Art on Tap: Early Wisconsin Brewery Advertising Exhibition and Program

Pabst. Blatz. Schlitz. Miller. Every Wisconsinite recognizes these names. They are symbols of a regional identity that evolved into a national brand; they are an intrinsic part of who we are. Individuals such as Captain Frederick Pabst, Joseph Schlitz, and Frederick Miller rise out of the mists of history larger than life. As residents of Wisconsin, we discover elements of our origin story within this collective nostalgia for brands created more than one hundred and fifty years ago. Reborn again and again over the years in different markets—with immigrants, then housewives, the middle class, workingmen, and now hipsters—these iconic products have a staying power and romantic appeal unrivaled in the history of consumer culture.

The names are so ingrained in our local identity that many today may not realize that our innovative beer barons and early breweries were on the leading edge of modern consumer culture. Not simply regional anomalies, these industry leaders were part of a large and significant chapter as creators on the forefront of American pop culture. They were among the first to launch the concept of the creation of identity through branded products. They took generic commodities and turned them into social symbols and distinctive markers that endure today.