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Anyone for a Pabst Blue Ribbon?

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

Someone at Pabst Brewing sent this envelope to William J. Langson, Secretary of the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce on April 17, 1900. The 2-cent postage was covered by what is probably US Scott #279b. The envelope has a Barry machine cancel with an oval postmark and horizontal killer lines.

Pabst Brewing, founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1844, was one of the largest American breweries in the late 19th century and for a good part of the 20th century. It is still in business today, but it brewed its last keg of beer in Milwaukee in 1996. It is now headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.

The back of the envelope depicts the Pabst brewery circa 1900. The brewery occupied several square blocks on the near north side of Milwaukee. Although the brewery has long since shut down, several of the buildings remain and are used for sundry purposes ranging from a hotel to facilities for local universities.(i)

In 1900, the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce was not an organization that promoted the city and local businesses, as chambers of commerce do today. The Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce operated one of the oldest – and at one time, among the largest – commodity exchanges in the Midwest. It was organized in 1858 following the merger of the Milwaukee Grain Exchange and the Milwaukee Corn Exchange. Its sole concern from 1858 until 1931 was the marketing of grain.

From 1879 onward, the Chamber was headquartered in what is known today as the Mackie Building located at the corner of Broadway Street and Michigan Street in downtown Milwaukee. It is a grand looking building that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.(ii)

Mr. Langson was the Chamber’s long-time secretary. He was elected to that position in 1865 and held it until his death in 1909. Mr. Langson was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1838 and arrived in the US around 1850. In a late 19th century book titled “Milwaukee Under the Charter” by James Smith Buck, Mr. Langson is described as “medium size, has a lithe and wiry frame, and is for his weight a very muscular man. He is very quick motioned, has a nervous temperament, walks very fast, and is always looking down as if in a study, which he no doubt is, as all the duties devolving upon him must be attended to in their proper order, as well as at the proper time, otherwise all would be chaos with the ‘bulls and bears’ who make so much noise (often to so little purpose) during the hours appropriated to the purchase of the cereals, consequently he always succeeds, where a larger or more phlegmatical individual would fail.”

There was an enclosure in this envelope that I doubt was the original enclosure. Nevertheless, it is quite fascinating. It is a 16-page invitation to visit Milwaukee and the Pabst brewery that Pabst distributed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Be forewarned: The prose is over the top and one illustration depicts racial stereotypes. This document was produced and distributed in 1893, which is why I doubt it was the original enclosure in an envelope from 1900, but perhaps Mr. Langson requested a copy for his records since on the inside back cover there is a map of Milwaukee and item #14 on the map is the Chamber of Commerce Building at the corner of Broadway and Michigan Streets?

One final factoid: Pabst Blue Ribbon has been Pabst’s flagship beer for over a century, but contrary to widespread belief, it did not receive a blue ribbon at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Pabst Select Beer, which was its best-selling brand, had won numerous awards before 1893, and Pabst had begun tying blue silk ribbons around the neck of each bottle as early as 1882. Pabst did receive a medal and certificate at the Columbian Exposition, but so did other beers. Captain Frederick Pabst, the company’s namesake, unilaterally decided to deem his beer the “grand prize winner” and changed the name of its flagship brew from Pabst Select Beer to Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I acquired this cover for $70.00 from Desert Stamps in July 2022.

Figure 1- Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figures 3-11 (below) - Brochure/invitation handed out at the 1893 Columbian Exposition

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