Back to top

Theodore Hamm Brewing Company

Creator: 
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
A view of Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, designed by August Maritzen, ca. 1905. The ornamental design of the building was later removed as the facilities were updated for operations. The large house on the bluff near the brewery was built for Theodore Hamm and his wife, Louise.

A view of Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, designed by August Maritzen, ca. 1905. The ornamental elements of the building were later removed as the facilities were updated for operations. The large house on the bluff near the brewery was built for Theodore Hamm and his wife, Louise.

The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company, one of Minnesota’s most iconic breweries, began brewing beer in about 1865 as Excelsior Brewery in St. Paul. Hamm’s was brewed in Minnesota for well over a century, and its brief national profile was bolstered by both its iconic animated bear and its Minnesota-centric slogan: “From the land of sky-blue waters.”

Theodore Hamm acquired the Pittsburgh Brewery in St. Paul from Andrew Keller around 1865. The complex of buildings, which he renamed Excelsior Brewery, stood on the bluffs above the Phelan Creek Valley, near Swede Hollow. Excelsior grew over the next twenty years to become the second largest brewery in the state in 1886. As the brewery’s output expanded beyond its existing facilities, Theodore Hamm hired architect August Maritzen to build a large complex of brewery buildings. Maritzen’s design was ornate and decorative, and the facilities opened to the public in September of 1894. The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was officially incorporated a few years later, in 1896. Jacob Schmidt, who had known Theodore Hamm in Baden, Germany, was an early brewmaster at Hamm’s before starting his own competing brewery in St. Paul.

Theodore Hamm died in 1903, leaving his son William and grandson William Jr. to run the brewery. Hamm’s relatives managed the brewery for a sizeable portion of its lifetime—including the Prohibition era, which decimated the Minnesota brewing industry. In 1919, before Prohibition, there were sixty breweries in Minnesota. In 1933, there were only six, Hamm’s included. By then its business leaders had become public figures, and William Jr. was kidnapped by members of the Barker–Karpis gang in 1933. He was returned safely after a $100,000 ransom was paid, but no one from the Barker–Karpis gang was ever charged with a crime.

After Prohibition and World War II, Hamm’s was well positioned to expand. In 1945 it hired Campbell-Mithun, a Minneapolis-based advertising agency, to create a marketing campaign that would build a national profile. Meanwhile, the company acquired breweries throughout the United States that could distribute their beer in different markets. In 1953, Hamm’s purchased the Rainier Brewery in San Francisco, followed by Acme in Los Angeles, Gunther in Baltimore, and Gulf Brewing Company in Houston.

The Hamm’s bear made his first appearance in a 1953 television commercial. These commercials often featured the klutzy animated bear in the woods or playing a sport with other woodland creatures. A jingle, beginning “From the land of sky-blue waters/From the land of pines, lofty balsams/Comes the beer refreshing/Hamm’s, the beer refreshing,” was played to the beat of the Hamm’s bear stomping on the ground or rolling a log down the river. While it may seem inappropriate for an animated character to advertise an alcoholic beverage, the commercials were popular among viewers. In 1959, a Hamm’s commercial was selected as one of the top ten advertisements by a marketing organization, and the bear appeared on various products and advertisements for the brewery.

Even though Hamm’s expanded its market with new national breweries and had a successful marketing campaign with a recognizable character, the brewery struggled to operate nationwide. In 1968, Hamm’s was acquired by Heublein, a food and beverage corporation in Connecticut. In 1975, Heublein sold Hamm’s to Olympia Brewing, which was soon acquired by Pabst. Pabst, in exchange for a brewery in Tampa, then sold the St. Paul facility to Stroh’s in 1984. Hamm’s production was moved to Milwaukee, and the St. Paul facility produced Stroh’s until 1997, when it was closed for good.

In 1999, Pabst transferred the Hamm’s trademark to Miller, who has continued to market the beer through the 2010s. Hamm’s has grown as a Miller brand because of its low price and unique marketing towards loyal fans—sometimes referred to as “Hammpions.” Even though the Hamm’s bear has long been absent from advertisements, the character is still strongly associated with the label and his depiction on brewing memorabilia is sought after by collectors. The brewery facilities in Saint Paul—abandoned and dilapidated for many years—are partially owned in 2019 by a real estate developing company. They house a microbrewery, a distillery, and a trapeze facility, among other businesses.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Blum, Peter. “Hamm’s Brewery.” Breweriana 66 (Summer 1989): 7–13.

Flanagan, John T. Theodore Hamm in Minnesota: His Family and Brewery. St. Paul: Pogo Press, 1989.

Frost, Peter. “Fast Growing Hamm’s Looks to Stay Red-Hot in 2018.” Behind the Beer (blog), January 24, 2018.
https://www.millercoorsblog.com/features/fast-growing-hamms-looks-stay-red-hot-2018.

Harris, Moira F. The Paws of Refreshment: The Story of Hamm’s Beer Advertising. St. Paul: Pogo Press, 1990.

–––– . “From Limestone to Rubble at a Brewery Full of Memories.” Breweriana 118 (July–August 2002): 14–20.

Kimball, Joe. “Life Slowly Returns to St. Paul’s Two Shuttered Breweries.” MinnPost, April 4, 2013. https://www.minnpost.com/two-cities/2013/04/life-slowly-returns-st-pauls-two-shuttered-breweries

Melo, Frederick. “This Part of St. Paul’s Old Hamm’s Brewery is Filling Up—Creatively.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 24, 2019.

Related Images

A view of Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, designed by August Maritzen, ca. 1905. The ornamental design of the building was later removed as the facilities were updated for operations. The large house on the bluff near the brewery was built for Theodore Hamm and his wife, Louise.
A view of Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, designed by August Maritzen, ca. 1905. The ornamental design of the building was later removed as the facilities were updated for operations. The large house on the bluff near the brewery was built for Theodore Hamm and his wife, Louise.
Hamm’s Brewery keg delivery wagon, ca. 1923. Hamm’s delivered kegs of beverages via horse-drawn carts.
Hamm’s Brewery keg delivery wagon, ca. 1923. Hamm’s delivered kegs of beverages via horse-drawn carts.
Hamm’s Brewery distribution truck, ca. 1933. Hamm’s owned trucks would distribute beer to businesses throughout Minnesota.
Hamm’s Brewery distribution truck, ca. 1933. Hamm’s owned trucks would distribute beer to businesses throughout Minnesota.
A bottle of Hamm’s New Brew variety, produced in the 1930s. This bottle has the original logo and typeface typical of Hamm’s Brewing Company’s early products.
A bottle of Hamm’s New Brew variety, produced in the 1930s. This bottle has the original logo and typeface typical of Hamm’s Brewing Company’s early products.
A promotional item produced by Hamm’s Brewing Company ca. 1950. This clock shows a cabin scene that embodies the essence of Hamm’s early advertising campaign around the “cool refreshment of Minnesota’s vacationland.”
A promotional item produced by Hamm’s Brewing Company ca. 1950. This clock shows a cabin scene that embodies the essence of Hamm’s early advertising campaign around the “cool refreshment of Minnesota’s vacationland.”
A Hamm’s poster celebrating the Minnesota Twins’ 1965 season. Hamm’s Brewing Company collaborated with professional sports teams in Minnesota and the Midwest as an advertising partner.
A Hamm’s poster celebrating the Minnesota Twins’ 1965 season. Hamm’s Brewing Company collaborated with professional sports teams in Minnesota and the Midwest as an advertising partner.
A souvenir totem pole, created ca. 1970, with a depiction of the Hamm’s bear. This piece is a good example of Hamm’s Brewing Company’s use of generic and often inaccurate Indigenous iconography in their advertising. Although this object was made by an Ojibwe family, totem-pole carving is not an Anishinaabe tradition; the art form is practiced by Indigenous groups on the West Coast of the United States and Canada, including the Haida, the Tlingit, and the Nuxalk.
A souvenir totem pole, created ca. 1970, with a depiction of the Hamm’s bear. This piece is a good example of Hamm’s Brewing Company’s use of generic and often inaccurate Indigenous iconography in their advertising. Although this object was made by an Ojibwe family, totem-pole carving is not an Anishinaabe tradition; the art form is practiced by Indigenous groups on the West Coast of the United States and Canada, including the Haida, the Tlingit, and the Nuxalk.
A bumper sticker (created in 1975) proclaiming Minnesota-brewed beer, including Hamm’s and Schmidt’s—founded by Theodore Hamm’s one-time friend and business competitor.
A bumper sticker (created in 1975) proclaiming Minnesota-brewed beer, including Hamm’s and Schmidt’s—founded by Theodore Hamm’s one-time friend and business competitor.
Photograph of Hamm’s bear bank
Photograph of Hamm’s bear bank
Still image of a Hamm's TV commercial showing the Hamm's bear and little bear, early 1950s.
Still image of a Hamm's TV commercial showing the Hamm's bear and little bear, early 1950s.
Photograph of a placemat advertising Hamm’s Beer
Photograph of a placemat advertising Hamm’s Beer

Turning Point

On September 28, 1894, the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company opens its brand-new brewery in St. Paul. The new buildings host over 10,000 visitors as the first batches of beer are brewed.

Chronology

1825

Theodore Hamm is born in Herbolzheim, Baden, Germany, on October 14.

ca. 1865

Hamm acquires the Pittsburgh Brewery in St. Paul from Andrew Keller, renaming it Excelsior Brewery.

1896

The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company is officially incorporated in St. Paul, two years after its new facility was opened to the public.

1903

Theodore Hamm dies in St. Paul, leaving the brewery to his son (William) and grandson (William Jr.).

1933

William Hamm Jr. is kidnapped by members of the Barker–Karpis Gang. He is returned unharmed after a ransom of $100,000 is paid.

1945

Minneapolis’ Campbell-Mithun advertising agency begins working for Hamm’s, creating the well-known “From the Land of Sky-Blue Waters” jingle soon after.

1951

Hamm’s is the fifteenth largest brewery in the United States based on beer sales. Soon after, Hamm’s enters the national market by acquiring breweries in California and Texas.

1953

The iconic Hamm’s Bear makes his debut in a commercial. The animated character wins Hamm’s and Campbell-Mithun praise in the advertising industry.

1968

Hamm’s is acquired by Heublein, a food and beverage corporation based in Connecticut.

1969

Hamm’s leaves Campbell-Mithun for a different advertising agency. The Hamm’s Bear is still used in some advertisements for the brewery.

1973

An updated animated bear, Theodore H. Bear, promotes Hamm’s in a few commercials. Soon after, Earl Hammond and brown bear Sasha are filmed in Minnesota for a new set of advertisements.

1975

Heublein transfers Hamm’s to Olympia Brewing, based in Washington. After Olympia merged with Pabst, Stroh’s exchanges a brewery in Tampa for the St. Paul brewery. Under Stroh’s management, the facilities in St. Paul are modernized.

1997

Stroh’s closes the St. Paul brewery complex, marking the end of an era in St. Paul brewery history.

1999

Miller Brewing Company acquires the Hamm’s trademark and continues to brew a beer under the label into the twenty-first century.