The History of Stroh's Brewing Company
The Stroh family began brewing beer in a family-owned inn during the 18th
century in Kirn, Germany. In 1848, during the German Revolution, Bernhard Stroh,
who had learned the brewing trade from his father, emigrated to the United
States. Bernhard Stroh established his brewery in Detroit in 1850 when he was 28
and immediately started producing Bohemian-style beer, which had been developed
at the municipal brewery of Pilsen, Bohemia, in 1840. In 1865 he purchased
additional land and expanded his business. He adopted the Lion's Crest from the
Kyrburg Castle in Germany and named his operation the Lion's Head Brewery. (The
lion crest is still visible in its advertising and product labels.)
Bernhard Stroh's original beer selling operation consisted of a basement brewing
operation and was then sold door-to-door in a wheelbarrow. The New Beer
(Stroh's) sold door-to-door is a lighter-lager beer, brewed in copper kettles;
Copper kettles enhanced the rich flavor of the beer, while the fire brewed
distilling made the beer lighter, thus, forming a tradition of 'pure water
beers' (without the heavier mineral content). Making the "new beer" lighter did
not reduce the flavor. All major breweries in the United States of America,
today, enjoy the honor of producing pure water beers in which Europeans give
great recognitions and awards.
Bernhard Stroh Jr. took charge of the brewery on the death of his father. He
changed the brewery's name to the B. Stroh Brewing Company. With the
introduction of pasteurization and refrigerated rail cars, Stroh was able to
ship some of his beer as far as Florida and Massachusetts. In 1893 Stroh
Bohemian Beer won a blue ribbon at the Columbian Exposition. The company's name
was changed to The Stroh Brewery Company in 1902. In 1908 Bernhard Stroh's
brother Julius Stroh took over the brewery. After a tour of famous European
breweries, he introduced the European fire-brewing method in the Stroh brewery.
Today, Stroh's is the only fire-brewed beer on the American market. Common in
Europe before World War I, the fire-brewing process uses a direct flame rather
than steam to heat beer-filled copper kettles. The company claims that the
resulting higher temperatures bring out more of the beer's flavor.
During Prohibition, Julius Stroh operated the business under the name The Stroh
Products Company, producing near beer (beer with its alcohol extracted), birch
beer, soft drinks, malt products, ice cream, and ice. Though production of most
of these items ceased when Prohibition ended in 1933, a special unit of the
brewery continued to make Stroh's Ice Cream (this facility remained in Detroit
until February 2007, when the operation was moved to Belvidere, Illinois, though
the distribution facility in Detroit still remains).
Growth and Expansion
Upon Julius Stroh's death in 1939, his son Gari Stroh assumed the presidency.
Gari's brother John succeeded him in 1950 and became Stroh's chairman in 1967.
Gari's son Peter, who had joined the company following his graduation from
Princeton University in 1951, became president in 1968.
In 1964 the company made its first move toward expansion when it bought the
Goebel Brewing Company, a rival across the street. The company had decided it
could no longer compete as a local brewer and was about to move into the
national scene. One reason was a costly statewide strike in 1958 that shut down
Michigan beer production and allowed national brands to gain a foothold. When
Peter Stroh took over the company in 1968, it still had not regained the market
share lost in the strike 12 years previous.
Stroh ended a 40-year relationship with a local advertising agency for a large
national agency and began targeting the larger national market. Led by creative
director Murray Page, Stroh's came up with the slogan "The One Beer...", and by
1971, Stroh Brewery had moved from 15th to 13th place nationally. In 1972, it
entered the top 10 for the first time. A year later it hit eighth place. Peter
Stroh's willingness to depart from years of tradition enabled Stroh's to
survive, but the changes were hard to swallow for many Stroh's employees. Stroh
broke the company's tradition of family management and recruited managers from
companies such as Procter & Gamble and Pepsico. He also introduced a light beer,
By 1978, Stroh's served 17 states when it produced 6.4 million barrels of beer.
By this time, the original Detroit facility was 66 years old and had a capacity
of seven million barrels annually. As it became difficult to make efficient
shipments to new markets in the East, the company recognized that it required a
new brewery. The F&M Schaefer Brewing Company had fallen victim to the Miller
beer wars and Stroh's took over all of Schaefer's stock. In 1981, the combined
breweries ranked seventh in beer sales. In addition, Stroh was able to take
advantage of Schaefer's distributors in the northeastern part of the country.
The acquisition also brought Stroh three new brands: Schaefer and Piels beers,
and Schaefer's Cream Ale. The company now had a volume of over 40,000,000
barrels (6,400,000 m3) and 400 distributors in 28 states, Washington D.C.,
Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands.
Stroh's head office used to be located at Grand Park Centre near Grand Circus
Park and Woodward Avenue.In 1982 Stroh bid for 67 percent of the Schlitz Brewing
Company. By spring of that year, Stroh had purchased the entire company, making
Stroh's the third largest brewery in America. During the takeover, Schlitz
fought a fierce battle in the courts trying to remain independent. Schlitz
finally accepted the takeover when Stroh raised its offer from an initial $16
per share to $17, and the U.S. Justice Department approved the acquisition once
Stroh agreed to sell either Schlitz's Memphis or Winston-Salem breweries.
In 1999, word came down from Stroh headquarters that the 149 year-old brewer was
selling its labels to the Pabst Brewing Company and Miller Brewing Company. John
Stroh III, now company president and chief executive, said of the decision to
sell: "Emotionally, it was an extremely difficult one to make, knowing that it
would impact our loyal employees, and recognizing that it would mean the end of
our family's centuries old brewing tradition that had become, in essence, an
important part of our identity."
After its dissolution in 2000, some Stroh brands were discontinued, while others
were purchased by other breweries. The Pabst Brewing Company acquired the most
Stroh/Heilman brands. They currently produce Colt 45 malt liquor, Lone Star,
Schaefer, Schlitz, Schmidt's, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Stroh's, and St. Ides.
The Miller Brewing Company got Mickey's Malt Liquor and Henry Weinhard's. Most
other Stroh/Heileman brands disappeared after 2000.