Acme Brewing Co. letterhead c.1911 - image


History of the Acme Brewing Company
(1907-1954)

The Acme Brewery of San Francisco was established in 1907 by Leopold Schmidt, owner of the Olympia Brewing Company of Tumwater, WA. Acme's story actually begins with Schmidt's entry into the San Francisco market.

 Olymbia Beer Co. letterhead, c.1906

In Oct. 31, 1902, Schmidt hired Aherns, Pein & Bullwinkel as San Francisco agents for his Olympia Beer Company. In Feb. 1903, after a limited introduction of his product, Schmidt shipped 100 casks, each packed with six doz. quarts of bottled beer, to his agents. This was followed by repeat orders, creating the certainty that a S.F. market was assured for Olympia Beer.

Rather than continuing with Aherns, Pein & Bullwinkel for the distribution of his beer, Schmidt decided to establish his own agency and bottling works. Schmidt purchased a three lot parcel on Sansome Street (numbered 1401, 1411, & 1423). The site was located at the the foot of Telegraph Hill and near the Embarcadero - convenient to rail and steamship. By November of 1904, construction had begun on the lot at 1423. On December 31, 1904, an article appeared in the trade publication, Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, that described the new agency:

"The Olympia Beer Company have completed their bottling plant at Sansome and Greenwich streets and will be delivering Olympia beer bottled and in bulk by January 10th...."

The article went on to describe the building and equipment, which was state of the art, and that it was under the management of brothers, Gus and Mitchell Harris. The bottling shop foreman was Fritz Reither, a nephew of Leopold Schmidt.  

The Harris brothers trans-shipped kegs of beer for markets in California, Nevada, and Arizona, where agents bottled the beer for local distribution, with their own labels. The Olympia Beer Company's bottling works provided for the San Francisco market only, and had a distinctive brown label (below). To promote the brand in SF, the agency issued an Olympia Beer stein as a give-away (below).

Olympia Beer ad SF c.1905
Olympia Beer ad Apr. 1905

Olympia Beer stein c.1905
Olympia Beer stein, ca. 1905

Olympia Beer Co.  SF label

The aftermath of the April 18, 1906, fire and earthquake left San Francisco with few operating breweries, and a beer shortage soon followed. A $1,000,000 order was then placed with Schmidt's Bellingham Bay Brewery for beer to be shipped to the city. His Olympia Beer Company had been spared from the catastrophe and production had already ramped up at its Tumwater plant in order to meet the higher demand. Schmidt seized this opportunity for capturing market share, and set out to build his own brewery there in the City. He already had the two vacant lots adjacent to the bottling works (1401-1411 Sansome), so it was a logical choice.

To oversee this new construction project Schmidt called upon William Schuldt, who was in management at his Oregon plant, the Salem Brewery Ass'n. In addition to Schuldt, a brewer that had recently joined the Salem organization, J.P. Rettenmayer, also went to SF. There the two men supervised the $100,000 plant project, and became principals in the new company.

 

Acme Brewery, 1401 Sansome St.
Acme plant - next to the Olympia Beer Co., c.1907

 

The Acme Brewery was incorporated on April 11, 1907, with Leopold F. Schmidt, president; William Schuldt, secretary and manager; and Jacob P. Rettenmayer, treasurer. J.P. was also Acme's first brewmaster.

Schmidt may have intended to remove Olympia Beer from the SF market once the Acme plant's beer was selling well, but in the interim he kept the bottling works separate from Acme. Consequently, Acme contracted with a local agent for bottling and distribution of its output. Schmidt chose this same arrangement for his Bellingham Bay Brewery. Kegs of beer were shipped to the city and bottled by D. Meinke until 1910, when 3-B came under new management.

While the Acme Brewery was technically a branch of the Olympia Brewing Co., it did not produce Olympia Beer. Due to the difference in water quality, the brew masters could never brew a lager that equaled that of the Tumwater Plant. Nor was Olympia Beer ever brewed in the Bellingham, Salem, or Port Townsend plants for the same reason.

Acme Beer stein by Mettlach, c.1907An early promotional piece is shown here (left).  It's Acme's first stein, a Mettlach, ca.1907, made in Germany by Villory & Bosh. Theset were presented to stockholders and major accounts, and were also given out as premiums for large purchases.

In May of 1911, JP Rettenmayer¹, now company president and manager, convinced Schmidt that it was time to annex the bottling works to the Acme Brewing Co. Sales were up and Olympia Beer's withdrawal would be covered by Acme's increased production.

For the first seven years, the symbol for Acme Beer was the female figure of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. She can be seen on the 1911 letterhead (top of page), in an early ad (right), on the label below, and on a promotional graphic below the label.

She is also on an enamel sign (seen near bottom of page - with other Acme Breweriana). The sign was originally affixed to Heinhold's First & Last Chance Saloon located across the Bay in Oakland in what is now known as Jack London Square.

First Acme label, c.1907 - image 1911 ad for Acme Beer -  imageThe ad (at right) was published in July of 1911 and announced Acme's new bottling department. Click for larger image. 

The label shown her is the same as in the ad announcing the new bottling dept. As mentioned above, initially Acme contracted the services of outside bottlers, as yet having no bottling capabilities of their own.
 

A SF City Directory shows Acme listing its bottling works at 162 Guererro. That was the address for John Fauser's Phoenix Bottling Works. Fauser was Acme's sole agent, and they bottled their line of beers until 15 May 1911, when the Olympia Beer Company's bottling line became part of the Acme Brewing Co. By this time, Acme's main brands were Acme Beer and Franciscaner, as seen on the sign below. They also produced a seasonal Bock beer. 

Acme Beer sign, c.1910

Acme issued numerous advertising pieces in the '30s & '40s, however very few items have survived from the 13 year period prior to Prohibition. This beautiful sign, ca.1910 (above) and the curved enamel sign, both depicting the goddess Cereus, are notable exceptions.

The famous "Acme stein-girl" beer label (below) was introduced in 1914. This familiar image was used through Prohibition on Acme's low alcohol Light Beer, and remained as the symbol of Acme upon Repeal in 1933.

A comparative look at the Stein Girl labels is offered in the this article.

Acme Beer trade mark label c. 1914 - image
Original Acme label with German text © 1914

The label (above) was unusual in that it had none of the required legalize spelled out. Instead all of that required information was printed on a label affixed to the back of the bottle. I suppose they didn't want to compromise the artistic integrity of their new design. An example of one of theses labeled bottles (below) shows a neck label which had "ACME" with the signature, "JP Rettenmayer" and "Brew Master," as well as "net contents 1 pt. 5 fluid oz." plus the rear label with the govt. required notations (below right).

Strangely the bottle has the ceramic swing stopper on a bottle made for the crimp-on crown cap. Perhaps the folks in S.F. liked the ability to re-seal the bottle if they didn't finish their beer? However, they did distribute their beer with the crown cap closure, otherwise they wouldn't have provided these cap lifters.

Acme cap lifter in brass

Acme Beer bottle with 1914 label -  image
bottle, ca.1914

Acme Beer neck label, c.1915 -  image

neck label

Acme Beer rear bottle label -  image
rear label

Acme pre-pro cap lifter
drink Acme Beer for health

When Washington and Oregon voted for statewide prohibition, brewers were given one year to sell their stocks and shut down operations by the 1 Jan. 1916 deadline. National prohibition was to occur four years later, but many didn't think that would happen. Consequently, Olympia's beer production was shifted to the Acme plant in California. Olympia's Bellingham Bay Brewery was closed and its equipment shipped to San Francisco. Its Port Townsend Brewery was also closed, but the Tumwater and Salem plants operated for a short time by manufacturing fruit beverages and near-beer. 


 

California Brewing Association

On January 17, 1917, an association of six breweries was incorporated, but the announcement wasn't made until two months later. On March 12, 1917,  the San Francisco Call-Bulletin reported:

"Six San Francisco breweries, facing financial loss, or insolvency, through proposed legislation regulating manufacture of maltuous drinks, have pooled their interests into one association for the manufacture and distribution of beers and malts. The body is to be known as the Acme-National Brewing Company². J.P. Rettenmayer, president of the Acme Brewing Company and head of the State Brewers' Association, is president of the consolidated companies.

This announcement was made today by Charles O. Swanberg, president of Merchants' Ice & Cold Storage Company, and a heavy stockholder in two of the affected concerns.

The breweries included in the merger are: National Brewing Company, Henry Weinhard Brewery, Claus Wreden Brewing Company, Union Brewing and Malting Company, Acme Brewing Company and Broadway Brewing Company."

This was a co-operative venture to give the participants more power in buying and selling. The Association was to have no paid-in capital stock, and profits were to be distributed on the basis of business prior to the consolidation. The members expectations were that by buying and selling in bulk they could materially reduce expenses.

Only two of the breweries continued as operating plants of the (renamed) California Brewing Association (CBA): the Acme Brewery, and the National Brewery. All of the other breweries ceased production and closed, but their parent companies continued as principals in the Association.

In October, 1917, Anton Dolenz left the Oakland Brewing & Malting Co. to assume the position of production supervisor for the Calif. Brg. Assn. Dolenz had been a classmate of J.P. Rettenmayer's at the Whal-Henius Institute of Fermentology, which may have had something to do with the hiring, but he brought considerable expertiese to the job. In August, 1919, anticipating the cessation of brewing of full strength beer, he filed a patent for a process of making a low alcohol content beverage.

Acme Beer label change c.1917Also in 1917, the original 1914 stein-girl label (above) was updated to reflect the new corporate structure, and to address social issues of the time.

With the war in Europe, a strong anti-German sentiment was sweeping America. Consequently, Acme replaced the double-eagle and tri-color, shield with an CBA monogram (Calif. Brg. Assn.), and replaced all German text with English.  Above the new monogram was: "A Healthful Beverage for the Home," and the middle banner now proclaimed: "The joyful temperance of Acme is expressed on every occasion," and "Good Old Acme - pleasing to the taste - ideal for digestion - cheering to the spirit."  These slogans were designed to appease the prohibitionists and attempt to distance beer from the liquor industry, but it didn't help.

Acme stein girl label c.1918


Caving to the Prohibitionists, President Woodrow Wilson imposed a partial prohibition in January of 1918. This   purportly would conserve grain for the war effort in Europe. The alcohol content of beer was limited to 2.75% and output was restricted to 70% of the brewery's previous year's production. Then eight months later, in September of 1918, the president issued an outright ban on the wartime production of beer. Consequently, the CBA modified their 1917 label to reflect their low alcohol brew by removing "Beer" and adding: "A Healthful Beverage."

 

Acme Beer tray c.1916 - image

Prior to Prohibition Acme did not appear to produce many promotional advertising pieces.  Upon acquiring the National Brewery, Acme adopted that brewery's use of western themes (see tray at right). This is a full size "stock" tray, and I know of no other Acme beer trays. A San Francisco collector has duplicate Vienna Art plates with Acme on the front and advertising on the reverse, with one advertising "John Fauser, Acme agent and bottler, Guerrero St." and the other has "Acme Brewing Co. 1401 Sansome St., San Francisco." There are also identical images on trade cards from both Acme & National which depicts a Pony Express rider appearing to burst through the card's surface. National used this same graphic on an oval beer tray.

Acme Brewing Co. beer stein c.1910 - image

Marketing during this period attempted to distance Acme from prohibition forces, and specifically the Anti-Saloon League, by referring to their beer as a "A Healthful Beverage for the Home" (see mug at left). Another slogan was "Good Old Acme - pleasing to the taste - ideal for indigestion - cheering to the spirit." Other brewers attempted the same marketing strategy but failed in their efforts to characterize beer as a healthful beverage, as opposed to an intoxicating drink. On 16 Jan. 1920, the 18th Amendment became law, and beer was prohibited along with all of the other alcoholic beverages.

 

 

Footnote:  

¹ On 29 Nov. 1917, Leopold Schmidt's only daughter, Philippine, and John Paul Rettenmayer were married.

 


 

Prohibition (1920-1933)

Cereal Products Refining Corp. and California Bottling Assn.

On 8 January, 1920, just eight days prior to Prohibition was to take effect, the California Brewing Association (CBA) reorganized as the Cereal Products Refining Corporation (CPRC), with J.P. Rettenmayer, president. The name change was necessary as the word "brewing" was no longer allowed. However, CPRC would later adopt California Bottling Association as the name of the Acme plant, thus retaining the CBA trade mark.

The CPRC members were the Acme Brewing Co., National Brewing Co., Union Brewing & Malting, Claus Wreden Brewing Co., and Broadway Brewing Co. However, the corporation retained only two operational units - National and Acme. The other three had shuttered when the California Brewing Assn. was formed in 1917.

Through all of Prohibition the National Plant, at 741-762 Fulton St., was doing business under the corporate name, Cereal Products Refining Corp.  They produced Cereal Malt Syrup, Oro Syrup, Alta Syrup, Cerex Syrup, Peerless Yeast, and Peerless Vinegar. They also manufactured Fairy Ice Cream.

Fairy Ice Cream truck, c.1922
truck in front of SF City Hall, ca.1922

In September of 1921, the Acme Brewing Co's. plant, on Sansome Street, began doing business as the California Bottling Assn., a division of the CPRC, and capitalized at $100,000. It was organized by J.P. Rettenmayer, S.H. Herold, and C.F. Hanson. Their brewmaster was Anton Dolenz, who joined the company in Oct. 1917.

California Bottling Association's Acme plant ca.1925
Calif. Bottling's Acme Plant

Dolenz formulated a low-alcohol cereal beverage, or near-beer, they called Acme Light. The 1918 version (above) of the stein-girl label was used, but the word "Beer" had to be removed. They also changed the Acme font. The result was the origin of the iconic, red "A" that remains in use today. Acme "Light" Beverage was soon followed by a "Dark" version.

Acme Beer label, ca.1924 Acme Beverage Dark c.1918
On March 25, 1924, the brewery patented their brewing process for Acme Brew (the registered name for their near-beer) and the patent date appears, center bottom, on the label.  They also simplified the graphics by removing the brewing equipment from the corners, removing the castle and the band from the top of the marquee. This version was essentially the label used when beer beer became legal nine years later.

Acme patent Bev. ca.1924

It appears that the Fulton plant didn't producing near-beer, since no Prohibition labels have appeared under the Cereal Products Refining Corp. banner. The Fulton Street plant was apparently dedicated to malt, syrup, yeast, vinegar and ice cream production.
 
Ice cream was also being made in the Sansome St. plant. Acme-Maid was a product of the Acme Ice Cream Co., who's office was down the street at 1313 Sansome. In about 1924, the Fairy Ice Cream Co. merged with Acme.
 
But the Calif. Bottling Assn. plant on Sansome St. was producing more than ice cream. Pre-prohibition Cascade Lager Beer label UB&MCo., SFThey also produced Acme Beverage (above), as well as Acme Brew, Acme Steam, and Acme Malt Tonic. They also made a Cascade Brew. For this label they used the eagle label from the Union Brewing & Malting Co. that had been part of the 1917 merger (thumbnail at right).

The plant also did contract brewing for at least one other company. As late as Nov. 1928, the Calif. Bottling Assn. brewed & bottled NC Export Brand Brew for the N. Cervelli Bottling Co. of SF.

Acme Brew Prohibition label Acme Steam nera-beer label
Acme Malt Tonic label Cascade Brew label - Calif. Bottling Assn
 
Low alcohol beers were only popular in that they could be spiked with grain alcohol to make them closer to the real thing. But soft drinks were also a money maker. They proved popular as mixers for illicit liquor - though they weren't advertised as such.
 
Acme aged Ginger Ale labelThe Sansome St. plant produced a sparkling Lime Rickey and a sparkling Orange, as well as a Grapefruit, and a Ginger Ale - all of which were popular mixers for boot-leg gin. For these labels they chose a different font for the "Acme" brand name, (thumbnail right) to differentiate them from the near-beer products.

 
Acme Brew T.O.C. sign c.1925
Tin-over-cardboard sign, ca.1925
 
Acme Brew cap lifter, ca.1925
Acme Brew cap lifter, ca.1925

 
In 1929, the Merchants Ice & Cold Storage Co., purchased 20% of the Acme Brewing Co., a.k.a. the Cereal Products Refining Corp., and obtained control of the Sansome Street plant. In May of '33 - a month after Repeal - the Sansome plant was leased to a group who re-opened it as the Globe Brewing Company. Globe operated it for a mere five years, closing in 1938.

 


Acme Beer, embossed tin sign - image
 

Repeal - 1933

First Acme  beer ad for Repeal c.1933 - imageAs previously discussed, the Acme Brewing Co. and the National Brewing Co. had joined the California Brewing Association in 1917, but the CBA had to change their name in 1920. Then in 1932,  with Repeal eminent, the corporation was able to resume operating as the California Brewing Ass'n. 

Acme's management chose to be proactive in promoting beer sales and were the first brewery to start newspaper advertising of beer, even before Repeal became an actual fact. The ad shown at right is one of the ads that set the whole west coast talking about Acme, weeks before Prohibition was ended, on April 7, 1933.

They ultimately became the most prolific and consistent brewery advertiser in newspapers. They then expanded their media blitz through numerous radio spots and innovative billboard advertising. These aggressive and on-going  campaigns made Acme the most famous, and popular brand of beer in the West. 

One short-lived campaign in 1947 boasted, "Fine Beer Since 1860". The assumption made by many was that Acme had been around since then, but the ads didn't actually say that, just implied as much. This 1860 reference acknowledges the family tradition of brewing brought to Acme Breweries by its executive management. This heritage rests primarily on two brewing families: Adams and Schuster.

Acme invested heavily in advertising and used ad agencies to come up with their ever-changing campaigns. For a few of the more long-lived campaigns and their approximate years of use go to my illustrated guide to the many Acme campaigns.


Acme Brewery delivery truck, c. 1933 - image
Acme delivery truck after Repeal in 1933

Acme Lager beer label c.1933

 National Beer label from Acme


From 1933 to 1936 the Fulton & Webster St. plant continued to operate as the Cereal Products Refining Corporation. They modified the Prohibition label from 1924 for their flagship brand (above left). The National label (above- right) is a 1933 version of the pre-Prohibition label from the National Brewing Company, which joined the California Brewing Association in 1917. Upon Repeal the Ass'n. re-introduced this familiar San Francisco brand to help recapture as much of the newly opened market as possible. The beer was selling three for a quarter. The Ass'n. relegated the National label to a buget, secondary brand and focused all their marketing efforts in the promotion of their flagship brand - Acme Beer.

Their first sales were offered in 22 ounce bottles. The contents of 1 pt. 6 fl. oz. can be seen on the Lager Beer label above. This was the normal size used prior to Prohibition. Another popular practice, prior to Prohibition, was taking draft beer home from the tavern in a "growler." Acme accomodated this practice by offering half gallon jugs of unpasteurized beer that had a label with the warning: "This beer is UNPASTEURIZED and must be kept under refrigeration. KEEP COLD." Since less than 25% of housholds had refrigerators, and ice boxes weren't high capicity, it's clear that most didn't follow the label's instructions and the beer spoiled. Consequently, Acme discontinued their unpasteurized beer and began offering a pasteurized product instead. Handling instructions were no longer needed!

Acme Lager Beer label half gal. Pasturized

Like Acme, the Globe Brewing Co. experienced the same problems with the mishandling of their unpasteurized Draft Beer, but were so invested in the process that they had to file for bankruptcy protection to restructure.

Acme Brewery Vernon CA
Acme Plant, Vernon, CA, c.1935

Acme Englishtown Ale label from LA, c. 1939 - imageIn partnership with its Southern California agent, Bohemian Distributing Co., Acme built a plant in Los Angeles (Vernon) at 2080 East 49th St. The brewery was positioned between Bohmeian's headquarters and the Sequoia Lodge, which was the hospitality center for two operations. The plant operated as the Acme Brewing Co. from its opening in June of 1935.

On April 1, 1936, the San Francisco brewery began operating as Acme Breweries, to reflect the addition of a branch brewery in Los Angeles, and their labels reflected the name change. However, Acme's corporate name remained the California Brewing Association.

Like most U.S. breweries, Acme produced a seasonal Bock beer. It was brewed in the winter and was traditionally released the following March. Acme's first Bock beer was available on 17 March, 1934. The label was similar to that of Acme Steam, and Acme Brew from the Prohibition era.

Acme Bock label ca.1934 Acme Bock label Los Angeles c.1940

The 1934 label was also used for the 1935, and '36 release. For 1937 the label was changed to the white version shown above. This label remained in use until 1950, with the exception of 1943 through 1946 when there was no Acme Bock produced due to wartime and postwar shortages of malt and othAcme Bock Beer can ca.1951er grains.

In January, 1936, Acme introduced canned beer and ale, but oddly they didn't can their Bock Beer until 1950. They then used the design of the white label above, but for only the March 1950 release. That same year they won an award at an Exposition in Brussels and to tout this international recognition they redesigned the can (right) and bottle labels.

The Cascade label (below) is a 1933 version from Acme's SF plant, which was doing business as the Cereal Products Refining Corporation from the onset of Prohibition in 1920, until 1936. This label used the same graphics that was used for Cascade Brew during Prohibition.

Like the National brand (above) Cascade enjoyed a limited release to appeal to the pre-Prohibition patrons who may have had some brand loyalty. However, the decision was made to go with the Acme brand exclusively, and Cascade, as well as National, was dropped. 

Cascade Beer label from Acme, c. 1933 - image

National Beer poster

Acme's "Lady in Red" by Petty - imageUpon start-up in 1933  Acme adopted a brilliant marketing concept directed at an untapped market - women. It advertised its beer as "Dietetically Non-Fattening" and following the asterisks the fine print says: "Relatively so, compared with other foods."

This caused the Federal Trade Commission, who was devoted to fair practices in advertising, to move against Acme Breweries. However, it took until 1951 for the Commission's decision that the words, "Acme beer contains no fattening substances and will not increase consumer's weight," was still considered a deceptive nutritional claim. So, Acme dropped the advertising campaign, but by then they had doubled their capacity and captured nearly 50% of the California beer market.
Acme back-bar chalk by Petty - image
In 1939 Acme commissioned George Petty (who had just left Esquire magazine) to paint three lithesome gals which were used for the 1940, '41, and '43 campaigns. These images were utilized in a number of different formats. They produced a 26" and a 33" wide, framed image for wall hanging; a 12" wide, framed version on an easel for back-bar display; and a cutout window card that was 42" long and easel mounted for window displays.

The Petty cowgirl, ca.1943 (below), was a very popular image - given Acme's fondness for western themes. The cowgirl image was also used on an aluminum serving tray (below) and for this back-bar chalk figurine (right).
 

Cowgirl pin-up by petty

Acme Beer red-head pin-up by Petty c.1941


Acme commissioned a number of well known graphic artists for their advertising campaigns. In 1940 alone they used George Petty, C. Maurice Mayer, Joseph Biner, and Frederick Mizen. Acme also used the artist, Alberto Vargas for some of their promotional material (example below).

 Alberto Vargas ad for Acme beer

However, there' one artist that Acme used that I've been unable to learn anything about. All I know is his sur-name, Reid. It's clearly shown on his illustration (below) which would have been painted between 1937 and 1940. If anyone has information on this artist please contact me.

Waiter with tray of Acme beer, by Reid.
original artwork by Reid, 33" x 16"


 

Acme bottling plant

In 1941 Acme Breweries built a $750,000 ($13.7 million in 2020) bottling plant adjacent to the old National Brewery site at Fulton & Webster in San Frarncisco. The five-story structure was constructed of glass, concrete, and feno-porcelain steel. The Insulux glass blocks were developed for Acme by Owens-Illinois, with clear glass on the outside, and amber on the inside. The plant was described by architects and designers as "one of the worlds most beautiful industrial buildings." It was demolished in 1968.

 


 

The War Years

Acme Beer, crimp-on cap - imageWith the outbreak of WWII citizens and business were called upon to conserve materials needed for the war effort. Consequently there was a shortage of materials required for the brewing and packaging beer, and canned beer was available only for the armed forces.

Even bottle caps were hard to come by. So Acme began promoting its quarter gallon, "Victory" size bottle which would use one cap instead of three - "Victory Size for the Economy-Wise." The Lever type Kork-N-Seal closure (right), was especially handy for resealing the larger quarter gallon bottles.

Patriotism was also a popular promotion theme. Acme actively encouraged numerous means to aid the war effort. They advocated giving blood; planting Victory gardens; writing to the troops; recycling cooking grease to your butcher;  and other economizing activities. At the close of each ad came the caption: "Acme...the beer with the high I.Q. (It Quenches). Buy Another Bond."

Acme Beer ad from WWII - image


 

"Quest for Fortune" painting c.1945 At the end of the war, Acme resumed its heavy advertising and in 1945 commissioned Claude Buck (1890-1974) to paint an original picture that alluded to Acme's long tradition of brewing, and to its native California origins, attempting to promote allegiance to a local brand over the nationals. For details on the painting go to: Quest.

The painting was titled "The Quest for Fortune" and was distributed heavily to taverns and grocers. The painting was printed on cardboard, framed without glass, and often had a brass title name plate affixed to the frame. Since this piece appeared to be more a work of art than a beer ad, many survived. However, those that were displayed in taverns tend to be darkened from cigarette smoke since there was no glass to protect the surface.

Two Acme FT beer cans - 1948 & 1950
Sales were slipping in the late '40s and the company updated its packaging, and continued with their heavy advertising, but they were having difficulty living down their reputation for making bad beer during the war. Their brewmaster, since 1917, was Anton Dolenz. In an attempt  to compensate for the shortage of rationed brewing ingredients he tried Manioca meal (also called Cassava), as a cost saving adjunct. Consumed at the proper temperature the beer must have tasted alright, but the troops in the Pacific lacked the capability to properly chill the beer. This resulted in what they described as a "skunky" brew. "I'll have a beer, anything but Acme," was often heard in taverns after the War.

In June of 1950 the company dropped their familiar black beer can (left) in favor of one that looked like a glass of beer - called Acme Light Dry Beer. Then in October they made a surprising move by renaming the beer, placing "Gold Label" below "Acme" and changing "Light Dry Beer" to red script.

In December of 1951 they added Bull Dog Ale to their line-up, reviving the 1941 slogan used  for their Englishtown Ale -"A Pip of a Nip in Every Sip". Strangely, they hyped it as "a he-man's beverage" totaly dismissing their female clientale. Then six months later, in June of '52, they specifically targeted the male consumer with the introduction of Bull Dog Beer. The slogan was: "Brewed to a Man's Taste!" The Bull Dog brands did surprisingly well and gave the company some needed revitalization. To maximize their success, in Feb. '53, they enhanced their line-up with a Bull Dog Stout Malt liquor.

In March of 1953 they hired the quintessential "alpha male" to promote the brand - previous world heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey. This was quite a departure for Acme since they had been successfully wooing the female demographic since 1933. They must have felt that the females would be drawn to the classier looking Gold Label brand, than the Bull Dog brands.

Jack Dempsey and Bull Dog Beer mascot - photo

Bull Dog Lager Beer ad - image

Acme Gold Label Beer can ca.1953In 1952, they had updated the Gold Label can, that looked like a glass of beer, and came up with the gold wreath look of the can shown at right with "Acme" in smaller letters. But both Gold Label and the Bull Dogs were too little - too late.

The national breweries were on the move, and regional breweries were losing market share. Many struggling breweries couldn't compete during the price wars of the mid-fifties and were bought out by the nationals or closed.

In January of 1954, both the LA & SF plants were sold to the Liebmann Breweries of NY, who was making an attempt to go national.  Liebmann operated the LA plant for three years as the Rheingold Brewing Co.  Then in 1957 they then sold it to the Theo. Hamm Brewing Co. who had a 15 year run, closing the plant in 1972.  

Gold Label Beer label ca.1954The SF plant was operated as the California Brewing Co. from '54 to '58, and adopted a Calistoga, covered wagon as their logo. While they now owned the Acme brand they chose to drop it from their product line. However, they did continue producing the Gold Label and Bull Dog brands. In 1958, Liebmann gave up its national bid and closed the plant for good. The plant, with an annual capacity of 700,000 barrels, was dismanteled in August of '62.

When Liebmann Breweries closed the California Brewing Co., Acme's LA agents and business partners, the Bohemian Distributing Company, purchased the rights to the Acme and Bull Dog brands, and from 1958 to 1968 Acme & Bull Dog was being produced for Bohemian by the Grace Bros. Brewing Company of Santa Rosa, CA.

Then seven years later, in 1975 the Acme brand, with its 1917 "Stein Girl" graphics, was resurrected as a contract beer. It was first produced by the General Brewing Co. of San Francisco, and then the following year Blitz-Weinhard of Portland took over the contract. By 1979 the brand was gone only to be resurrected again in 1987 with the establishment of the Xcelsior Brewery of Santa Rosa, CA. However, in a matter of only two years Xcelsior folded and Acme was gone - but not forgotten.

North Coast Brewing Co. Acme Pale Beer

In 1996 the North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg, CA obtained the rights to the Acme brand, and it is still being produced. The use of the iconic, 1917 font for their Acme logo reflects their appreciation of the brand's history.



ACME BREWERIANA

Acme Beer - curved  procelain sign
porcelain sign, ca.1907-'13,
by Ingram-Richardson, Bever Falls, PA

Acme Beer chrome ball tap knob
chrome, ball tap knob

Beer coaster from Acme's Hawaiian agent - image
Coaster from Acme's Hawaiian distributor, ca. 1935

Acme Gold Label Beer foil sticker - image
Heavy gold foil window display, ca.1950


Acme Beer tray with Petty girl figure
aluminum beer tray by Petty ca.1943

Acme Beer & Ale, lighted counter sign - image
Back- bar "Halo light", ca.1940,
by Price Brothers

Acme Lager, mini beer bottle - image
Miniature Salt, ca.19
35

Acme Beer lighted lens display, ca.1936
R.O.G. lighted lens, ca.1933


Acme Beer glasses ca.1938
glasses, ca.1938

Acme Pilsener style beer glasses
two scarce Acme glasses


NOTE - For a guide to dating Acme Breweriana - go to: Acme Collectibles

 


Other Acme Breweries

While in no way related to the California Acme, the name has been used by three other brewing companies. Prior to prohibition there was an Acme Brewing Company in Macon, GA [1893-1916], and one in Bentleyville, PA [1907-20]. Then after prohibition there was an Acme Brewing Co. in Joliet, IL [1933-39], and Bentleyville had a short run from 1933-34.

 

Acme Brewery Today

In late 1935, the California Brewing Assn. built a three story, art deco style, building (shown here) to house their general offices and sales department for the San Francisco plant. They also moved their Hospitality/Tasting room to the new building.

 Acme's general office, 762 Fulton St., c.1935
Acme's Corporate Office, 762 Fulton St., S.F., ca.1935

Currently the building houses the African American Art and Culture Complex, where the murals adorning the (interior) walls of old Tasting room remain to this day. It is a triptych (multi-panel) mural, depicting the cultivation of hops and the production of beer. The mural was painted in 1935 by Jose Moya del Pino, whose work also appears in Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.

762 Fulton St. today
762 Fulton St., today (mural is not the one by Moya del Pino)
 

 

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Acme Collectibles For Sale

   

  Acme Gold Label Beer emblem - image

This display item, a coaster, a can, a cap lifter, and two different miniature beer bottles - go to: MISC.

 
     
Acme stein chalk ca.1947 Acme wall display - go to: SIGNS  
Acme Beer - Iced in Bottles decal, ca.1938 Acme Art Deco decal - go to SIGNS  

WARNING - Scamers are everywhere and they take images of authentic Breweriana and produce fantasy pieces that unsuspecting collectors purchase believing them to be genuine. Here's an example where a buyer sadly paid $1,446 for a fake.

Fake Acme sign

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Thanks to Carol Donnett-Hertle, a Schuster family member who supplied not only family history, but also great Acme history as well. 

  • A special thanks to Dr. Thomas Jacobs, noted San Francisco brewery historian and collector, who provided the names and dates of pre-prohibition personnel at Acme, as well as the opportunity to photograph the early label and pre-pro, porcelain sign. 

  •  To Pat Franco for the 1910 Acme Beer sign, and the 1925 Acme Brew sign. 

  • To Rod Countryman for the original art work of the black waiter with the tray of Acme beer.

  • To Karen at the Olympia Archives for the 1907 photo of the brewery.

  • To Phil Foto for the 1935 photo of the Vernon Plant.

  • And to the Wisherop family for the 1925 photo of the Acme plant on Sansome St.

For any comments, additions, or corrections - or if you have any Acme items for sale
(especially  pin-up art by Vargas & Petty, or the "halo light" by Price Bros.) -  please
contact me:
   
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