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Bismarck’s Breweries of the 1870s and 1880s


The town of Bismarck, by the very nature of things, was destined to become a bustling city. Bismarck’s geography ensured its future, being located at the easiest, and narrowest, crossing of the mighty Missouri River. Bismarck was created by the Northern Pacific Railway, which brought newcomers to town after its tracks reached the crossing in 1873.

Consequently, Bismarck became a first-class frontier town in the 1870s, boasting of five hotels, two .drug stores, several general stores, three bakeries, pluse forty more businesses, including harness shops and livery stables, and a gaggle of “Wild-West” saloons. Supplies for all those stores arrived by train until home-grown manufacturing began.

One of the first local suppliers was the Bismarck Brewery. Mr. H. Bose reportedly started it in 1873, but he never brewed anything. The Bismarck Brewery actually began in 1874, built by R. H. Girard. “Girard & Company” sold lager beer to local saloons at lower prices than the shipped-in bottled beers. Located on an acre of ground near the river, the brewery consisted of several wood-framed buildings, with a malt kiln, an ice house, and a cold cellar built of stone.

Girard operated it for several years, then sold it in 1876 to Jacob Kalberer, a Swiss immigrant, who rebranded the company as “Kalberer and Walter.” On this date in 1877, the Bismarck Tribune published an advertisement, touting “Bismarck Brewery, Kalberer & Walter, Manufacturers of ALE AND BEER [with]. . . First Class Goods and Reasonable Prices.”

They advertised heavily, because of intense competition. The Star Brewery, built in 1876, became a fierce rival, because the owner, Judson E. Walker, hired a talented German brewer named August Boenicke, who had apprenticed in the Old Country and had worked in Cincinnati and San Francisco. But despite that hired gun, the competition was too much, and the Star Brewery closed in 1880, with Walker bankrupt. As for the Bismarck Brewery, it burned down in 1883.

The final chapter in Bismarck’s brewing history came in 1884 when the nationally-famous Milwaukee Brewing Company built a magnificent new Bismarck Brewery, seven-stories-tall with solid brick walls.

This larger Bismarck Brewery opened in 1885, but then closed shortly thereafter, because the statewide prohibition of alcohol abolished all breweries in 1889, when North Dakota gained statehood.

The Bismarck Brewery buildings remained on the riverside, tall and empty, near the Liberty Memorial Bridge, until demolition in 1939.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Bismarck Brewery,” advertisement, Bismarck Tribune, July 18, 1877, p. 2.

“Lager Beer,” Bismarck Tribune, July 11, 1873, p. 4; “Bose,” Bismarck Tribune, June 9, 1875, p. 3; “Brewery,” Bismarck Tribune, April 22, 1874, p. 4.

“Girard & Company Brewery,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 5, 1876, p. 5.

“Brewery For Sale,” Bismarck Tribune, January 19, 1876, p. 8.

“Jacob Kalberer,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 3, 1877, p. 4; “Partnership,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, November 8, 1876, p. 4.

“Bismarck,” Bismarck Tribune, July 2, 1877, p. 2.

“Bismarck,” Bismarck Tribune, July 25, 1877, p. 2.

“The Ale and Beer at the new Star Brewery,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, July 26, 1876, p. 4.

“In Going Our Round Yesterday,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 4, 1876, p. 4.

“Sheriff’s Sale,” Bismarck Tribune, August 20, 1880, p. 5.

“Brewery Burned,” Bismarck Tribune, May 4, 1883, p. 1.

“A Bismarck Brewery,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, June 13, 1884, p. 3.

“The Bismarck Brewery,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, July 25, 1884, p. 6.

KXMB TV Bismarck, “Bismarck Brewery,” October 6, 2008, "http://www.kxnet.com" www.kxnet.com , accessed on December 16, 2009.

“Judson E. Walker, Grocer,” 1880 U.S. Census, Bismarck, Burleigh County, Dakota Territory, Ancestry.com.

“Jacob Kalberer,” 1910 U.S. Census, Bismarck, Burleigh County, N.D., Ancestry.com.

W.P.A. Federal Writers Project, The WPA Guide To 1930s North Dakota (Bismarck: State Historical Society of N.D., 1990), p. 114-115.

“Milwaukee Brewery Company,” Dakota Datebook, November 2, 2008.