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Is Hamm's Beer Still Around?

Yes, Hamm’s Beer is still being produced. The history of the brewery goes back around 165 years ago to 1859-1960, even though Theodore Hamm didn’t add his name to the company it until 1865. The company has gone through many name changes, and you can find a list of 18 different company names HERE.  Hamm’s was acquired by Heublein in 1968, which sold it to Olympia Brewing. Pabst Brewing bought Olympia in 1983, which was later bought by Stroh Brewing. In 1997, the Hamm Brewing brand was acquired by Miller Brewing which is part of the Molson Coors Beverage Company, and they still make Hamm's beer today. Following our tour of historic Midwest German beers HERE and HERE, Hamm’s Beer and their lovable polar bear mascot has finally come to the blog. And it even comes with its own fan CLUB. You came for beer history, but you’re going to want to stick around for the kidnapping.

THEO AND LOUISE

Theodore Hamm was born in 1825 in Herbolzheim, Baden, Germany. When it comes to the dramatic increase of German immigrants to the United States in the mid-1850s, THIS reference paragraph from our previous blog explains Germany's conflict at the time. Hamm immigrated to the United States through Chicago in 1854. Even though he came from a family of farmers, Theo became a butcher by trade, and Chicago was the perfect place to be. By 1850, Chicago had over 30 railroad lines coming into the city. It become a hub for factory production and meat processing. Theo became a master at making sausage - something he continued to do throughout his life.

Back in Herbolzheim, Theodore agreed to marry Louise Buchholz once both had made it to the United States. After Hamm had established himself in 1854, Louise followed and the 2 were married in Chicago. Unfortunately for Hamm, Louise did not share his love of the midwest. According to Theodore Hamm in Minnesota, His Family and Brewery by John T. Flanagan (1989), pages 7-8, Louise could not handle the state of pre-fire Chicago (pre-1871), and could not acclimate to living in a big city, nor could she handle the city's black population. Even though Minnesota was just a territory (it'd become a state on May 11, 1858), Saint Paul had a German population that could provide Louise the homogenous environment she could work with, even with the "Indian" population and their "dirty" rice, which she refused to touch. (It's noted that she softened up about the rice later in life.)

Theodore and Louise Hamm with vintage map of Saint Paul

The couple opened up a boarding house called Sailor's Rest at the corner of Front and Walnut streets. Louise was in charge of the boarding house while Theo took care of the saloon. It was in that saloon the Hamm found his peace. He enjoyed talking with people and was able to make great business connections including those in the beer business. When the Civil War broke out, Theo was first to volunteer for the Union, a decision that was reversed because of his wife. 

By all accounts, Louise Bucholz Hamm was a brash Catholic woman, even to the point of losing family friends... which we will get to later. One such friend of the family was Andrew (A. F.) Keller, who built his Pittsburgh Brewery (later, Excelsior Brewery) in 1859-1860 over the artesian wells in a section of the Phalen Creek valley in St Paul, known as Swede Hollow. Hamm went from being a butcher to opening his own saloon, becoming a close client of A. F. Keller. Both businesses were doing very well, but Keller was still having trouble of paying off the the loans he needed to build and maintain the brewery.  So, in 1863, Andrew and Theodore decided to run off to California to the seek their fortune in gold even though the California Gold Rush had died down by 1855, and the Black Hills Gold Rush wouldn’t come until 1874. Regardless, the boys were ready to set out until Louise absolutely refused to let her husband run off to California, leaving her with 3 kids.

Vintage Hamm's Beer advertising and old newspaper ads for Excelsior Brewery

What the 2 men didn’t tell Mrs. Hamm is that Andrew couldn’t afford the trip on his own, and Theodore had loaned his friend the money in exchange for the deed to the brewery - an exchange that was to be reversed upon striking their fortune. Also, in order to finance his own trip, Theodore took a lien again his own home and his saloon with its beer garden. Keller left to California in 1864, leaving his business in the hands of Theo.  A year later, in 1865, A. F. Keller had died in California and therefore defaulted on his loans. Theo Hamm lost his home, board house, and saloon, and had nothing left to his name but the deed to his friend's business. For a while, he was forced to move the family into his new place of work. Thus began the Theodore Hamm/Excelsior Brewery story.

Vintage Hamms Beer Barrel sign at Industrial Artifacts

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HELP WANTED: BREWMASTER

Hamm wasn’t a brewer - he was a butcher by trade and a saloon owner to avoid his wife. He had no idea how to operate a beer manufacturing business, so Theo brought in Jacob Schmidt as brewmaster, who was also a family friend. Schmidt expanded the brewery, even moving west from Phalen’s Creek to the corner of Minnehaha Street & Greenbrier Avenue, while expanding to multiple breweries. By the 1880s, Schmidt had enough of Louise’s abuses toward her daughter, Marie. Jacob Schmidt left Hamm and went to work with North Star Brewery, and eventually opened a brewery in his own name.  Schmidt was later bought out by Gottlieb Heileman who we covered in a previous blog HERE.

Theodore and William Hamm with Brewery workers and Theo with 21 grandchildren

Louise passed away on February 2, 1896. Theo Hamm spent his later years quieter, but still working in the business until he passed away of a heart attack in 1903. The company remained with son William through Prohibition where they had diversified into soda drinks like Oxford Club Ginger Ale and food products. Hamm’s was able to survive which is quite an achievement as out of the 1,300+ brewers in operation in 1915, less than 100 survived. William (Senior) remained president until 1930 when he suffered 2 heart attacks, the second leaving him bedridden until his passing on June 10, 1931.

Vintage photos of Hamms brewery delivery truck, and patrons holding a beer sign

The repeal of Prohibition was coming in December of 1933 and was welcomed by everyone. We’ve covered The Business Plot of 1933 HERE and HERE when rich businessmen tried to overthrow the government and install Major General Smedley Darlington Butler as dictator. Between those two major events came the kidnapping of new president of the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company, 39-year-old William Hamm Jr, Theo's grandson.

Antique oxblood tufted leather chesterfield at Industrial Artifacts

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THE KIDNAPPING

Prohibition did absolutely nothing well except make everyone worse off while a select few made a lot of money. This social lopsidedness created small pockets of crime that eventually lead to large organized crime organizations, especially when there were many in politics and law enforcement who were against the banning of alcohol. This made matters messy, and in that mess came the “Public Enemy Era,” the time of organized crime was at an all time high. We covered one such story with Vito Genovese HERE. John Dillinger’s gang robbed 12 separate bank robberies, between June 1933 and July 1934. Bonnie and Clyde’s run was between 1932 and 1934.

Below is quoted from FBI.gov found HERE:

     On a warm summer evening in 1933, William A. Hamm, Jr., President of the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company, was working at his office in St. Paul, Minnesota. He had just exited the building when he was grabbed by four shadowed figures and pushed into the back of a car. What he didn't know was that he had been kidnapped by members of the Barker/Karpis gang, for a ransom of over $100,000.
     Hamm was taken to Wisconsin, where he was forced to sign four ransom notes. Then he was moved to a hideout in Bensenville, Illinois, were he was held prisoner until the kidnappers had been paid. Once the money was handed over, Hamm was released near Wyoming, Minnesota. The plan was perfect and went off without a hitch...almost.
     On September 6, 1933, using a then state-of-the-art technology now called latent fingerprint identification, the FBI Laboratory raised incriminating fingerprints from surfaces that couldn't be dusted for prints. Alvin Karpis, “Doc” Barker, Charles Fitzgerald, and the other members of the gang had gotten away, but they'd left their fingerprints behind — all over the ransom notes.
     The Silver Nitrate Method and its application in the Hamm Kidnapping was the first time it was used successfully to extract latent prints from forensic evidence. Scientists had just thought to take advantage of the fact that unseen fingerprints contain perspiration, chock full of sodium chloride (common table salt).
     By painting the evidence, in this case the ransom notes, with a silver nitrate solution, the salty perspiration reacted chemically to form silver chloride—which is white and visible to the naked eye. There they were: hard evidence that the Karpis gang was behind the kidnapping.
William Hamm Jr Kidnapped Newspaper article and pics of Karpis Barker Gang

The Barker/Karpis gang broke up after a second kidnapping of a banker named Edward George Bremer, Jr. revealed more clues and fingerprints linking to William Hamm Jr’s kidnapping. Many members fled to Cuba or got cosmetic surgery. Doc and Ma Barker died in a shootout in Florida. Alvin Karpis, the “brains” of the operation, was arrested in New Orleans.

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HOW MUCH IS HAMM'S ADVERTISING WORTH?

As with Orange Crush, Hamm's is a brand where the majority of the desirable advertising is not in tin and porcelain signs, but with the caveat that this 18" porcelain sign with the eagle holding the Hamm's crest in its beak is only found in one exchange - and that was for $8,600.00 in 2016. 

Price of Hamm's Antique and Vintage Signs

We want one of these. If you find one, EMAIL us.

The Hamm's bear mascot comes from the early 1950s, and was designed by Ojibwe artist and a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Patrick DesJarlait, who also designed the Standard Gas firebird and redesigned the Land-O-Lakes maiden (may she rest in peace). The Hamm's bear is even more adorable in 3 dimensions. The bear displays that designed by Paul Stanley, in working order, are more. But the other displays seem to continuously bring in over $2,000 rather consistently. Check what we found below.

 

Vintage Hamm's bear displays and prices
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COMMERCIALS

Here are some old Hamm's commercials featuring the song so many people from the mid-century remembers. 

Ladies, despite what TikTok may tell you, sometimes men prefer the bear too. It's from the 1970s when the United States was saturated with adulation of John Grizzly Adams - the Joe Exotic of the 1800s. This commercial falls in that mass cultural movement. 


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