“People who know their beer drink Peoples.”
This was the slogan that graced a short and sadly unsuccessful marketing campaign for Peoples brewery in 1971.
Peoples originally opened in 1913 in Milwaukee, WI, but had a reputation for producing cheap beer of low quality. To combat this perception, Peoples released a new beer and promoted it through mail order. Talk about being ahead of the curve! The postcards contained a free gift on one side and the other side outlined three available brews. People were encouraged to complete the postcard with their selection (either .50, .80 or $1.40 per 12 bottles), and mail it back. The next thing they knew, the beer would be delivered to their door!
The brewery survived prohibition and in 1954 had 45 full-time workers who split shifts, working around the clock. The entire operation was updated and modernized to support the demand for its offerings.
By the end of the 60s, the brewery was up for sale and caught the eye of Theodore Mack Sr. who had been employed by Pabst for many years. Mack had set his sights on acquiring a brewery for the then 22 million black people in the USA, and in April 1970 his dream was fulfilled.
Peoples would be America’s first African American owned brewery, with a vision of the black community supporting a business owned by its own people. Mack made shares available to encourage black people to buy them, become decision makers and take ownership in a large corporation. By year-end, Mack claimed to have 1000 stockholders, though reports were sketchy that he was being truthful with the public, some citing that he had only 650 stockholders.
The following year Peoples bought the 107-year old Oshkosh Brewing Company and three of its brands. Mack did not want the large breweries to squeeze him out. The irony was that William Glatz, founder of Oshkosh, dreaded the day his historic brewery would be overtaken by upstarts like Mack.
Despite his vision, Mack was unable to sustain a profitable operation. On February 20, 1973 he met with stockholders. Shortly thereafter, employees were laid off and unpaid taxes and a default on his almost $400,000 loan sealed the bankruptcy and closure of Peoples Brewing.
Footnote: People’s Brewing is currently located in Lafayette, IN but has no ties or affiliation with Peoples that is featured here.