewery briefly produced Brown Derby Beer for the Safeway chain, and Balco Beer, and Columbia Club for other national brands.
From 1938 to 1943 the company went through numerous management changes, for a short time there was investors from San Francisco but sales remainder slow. After the investors pulled their support, local brew master George W. Stackman took over. In 1942 the brewery produced Oldstyle Pale Export in cans for Silver Springs Brewing Company.
Salem Brewing Association was purchased in 1943 by Emil Sick of Associated Breweries Limited of Canada. Associated Breweries was formed in 1928 to hold the assets of the four breweries of Frank Sick, and in the 1930s they began expanding into the United States by buying breweries in Montana and Washington State. In 1944, the Association changed its name to Sick’s Breweries Limited. Sick’s Breweries ran the Salem plant until 1955 when it was closed. Sick’s was sold in 1958 to Molson Breweries.
Under Sick’s ownership the Salem Plant produced Sick’s Select Beer which was in production by 1951. In July 1951 they released Brew 66. The Salem plant was closed in 1953 when they were producing 75,000 barrels a year, or 27 million bottles. The offices of the Salem Brewery were used until 1955, when they were razed.
This story took very interesting directions, especially into the development of the fruit juices in the area. Berries like the Loganberry and Marionberry were developed in Oregon. In 1942, the United States began a migrant farm-worker program for mainly Mexicans, called the Barcero Program to bring even more laborers into the United States, who would work for even cheaper wages into the area. The Bracero program ruined the market for other Americans who would not work for the wages or conditions that Bracero program participants would work. In the 1960s into the 1980s there was also the practice of hiring high school students as day laborers. The day after school got out for the summer the strawberry buses would begin picking up kids from street corners at 6 am (Kuinzi, Foredyce, etc). Strawberry season lasted about a month and kids would be gone for 10 hours a day earning a little bit of money for the summer (I usually worked for a week and got tired of doing the work, and eating strawberries). Farms in the area of Salem now have a very eclectic selection of berry crops. I am guessing that the development of the berry industry in Oregon is directly related to prohibition and the need to create alternative beverages for the market.
Meier, Gary and Gloria Meier. Brewed in the Pacific Northwest, Fjord Press, Seattle, 1991.
Oregon Historical Newspapers website
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.