g heileman brewing company employees in 1890s

Heileman's Old Style Lager

Old Style beer. From Northern Highlands of Wisconsin to the cattle ranges of Dodge City, Kansas, Old Style is a quintessential midwest icon that comes to us thanks to a German man named Gottlieb Heileman, born in 1824 in Württemberg. After immigrating to the United States in the mid-1840s, Heileman settled in La Crosse, Wisconsin - a city surrounded by fresh water streams right on the Mighty Mississippi, a perfect place for a brewery. Heileman met his wife, Johanna Bandel, and fellow brewing enthusiast John Gund, and opened City Brewery in 1858. After Heileman’s passing in 1878, Johanna took over the company as president. Under her watch, City Brewing released Old Style Lager in 1902. Let’s get to the Annie Oakley of the beer industry.


In our previous blog post regarding Grain Belt, there is an explanation about Germany in the mid-1800s which you can find HERE. It’s understandable that with the turmoil and conflicts that anyone who could leave Germany did so. So too when it comes to Gottlieb Heileman (1824-1878) and Johanna Bandel (1831-1917), both from Württemberg, but who didn’t meet each other until both were living in Wisconsin. Gottlieb immigrated in the 1840s and made it to Milwaukee and was working as a baker. Johanna immigrated around 1852, and after spending 4 years in New York, she settled in Milwaukee working as a house maid for Friedrich Pabst (1836-1904). Pabst had married into Jacob Best’s brewing family, but hadn’t started in the beer business when he introduced Johanna to his baker friend, Gottlieb. On June 28, 1858, Johanna and Gottlieb, pictured below were married.

Johanna and Gottlieb Heileman - founders of G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA

John Gund (1830-1910) came from Germany via Freeport, Illinois. Gund had opened up a brewery in La Cross and upon meeting the newlywed couple decided to go into business together to form City Brewery in November of 1858.

For the next 14 years, City Brewery grew slowly. The profits were modest, but steady. Johanna managed to keep herself occupied with 8 children, while the men were spending time trying to merge two completely different business styles.  By 1872, John Gund had enough and decided to exit City Brewing to open his own brewery. City Brewery was restructured and renamed to G. Heileman Brewing Company. When Gottlieb passed away in 1878, the brewery was going to be kept in the family’s name, but instead of leaving the company to her 10 year old son or one of her older daughters, Johanna decided to run the company herself, which was a surprise to no one.

Antique Old Style Lager Point of Sale Cigarette display at Industrial Artifacts

Shop our Beer Artifacts


Over the next few years, the working mom of 8 brought on her son-in-law, Emil Traugott Mueller (1858-1929), the husband of the Heileman’s eldest daughter, Louisa. Under Johanna’s presidency, the G. Heileman Brewing Company opened a branch in Glencoe, Minnesota, and beer production went from 6-7,000 barrels a year before 1881, to 39-40,000 barrels a year by the 1890s. In 1890, she incorporated G. Heileman Brewing Company. She introduced The Old Times Lager in 1900, the beer renamed Old Style Lager in 1902 that became an icon of the northern Mississippi River area, and across the midwest. According to the Friday, July 29, 1910 La Crosse Tribune (page 53, 2nd column), G. Heileman Brewing Company was clearing 100,000 barrels a year. 

Old Times Lager changes its name to Old Style Lager in this 1902 newspaper ad
Antique Green Seal Beer light up sign at Industrial Artifacts

Shop our Sign Collection

Johanna Heileman passed away in 1917, just a few years before Prohibition. The company struggled upon the passing of the 16th Amendment banning the sale of alcohol, but managed to gain success by selling syrups, non-alcoholic beers, and selling barley malt syrup as a sweetener even though it was really used for people to make beer at home. After Prohibition, the Heileman family sold their shares and exited the brewery business. The company went on through a series of aquisitions including being bought by the company of the man who introduced the founding couple: Pabst Brewing Company.

Old Style Lager from 1910s to the 1970s

As of 2023, Pabst Brewing has made the incredible announcement to move Old Style back to it's home in La Crosse, Wisconsin... but without the original recipe. 

Industrial Artifacts will buy your vintage and antique signs


When it came to tip trays, periodical advertising, billboards, and beer trays, advertisements for alcohol at the time were (and continue to be) some of the most beautiful and captivating use of artwork in advertising and marketing. That's different for exterior signs advertising pubs and taverns where beer was sold. Most were more muted so as not to overly stimulate passers-by, coercing them into the sins of alcohol. 

G. Heileman Brewing Company pre Prohibition advertising

Before Prohibition, G. Heileman Brewing Company advertising would either feature the town cryer or the lush green country side with monks and German folk enjoying Old Style Lager (both shown above in the previous heading). After 1933, G. Heileman Brewing Company dived more into spending money in promotion and advertising. For many years starting in the 1940s, the company used THIS pic called "the Mariner's return" for their ephemeral and bar decor advertising. According to Tavern Trove, the Heileman's Old Style Lager red shield signs comes from 1938 to 1943. This is where we become interested. 

Vintage red Heileman's Old Style Lager porcelain signs and prices
Vintage red Heileman's Old Style Lager porcelain signs and prices

If you find any of these signs, please feel to contact us by sending an email with pics HERE. We can also sell your collection. Find out more by clicking on the Rock Auction Gallery icon below.

Rock Auction Gallery will sell your antiques

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.