Olympia Brewing Co. - header image

History of the Olympia Brewing Company (1902-2003)

establishded as

The Capital Brewing Company (1896-1902)
 

While this famous Tumwater, Washington company owned other breweries prior to Prohibition, it gained prominence with a single brand produced in a single plant. The excellence of its beer has been attributed to the excellent quality of the water - hence their slogan "It's the Water" - but full credit should be given to Olympia's founder, Leopold F. Schmidt who's business model was "Quality First - Quantity Next." See Biography of Leopold Schmidt.

Olympia Brg. Co. corporate seal - image

The Early Years

As a member of Montana's State Capitol Commission, Leopold was part of a fact finding mission to western state capitals in the Summer of 1895. As the owner of the largest and most successful brewery in the state, after 20 years, Leopold wished to again be near the sea. Consequently, he was considering a new enterprise on the Pacific coast, and took this opportunity to access costal locations. On their visit to Salem, he toured the 3,500 barrel Capital Brewery (which he would purchase 8 years later). But a new capital building was under construction at Olympia, and while there he learned of some artesian springs at nearby Tumwater. His brother Louis had accompanied on the trip and the two toured the site to assess its suitability for a new brewery. His brewmaster experience told him that the water was of exceptional quality, and navigable access to the sound was all but assured, making this an ideal location.

On September 18, 1895, The Daily Olympian ran this story:

"LEOPOLD SCHMIDT ANNOUNCES PLANS TO BUILD BREWERY -
 
A deal which has been pending for several days culminated yesterday afternoon in the sale of five and one-quarter acres of land near the lower falls at Tumwater to parties from Montana, who will build a brewery on the property. The purchasers are L. F. Schmidt of Deer Lodge, Montana, and his brother Louis of Butte, These gentlemen have been around the past three days with Alex Drysdale, who negotiated the sale, and after making surveys of the property, estimates of the water power, etc., a satisfactory settlement was arrived at, the sum of $4550 in cash paid to Mrs. Fannie E. Biles, the owner of the property, a deed made out to Schmidt Bros. and placed on record yesterday afternoon.

The land comprises the plat between the Des Chutes and the Union Pacific grade and fronting on the sound. The Tumwater Ice company's plant is upon it.

It is the intention of Schmidt Bros. to put a brewery and ice plant costing $60,000 on the spot where the tannery now stands or near it, and to make other improvements. They will fill in a portion of the tide flats out to the channel of the river, and build a wharf there in anticipation of a time when the sound between Olympia and Tumwater will be navigable at all tides either by dredging the channel or making a fresh water lake of it by building a dam and locks near the Westside bridge.

Work on the plant will begin next month, shortly after the 16th. On that date L. F. Schmidt will move into the residence on the property to personally oversee the work."

site of Olympia Brewery, c.1895 - image
Tannery and first residence, ca.1895

1885 letter "Its the Water" - image

 

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.
 
The results confirmed what he already knew, and secure in the knowledge that - in his words: "with this water, I believe I can brew better beer than ever" - he returned to Montana and sold all of his interest in the Centennial Brewing Company of Butte.

 

Capital Brewing Co.

Capital Brewing Co. letterhead c.1900 - image
Capital brewing Co. letterhead, ca.1898

The Capital Brewing Company

Etching of the Capital Brg. Co. c.1896 - image

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.

Excelsior Beer label, Capital Brg. Co.
First label, 1896-1901

1902 Olympia Export beer label
1st Olympia Brewing Co. label, ca.1902

Capital Brewing Co. beer tray
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)

Early Olympia Brg. Co. label, c.1906
Early label, ca. 1906

2nd Olympia Beer label, c.1906
Another version, ca.1906

The company also had distinctive labels for their regional agent/bottlers. Their Seattle agent was Geo. T. Maginnis, and his label is shown here.

Olympia's Seattle label

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.


Capital Brewing Co.
Etched glass, 1896-1901


lidded stein, ca.1914
displaying the new style lettering

Olympia etched glass, c.1905
Olympia Brewing Co.
Etched glass, post-1902

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.

He then established the Salem Brewery Association with the acquisition of the Capital Brewery of Salem, Ore., in 1903, and  founded the Acme Brewing Company of San Francisco in 1906.

And finally, he purchased the Port Townsend Brewing Company of Port Townsend, Wash., in 1909. 

Early portrait of Leopold Schmidt - image

Leopold F. Schmidt's business card - image
Leopold Schmidt's business card, ca.1898

Salem, Olympia & Bellingham steins, c.1904
Salem, Olympia & Bellingham steins, ca. 1904

Ingraving of the 1906 Olympia Brewery - image



In 1906 the original wooden frame brewery was replaced by a six-story, Italianate structure made of Chehalis brick.
 
Sandstone for the foundation was brought in by wagon from a rock quarry at Tenino. Lumber from the areas of Hewitt and Wards Lake, four miles to the east, was brought to the construction site by six-horse team. Sand and gravel was hauled in by scow from Mud Bay spit and Tykle's Cove.

 


      OLYMPIA BREWERIANA - Pre-Prohibition

Olympia Beer stein, c.1913
beer stein, ca.1905
 San Francisco
Olympia lidded beer stein, c.1898
tall beer stein, ca.1898
Olympia lidded beer stein ca.1903
 lidded beer stein,
ca.1904
Oly Beer Tray - Olympia Blue -  image
the "Blue" Olympia
beer tray
Olympia Beer tip tray - Seattle branch 
Olympia
"tip" tray, Seattle branch
Oly Beer Tray - Olympia Green -  image
the "Green" Olympia
beer tray
Olympia Bottled Beer, ROG lens - image
Olympia Beer, glass lens
Olympia "Cavalier" beer tray -  image
Olympia "Cavalier" beer tray, ca.1914
Olympia Beer "Blue" charger -  image
18" Olympia Beer "charger"

 


Anderson collection

Olympia Bottled Beer TOC sign
Magnussen collection



State-wide Prohibition

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 depleteOlympia German Brew, beer label -  image 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. 

Ad for Applju and Lo-ju - image

In 1918, the Food Administration imposed a severe limitation on the use of sugar by less essential food products, which included soft drinks. This limitation failed to ease the sugar crisis, and in the latter part of 1918, a meeting was held by government officials for the purpose of declaring the soft drink industry non-essential and ordering it to be closed up for the duration of the war. Olympia struggled along with the sugar shortage for a few more years, competing with boot-leggers for the scarce commodity, but finally operations ceased and the Old Brewery was sold. It was then put to use as a paper pulp mill.

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.

REPEAL of PROHIBITION
 

Olympia Brewing Co. 1934 letterhead - image
1934 letterhead
 

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.

Olympia Beer label, c.1914

Olympia Beer label, c.1934

Olmpus Beer label

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 Beer stubby c.1935
In December of 1935, Olympia introduced a new bottle - the "stubby". This was a squat, no-deposit, no-return, 11 oz. bottle. It had the same capacity as the long neck but took up less room in the home refrigerator, and six-packs stacked nicely in grocery displays. Olympia was the first west coast brewery to adopt this style packaging, and with the added advantage of being a "no return" bottle there was no deposit required. This new package was quickly adopted by the majority of the breweries.

Olympia Brewery painting c.1938
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 Brewing Co. c.1989 - image
Olympia Brewery ca.1989


Olympia Breweriana - Post Prohibition


Olympia Beer can c.1955 - image
beer can ca.1950


Olympia pilsner beer glass c.1950s - image

footed pilsner ca.1950s


Olympia Beer test can c.1968 - image
test can ca.1968


Olympia Beer embossed sign - image
embossed TOC sign
 


Olympia "stubby" beer stein - image
porcelain stein, ca.1936

Olympia Beer lighted sign - image
lighted ROG sign

Olympia Beer - ball tap knob - image
ball tap knob - enamel insert

Olympia Bock - aluminum beer sign - image
aluminum sign

Olympia Beer ceramic pipe - image
ceramic pipe

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.
 

Reprint of Capital Brg litho c.1900 - image
Reprint of litho ca.1900

Reprint of Olympia Brg litho c.1907 - image
Reprint of 1907 litho 

Reprint of Olympia Brg litho c.1909 - image
Reprint of  1909 litho

Reprint of Olympia Brg. Co. litho c.1910
Reprint of 1910 litho

Today

Olympia Brew House today - image
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.
 

 

Occasionally I'm asked if Olympia is still being brewed. The answer is yes and no! Of course there is no longer beer flowing from the Tumwater plant, however the Pabst Brewing Co. still owns and markets the brand. Currently the Miller Brewing Co. has been contracted to produce Olympia Beer in their Irwindale, CA plant for Pabst. So yes, you can still get an Oly! But only in these Western States - AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, OK, OR, UT, WA, & WY - and Canada! Check the locator to see if it's available in your area..

 

OLYMPIA COLLECTIBLES - For Sale 

Olympia Beer glass, tall pilsner - image

Numerous Post-Prohibition Olympia beer glasses, schooners and mug. Go to: Glasses

Olympia lidded beer stein ca.1903

Three Pre-prohibition Olympia Beer steins, and one from the '70s. - Go to: STEINS

OLympia Beer glass from Tumwater ca.1910

Pre-Prohibition Olympia beer glass. Go to: Etched Glasses

Olympia Beer tip tray - Seattle branch

Three Pre-prohibition Olympia tip trays, and one 12" beer tray - Go to: TRAYS

  
All contents including images are copyright by BreweryGems.com
 and can not be used without permission from Brewery Gems.
Copyright © 2004 ~ All Rights Reserved.

Brewery Gems ~ since 1999 

Acknowledgements

  • 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
     

  • And to Mike Magnussen for the Olympia Bottled Beer T.O.C. sign.


    For any comments, additions, or corrections - or if you have brewery items for sale -
    please contact me:


    Gary@BreweryGems.com

  • BREWERIANA | BREWERY HISTORIES | SITE MAP | ABOUT ME | CONTACT