History of the Olympia Brewing Company (1902-2003)
The Capital Brewing Company (1896-1902)
Eight weeks after purchasing the Tumwater property Leopold sent a letter (at right) to the Whal-Henius Institute alerting them that he had sent them two demijohns of water for analysis.
Capital Brewing Co.
Capital brewing Co. letterhead, ca.1898
The buildings of the Capital Brewery, constructed in 1896, behind the original residence and tannery, were built by Leopold F. Schmidt's brother, Louis. The new buildings included a four-story wooden brewhouse, a five-story cellar building, a one-story ice factory powered by the lower falls, and a bottling and keg plant.
Early tray, 1896-1901
The Capital Brewing Company became the Olympia Brewing Co. in 1902, and at that time chose the slogan "It's the Water" for their flagship brand "Olympia Beer", in part to explain why the Tumwater lagers were so good. This was, in fact, the issue that prevented production of the "Olympia" brand at any of his other branches. They soon included the descriptor "export", as it inferred even higher quality, and their flagship brand became known as "Olympia Pale Export". (shown above-right)
The company also had distinctive labels for their regional agent/bottlers. Their Seattle agent was Geo. T. Maginnis, and his label is shown here.
Leopold Schmidt established the Olympia Beer Co. in San Francisco to bottle and distribute his product, both in SF, but also other areas of California, Nevada, and Arizona.
|Leopold F. Schmidt was a pioneer of the multiple brewery concept, and with the Tumwater plant well established, he began construction on the Bellingham Bay Brewery, in 1901. |
And finally, he purchased the Port Townsend Brewing Company of Port Townsend, Wash., in 1909.
Leopold Schmidt's business card, ca.1898
OLYMPIA BREWERIANA - Pre-Prohibition
beer stein, ca.1905
tall beer stein, ca.1898
lidded beer stein,
the "Blue" Olympia
Olympia "tip" tray, Seattle branch
the "Green" Olympia
Olympia Beer, glass lens
Olympia "Cavalier" beer tray, ca.1914
18" Olympia Beer "charger"
Leopold Schmidt died in 1914, just before prohibition forces triumphed in Washington and Oregon. The Olympia brewery group was then lead by Leopold's eldest son Peter. Prohibition came to Washington in Jan. 1916 - four years prior to national prohibition, yet the Schmidt family still had the two Acme plants in San Francisco where they continued to produce beer, but not Olympia Beer.
Brewing basically ceased in Washington in 1915, allowing brewers one year to deplete their inventory and dismantle their operations. However, the Schmidt family chose to carry on with a near beers called "German Brew" (at right), "Lact Dark", an Olympia Malt Extract, and an Olympia Artesian Water. They also produced a slightly sparkling apple drink called "Applju" (see ad below). It's slogan was "Drink an Apple" and they later made a heavily sparkling version they referred to as an "apple champagne". A loganberry product called "Loju" was produced in their branch brewery in Salem. Unfortunately, all fruit juice production was terminated in 1921 due to a sugar shortage caused by World War I in Europe.
With the advent of National Prohibition in 1920 the Schmidt family undertook many other business ventures, the most significant of which was their hotels. As a normal business practice many brewers had acquired saloons and hotels as exclusive outlets for their product. By the early 20's the Schmidt family controlled a large number of luxury hotels, with a presence in all of the major northwestern cities. So they decided to sell off all their inactive breweries and beverage operations (including the 1906 Tumwater Brewhouse), and concentrate on their Western Hotels chain. This would become the nucleus of the present day Westin Hotels.
They also started a bus transport business that would later become part of the Greyhound Bus Lines.
With Repeal of Prohibition in April of 1933, Peter Schmidt had only the Tumwater property and no brewery. He was faced with prospect of reacquiring the Old Brewhouse and undertaking a costly restoration and remodel. He decided instead to build a new, modern plant up on the hill above the original site. See painting below.
With Repeal also came new legislation that forbad brewers from owning "tied houses" or any business that sold beer. Consequently they had to divest themselves of the hotels and concentrate on a single brewery in Tumwater. The plant was completed, and on January 14, 1934 "Olympia Beer" was back.
They reprised their 1914 label (above left) and it remained relatively unchanged (middle). While imitation may be the highest form of flattery, I don't imagine that Olympia was flattered with the blatant copy of their label by the Utah Brewing Company of Salt Lake City, with its Olympus Beer label (right). Additionally, they had to request an injunction to prevent the Northwest Brewing Co. from using the trade-name "Olympic Club" and the slogan "It's the Beer". The injunction was granted on 31 Jan. 1933 and the subsequent appeal by Northwest failed.
Olympia Brewery painting ca.1938
Sales were strong, and the brand was soon available in all of the western states, and by 1940, Olympia had surpassed its pre-prohibition production. The company stayed solely with draft and bottled beer until 1950. In August of that year they introduced their first canned beer (shown below). The can's graphics remained unchanged until the '60s when the zip-tab was introduced - and can openers became a thing of the past.
After WWII the old brewhouse was being used by Western Metal Craft for cabinet manufacturing but were gone in the early '50s and it remained vacant. In 1964 the family repurchased the the old brewhouse and the other buildings on the water, and used them for storage.
Olympia Brewery ca.1989
Olympia produced a great number of display items and signs through the '60s & '70s, which have become popular with collectors. They did three wild life series of wall plagues (below), the first and second of which was just the heads, and the third was of full figures. They also did a wildlife series of beer mugs which surprisingly didn't have "Olympia Beer" prominently displayed on them.
In the '70s the brewery issued a series of re-prints of earlier lithographs (below). The most popular were the Capital Brewery, and 1907, 1909 and 1910 girls. These reproductions were also decoupaged to old wooden slats to give them a more antique look. The two most popular images (Capital, and 1909) were also used on beer trays and other items that were sold in the brewery's gift shop.
Brew House today - K. Williams Collection
Today, the Old Brewhouse remains Tumwater’s best known landmark as part of Tumwater’s New Market Historic District, and is listed on the National and Washington Registers of Historic Places. While the structure is presently vacant and in deteriorating condition (see above), new owners had made plans for its restoration.
Owner SABMiller closed the operating brewery (above the old brewhouse) on July 1, 2003. The property was purchased by a bottled water company who had intended to market Tumwater's famous artesian water, but instead ended up in bankruptcy.
However, there are now plans in the works to turn the property into space for a contract brewery, contract distillery, pub, restaurant, and retail shops. According to The Olympian, developers with NW Investment Group expect to close the deal by the end of 2014.
Numerous Post-Prohibition Olympia beer glasses, schooners and mug. Go to: Glasses
Three Pre-prohibition Olympia Beer steins, and one from the '70s. - Go to: STEINS
Pre-Prohibition Olympia beer glass. Go to: Etched Glasses
Three Pre-prohibition Olympia tip trays, and one 12" beer tray - Go to: TRAYS
Brewery Gems™ ~ since 1999
Thanks to Bryan Anderson for supplying the images of the three early labels, the early Capital Brewing tray and the black & gold glass sign.
To photographer Kaisa Williams for her image of the Old Brew House.
Thanks to the late, Bill Mugrage for his images of Leopold's business card, the German Brew label, glass lens, and 18" charger.
To Dave Unwin for the photo of the tannery and first residence. For more Olympia info - visit Dave's web-site: EnjoyOlympiaBeer
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