Here's a story I wrote for the Journal Sentinel. It only sounds local but Gettelman was a big part of Milwaukee's beer domination.
Goodbye, old brewery. You were Milwaukee's Best.
You brewed Milwaukee's Best, anyway.
The last surviving building from the old Gettelman Brewery, established on Milwaukee's west side in 1856, is being demolished. MillerCoors owns the 19th-century building where Gettelman once brewed $1000 Beer and Milwaukee's Best.
The plan is to turn the site into a staging area for truck transit.
Gettelman never cracked the top four of nationally known Milwaukee breweries; Miller, Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz took those spots.
But Gettelman wasn't any less innovative.
The brewery produced and sold beer. But it also made snowplows. It is where Fritz Gettelman invented the steel keg in 1933. The brewery promised $1,000 to anyone who could prove that Gettelman didn't use anything but pure malt, hops and water.
"Chemists all over the country tried in vain to collect the $1,000," said Ben Barbera, curator and operations manager at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, who pulled the files for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The once ivy-covered building at the western edge of the MillerCoors campus on State St. is across the street from the MillerCoors Visitor Center and directly across the parking lot from the brewery's clinic. The Gettelman building has been mostly empty for the last two decades — used occasionally for law enforcement SWAT team training (proof is in the pink splatters marking a missed target).
But it still holds memories.
"I went to Wauwatosa schools and a couple times a week I would walk to the brewery after school to get a ride home with Dad," said Frederick L. Gettelman, whose father, Fred W. Gettelman, was a brewmaster, chairman of the board and executive vice president for the brewery.
"I had the run of the place. I loved the brewing and the smell of cooking barley and hops," he said. "After that, the bottle house was exciting because of the noise and activity."
Miller Brewing bought Gettelman in 1961 and operated it as a stand-alone brewery until about 1970, when production was folded into the rest of the Miller Valley campus, said Erik Brooks, spokesman for MillerCoors. The building was used for brewery engineering offices and as the sales and marketing offices of the Plank Road Brewery, which marketed Icehouse and Red Dog. The offices were abandoned in the 1990s.
Five years ago, MillerCoors added a metal sign to the outside of the building. It spelled Gettelman wrong and was replaced by a new one that spelled the name correctly.
There isn't much to save inside the empty building — a few of the office doors have been marked for auction. The Gettelman family has requested some of the brick, grayed with weather.
There is no power inside and the water was shut off long ago. Newspapers are strewn on a bathroom floor, and the crunch of broken glass bounces off empty walls. The warehouse is more spare, less littered. Down a flight of stairs are the cellars — one of them a wide rathskeller with an arched ceiling, refurbished for the 1937 convention of the Master Brewers of America, according to the book "A History of A. Gettelman Brewing Company."
They used to hold meetings there at 5 p.m. each Friday. The Five O'Clock Club was open to men only.
Gettelman started life at the Menominee Brewery in 1856 when George Schweickhart purchased the land. In 1870, Adam Gettelman married Schweickhart's daughter and in 1871, bought a share of the brewery. By 1887, Gettelman had full control of the brewery and ran it — with his name on it — until his death in 1925, Barbera wrote in an email.
In 1934, Frederick "Fritz" Gettelman took over. He was "something of an engineer and designed a steel beer keg, the rights of which he sold to A.O. Smith immediately after Prohibition," Barbera wrote. "Fritz also designed a snowplow that the Gettelman brewery sold during Prohibition."
The brewery, known for its slogan "Get-Get-Gettelman," was among the first in the city to advertise on television. Gettelman sponsored wrestling matches at the Eagles Club in 1947, Barbera said.
A labor strike in 1953 hurt the company financially. When Fritz Gettelman died in 1954, his son Tom took over the brewery with his brother Fred as chairman of the board, Barbera said. Fred and Tom Gettelman sold the brewery to Miller Brewing in 1961, according to archives at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
The brewery building, last of what was once a large complex that included the Gettelman family home, is expected to be demolished in the next two weeks.