Keep Your Family Healthy... with Beer

Posted by Scott on January 3, 2020

(written by Jenny DeRocher, Archives staff)

When President Teddy Roosevelt signed the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, it was in response to the national outcry at unsanitary practices in food production brought to the public’s attention by muckraking journalists.  The public’s distrust of consumable items and the companies who produced and sold them hit a new high with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a novel that exposed the horrors of the meatpacking industry with its 1906 release.

It was challenging for companies to gain back the trust of consumers after the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed.  To combat this, many companies began to advertise around healthiness or “purity” in their goods—not unlike today’s green washing trend that has become popular with many products in response to growing environmental concerns.

In the wake of the 1906 Act, La Crosse breweries hopped on the national trend to focus on wellness and natural ingredients in beer.  The John Gund Brewing Company (1873-1920) was located at what is now 2130 South Avenue and was at one point the leader in La Crosse’s beer production.  Their most nationally-recognized beer was called Peerless.  In the 1890s, Gund’s advertising line for Peerless was “the Beer of Good Cheer.”  After the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, Gund released an ad campaign branding Peerless as the perfect beverage for nursing mothers.


In this 1908 La Crosse Tribune (Dec. 11) ad, Gund uses words like: “pure,” “juices,” “healthy,” “stimulates,” “natural process,” and “goodness” all to invoke the message that Peerless was a beverage the public could trust. In fact, they claimed that it was so nutritional that it was good for nursing mothers and their babies and cited nameless doctors.


Other La Crosse breweries used similar tactics.  C. & J. Michel Brewing Co. (1857-1920; 1933-1956) introduced a beer around this time that would become a flagship brew for them—Elfenbräu—with the tagline “Wholesome as Sunshine.”



These La Crosse Tribune ads from 1909 (Jun. 11) and 1911 (Apr. 29) use the same tactics as Gund and other breweries all over the nation. Every line is meant to convince and comfort consumers.


Though seemingly less concerned, the G. Heileman Brewing Co. (1858-1999) jumped on the bandwagon too.  Heileman’s ad campaign for Old Style Lager was a little more subtle.  They began using the slogan, “The beer with a ‘Snap’ to it” to convey the idea of freshness.



These 1908 La Crosse Tribune (Jan. 11 and Jul. 18) ads show Heileman’s effort to encourage consumers to keep drinking their beer.


This all happened not even 15 years before the 1919 Volstead Act, which enforced Prohibition until it was repealed in 1933.  However, the Temperance movement started long before 1919 and already had firm traction when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906.  With these ads, breweries were also battling the idea that beer was as harmful as liquor as more and more counties throughout the U.S. were voting dry.

To look at more ads or photographs from La Crosse breweries and businesses, visit the La Crosse Public Library Archives.  If you’re interested in Wisconsin’s beer history, look into the newly released book The Drink That Made Wisconsin Famous: Beer and Brewing in the Badger State, by Doug Hoverson.  This book explores each known brewpub and brewery in Wisconsin’s past and present.  Contact the Archives at (608) 789-7136, or by email at if you have any questions or further information about this blog content.