Ray A. Alexander Papers, 1972-1988

Biography/History

The Peoples Brewing Company was the first instance of African American ownership of a major Wisconsin Brewery. The plant was started in 1911 by Henry J. Durler, and located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at 1506-1512 South Main Street. The brewery was sold to a group of African American investors in 1970. This group, including Henry Crosby, consisted of the first, and only, board of directors. This board dated from 1970-1972 and included Henry Crosby as well as Ray Alexander, Louis Maxey, and Robert Peeble. Crosby, Alexander, Maxey, and the Peoples Brewing Company president, Theodore Mack were also members of United Black Enterprises, an organization that came out of the Northtown Planning and Development Council. This council was connected to the Afro-Urban Institute, working as a Milwaukee ghetto non-profit group that encouraged African American involvement in the economic community. This organization had attempted to buy Blatz Brewing Company the year before, bidding $9,000,000 for the operation. It was declined the summer of 1969, and sold to G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse for $10,750,000.

The Peoples Brewing Company was sold for a total of $365,000 with an additional $70,000 paid for the existing inventory. The purchase was facilitated by a $390,000 Small Business Administration backed loan from Marshall and Ilsley Bank in Milwaukee on the condition that the group raise an additional $200,000 for operating costs through stock sales. After the stock sale, another building was purchased on Wright Street in Milwaukee to be used as the headquarters.

While the plant was in operation, Peoples Brewing Company produced Wurtzer Beer, Old Derby Ale, Peoples Beer, Chief Oshkosh, Rahr's, Badger, and Liebrau, and in 1971 purchased the labels of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It also made improvements on the existing company by installing a new tapping system, palletized inventory, and canned its beer in pop top cans.

Despite these changes and growth, by November 1972 Theodore Mack ceased production. Discrimination and poor sales in Milwaukee, a $35,000 tax lien placed on the company by the Internal Revenue Service, and a suit that Mack brought against the Small Business Administration and the Defense Department seeking 100 million dollars in defense contracts contributed to this decision. The equipment was subsequently sold by the Small Business Administration to relieve the debt that was left by the closure. The sale provided only a fraction of the market value of the equipment and an investigation of the Small Business Administration and the Office of Minority Business Enterprises resulted.

Additional allegations, resulting from the inquiries, led to an investigation by August Bequai of the Securities and Exchange Commission into payoffs made to retailers with the intent that they would sell only a single beer product. Many clippings regarding this investigation are included within this collection.