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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,175

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This is the grave of Theodore Hamm.

Born in 1825 in Emmendingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Hamm did not come out of a brewing family. He was a butcher and saloon owner. I’m not sure exactly when he immigrated to the U.S. or ended up in Minnesota; it’s surprisingly hard to find information on this capitalist. I think he immigrated to the U.S. sometime in the 1850s or early 1860s, but even upon his death, the obituaries were not sure about this.

Hamm inherited the Pittsburgh Brewery in Saint Paul in 1865 when his buddy A.F. Keller died in California. He renamed it Excelsior and it became one of the most successful breweries in Minnesota. This was largely because he hired Jacob Schmidt as his brewmaster, who somewhat later and started his own brewery under his own name, which is still exists today. So does Hamm’s of course and it soon became one of the biggest in the United States. Or…as some other internet sources say, Hamm took over the brewery because he loaned Keller money and then Keller couldn’t pay him back so the brewery became his. Don’t know. In any case, the Schmidt part is definitely true. Hamm became tremendously rich and he when he needed a new factory, he wanted it extra fancy. So he hired the well-known architect August Maritzen to make it happen. Soon to be one of Minnesota’s most famous buildings, Hamm used the occasion to rename the company after himself in 1894 and the descendant of the beer he produced is still called Hamm’s today.

Hamm died in 1903 and it was only under his son and grandson that the brewery hit its peak in America. There are so few of these old regional breweries produced today, even as what is left is owned by a couple of conglomerates. Just thinking back 25 years in the Northwest, Henry Weinhard’s, Lucky, and Olympia are all gone, while Rainer remains under whoever owns it but not in its old iconic factory just off I-5 in south Seattle. That’s not even to mention what Prohibition did to breweries. In 1919, there were about 60 breweries in Minnesota. Six reopened in 1933. One was Hamm’s. So it’s something of a miracle that Hamm’s survives today.

Hamm died of pneumonia compounding heart disease in 1903. He was 78 years old.

Information may be a bit hard to find about the specifics of Hamm’s life, but knowledge of his beer among LGM commenters is quite well-known, as is that of his competitors. So let this be a day where we discuss mass produced lagers. I wish Hamm had come up with “from the land of sky blue waters” tagline or the bear figure, but those were 20th century innovations and pretty good ones if I may say so.

Theodore Hamm is buried in Calvary Cemetery, St. Paul, Minnesota.

If you would like this series to visit other producers of American beer, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Adolphus Busch is in St. Louis and David Yuengling (producer of a truly foul substance) is in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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