Answer Man

Answer Man: Stag beer once flowed out of St. Louis, too

Q. A friend recently told me that at one time there was a Stag brewery in St. Louis. True?

— Mike Pellegrin, of Troy

A. Your friend wasn’t full of hops, but the Hyde Park Brewery in St. Louis sure was. So full, in fact, that some say it was the first brewery to sponsor a show on television. Yes, long before the Budweiser Clydesdales pranced across your screen, Hyde Park may have pioneered the genre right here in the Gateway City in 1947 — a year before the brewery began turning out Stag beer.

Founded in 1876, the Hyde Park Brewery at 3607 North Florissant near Salisbury quickly became a fixture in the Hyde Park Neighborhood in north St. Louis. In 1889, it was sold to the St. Louis Brewing Association and became one of the association’s major units until it shut down during Prohibition.

When the suds were allowed to flow again in 1933, the Hyde Park Brewery reopened under independent operators, who continued rolling out the plant’s familiar Hyde Park labels. And, in 1947, they decided to test the novel idea of marketing their products on the new medium of television.

In those early days, brewers understandably may have been a bit bit gun-shy to show off their golden lagers so brazenly, according to a 2002 history of TV beer commercials in All About Beer Magazine.

With Prohibition still fresh in people’s minds, many were concerned that hawking beer so openly would offend viewers. Early on, beer ads reportedly aired only in late evenings and, of course, never on Sunday.

But it didn’t take an ad agency genius to quickly realize that TV could hit drinkers where they lived — or, at least, spent a good deal of time: the tavern. In 1947, for examples, half of all TVs sold in Chicago were to neighborhood watering holes. And, in New York, it was standing room only in bars when the 1947 Dodger-Yankee World Series was televised.

So, some small brewers began to dip a toe in the water. In 1945, New England’s Narragansett Beer was given the right to sponsor Boston Red Sox games, but — get this — the rights were given free of charge.

“We don’t know what we’re doing, and neither do you,” the team reportedly told the brewer.

Still, Modern Brewery Age Magazine once credited Hyde Park as “the first brewery to sponsor a televised program anywhere.” In February 1947, St. Louis was starting its first TV broadcast — a man-on-the-street chat with local residents. Hyde Park sponsored it.

“Hyde Park’s early commercials — perhaps history’s first prerecorded beer spots — featured Albert The Stick Man, an animated cartoon character with a knack for finding trouble,” according to the All About Beer article. “Whatever Albert’s dilemma, a bottle of Hyde Park Beer always brought relief.”

Soon, the magazine continued, other breweries began to enter the fray. By the end of 1947, for example, Griesedieck Beer was sponsoring a sports program in St. Louis hosted by Harry Caray, who would become the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals and, later, the Chicago Cubs.

That Griesedieck name should ring a big bell. On April 12, 1912, a group headed by Henry Griesedieck Sr. announced that it was buying the Western Brewery in Belleville, according to a 1997 article in the American Breweriana Journal by Donald Roussin and Kevin Kious. With son Henry Jr. as president and “Papa” Joe as VP, the new owners agreed to continue producing a product that the brewery had launched in 1907: Stag.

Well, 36 years later, they were at it again. In 1948, the Griesedieck-Western Brewery bought Hyde Park, according to Kious, a breweriana expert who lives in Collinsville. They continued to bottle Hyde Park brands — including a new Hyde Park 75 to celebrate the brewery’s 75th anniversary in 1951 — but they also began to pump out Stag. Lots of it.

“That brewery was big,” Kious told me. “I think they probably were cranking out just as much there as they were in Belleville. It’s not like the Stag bottles or Stag cans from St. Louis are any rarer than the Belleville ones.”

But the good times went flat relatively quickly. In 1954, Carling bought both the Belleville and St. Louis plants. Three years later, the final bottles and cans came off the Hyde Park line.

“They moved all the production to Belleville,” Kious said. “They were kind of landlocked at that Hyde Park plant. They still had room to expand in Belleville plus they had the railroad siding they didn’t have at Hyde Park.”

Now, all that’s left are relics from another era — like the circa 1940, 2-foot-tall AM radio shaped like a Hyde Park beer bottle you can find at www.antiqueadvertisingexpert.com. Otherwise, only faded painted signs on brick walls in the neighborhood pay tribute to a plant long gone (see www.stlouiscitytalk.com/2011/01/hyde-park-neighborhood.html).

Today’s trivia

What major American city was originally called Yerba Buena (Spanish for “good herb”) for an aromatic plant belonging to the mint family?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: Even in the midst of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson continued to amass a library of books that numbered in the thousands at his Monticello home. Books provided the little-traveled Jefferson with a broader knowledge of both the contemporary and ancient worlds. But instead of arranging his library alphabetically as many libraries did in his day, Jefferson reportedly followed the lead of English Renaissance man Francis Bacon’s table of science, which divided subject matter into three primary categories: memory (history), reason (philosophy) and imagination (fine arts). When the British burned the original Library of Congress in 1814, Jefferson sold 6,487 of his books to the government for $23,950 the very next year. Sadly, two-thirds of these were lost on Christmas Eve 1851 when a second fire destroyed about 35,000 of the new 55,000-volume collection.

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