By Rebecca Ruger
America’s one-time best selling and largest producer of beer has a history possibly richer and tastier than the beer itself, and likely as interesting as the now famous Royal Ruby red bottle so coveted by sea glass collectors. The company was started by a political émigré from Bavaria, Germany. Georg August Krug, born in 1815, became a member of a group of revolutionists who demanded liberal reforms of the Bavarian government in 1848. Protests and turmoil erupted, the Bavarian forces restored order, and Krug was facing prosecution for his role. He chose instead to flee to America, taking his knowledge of the family’s brewing business with him. In short order, he arrived in Milwaukee (then Kilbourntown) and opened a saloon and small brewery, and from then on only went by August Krug, dropping his first name. Soon after, his fiancée, Anna Maria Hartig joined him. They were likely married in 1849 or 1850.
Krug’s father came next to America in 1850,but not without some troubles along the way—Georg Krug Sr, travelled with his grandson (August Krug’s nephew, August Uihlein) aboard the Helena Sloman, the first German steamship on the transatlantic route. It met with rough seas on November 28, 1850 and sunk. Nine people were killed, but the elder Krug and his grandson, and 175 other persons survived—as did the $800 in gold father Krug brought, which was used to expand his son’s brewery and hire the bookkeeper, Joseph Schlitz.
In 1856, August Krug suffered a fall which claimed his life only days later. His bookkeeper, Joseph Schlitz, born 1831 in Germany, took over management of the brewery and within two years had married the widow of his boss, quickly renaming the brewery Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. A few years later, Schlitz hired August Uihlein, Krug’s shipwreck-surviving nephew away from a St. Louis brewery to work for him. The young Uihlein brought with him to Schlitz his three brothers, Henry, Alfred, and Edward, who had since come to the United States. The brewery steadily grew and sales had doubled by the mid 1870s when Joseph Schiltz ironically was lost at sea. En route to his hometown of Mainz, Germany 26 years after leaving it, Schlitz was aboard the steamer, SS Shiller when it sank near Cornwall, England in May of 1875, taking him and more than 300 souls to their sea graves.
The reins of the business were at that time handed to August Uihlein and his brothers, and upon the death of twice widowed Anna Hartig-Krug-Schlitz in 1887, the brothers acquired complete ownership of the business. Schlitz beer would continue to grow, and slogans such as “The beer that made Milwaukee famous” and “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer” helping to drive sales in the first half of the 20th century.
The 1940s saw a new generation of Uihleins at the helm of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, and they wanted to celebrate 100 years since August Krug had produced the original family beer in Milwaukee. They contacted Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation, who in the late 1930s had patented Royal Ruby as the name for their famous and collectible deep red transparent glass. Prototypes were made, designs were approved or discarded and finally several bottles were agreed upon and produced for Schlitz. First made in 1949, again in 1950, and once more in 1963, the bottles contained both Schlitz beer and Old Milwaukee beer, which was Schlitz’ “value-priced” beer brand.
Curiously, the sea glass collector favorite was not well received by consumers at the time. While cost was a factor for the limited runs (even though Royal Ruby was a copper red, not a gold red glass), apparently beer drinkers did not want to drink their preferred ale from a red bottle. In 1963, thirteen years after the initial red beer bottle, Schlitz again met with resistance when they once more tried the Royal Ruby bottle, and the idea was then dropped completely. Royal Ruby was at the time used for many food and beverage products— fruit juice, wine, liquor, chili sauce, catsup, and aspirin bottles—but apparently beer drinkers weren’t buying it.
It’s estimated that as many as 50 million of the 1949-50 bottles were made and sold by Schlitz, and about 4 million of the 1963 versions in sizes ranging from the 9 oz. bottles to 32 oz. Some sources suggest that the cursive, or “script” Royal Ruby was only embossed on the Schlitz bottles, and not any other Anchor Royal Ruby glassware.
This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine November 2017 issue.