Andrew F. (A.F.) Keller (1819 - 1873)

Andrew F. (A.F.) Keller (1819 - 1873)
Image of the Hamm's Brewing Company c. 1880 (via MNHS)

Despite having become firmly embedded into the lore of local brewing history, primarily because of his perceived association with Theodore Hamm and the subsequent birth of the Hamm’s Brewing Company, there is little consensus about the life of St. Paul pioneer brewer Andrew F. (A.F.) Keller. To some he was a pie-in-the-sky dreamer, willing to abandon his family for the lure of potential fortune, others believe he was little-more than a poor business owner—one whose shoddy decision-making cost him a chance of life-changing fame and fortune.

As it often does, the truth probably falls somewhere in between. Keller was a noted local business person, credited as the original proprietor of St. Paul’s Pittsburg Brewery, located along the east bank of Phalen Creek above Swede Hollow. His establishment enjoyed some degree of local success, having been advertised in local German-language newspapers from 1857 to 1862.

German language advertisement announcing Keller's Pittsburg Brewery 

Keller, who was born in Ensisheim, Germany, on September 29, 1819, emigrated to the United States as a young man and first settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In 1849 or 1850, he married fellow German immigrant Magdelena Heidt in Butler, Pennsylvania. Soon after, the two headed west to St. Paul, Minnesota. Their eldest son, Julius, was born in the city in 1856.

His Pittsburg Brewery was a small, unassuming, hand brewery whose production peaked over at over 800 barrels per year (a significant number at the time). The areas earliest brewers primarily sold their wares on an ultra-local basis—going as far as to be little-more than neighborhood-only shops. Shipping beer at the time — even short distances—was both time-consuming and costly.  

The brewery’s name was likely a reference to Keller’s ties to the Pittsburgh area. Several noted German brewers had gotten their start in the region—including St. Paul’s Anthony Yoerg—and Keller was probably trying to give his fledgling brewery credibility by giving it the ‘Pittsburg’ name.

Then, for an unknown reason, things changed.

On January 1, 1863, local newspapers ran an ad announcing that Keller was no longer the proprietor of the brewery. St. Paul grocer Andrew Nessel and his brother Lawrence noted that the brewery—called the Excelsior Brewery—was now in full operation and Keller was to be treated as little more than a salesperson for the establishment. He could collect balances and deliver beer, but could no longer contract on behalf of the company.

Notice announcing new ownership of the Excelsior Brewery from A.F. Keller to Lawrence Nessel

According to excise records for 1863 and 1864 (which unfortunately don’t tie him directly to a particular brewery), Lawrence Nessel—who is not listed in St. Paul city directories and may not have lived in the city—brewed between ten and fifteen barrels of lager beer each month. He last appeared in the local tax records in October 1864.

Theodore Hamm assumed ownership of the brewery—which he subsequently called ‘Hamm’s Excelsior Brewery’—shortly thereafter.

In 1866, Keller moved to Northfield and opened a small brewery in the city. He ran it for three years before returning the St. Paul to run a small saloon in the city’s downtown. The city’s 1870 census records list Keller as a saloon keeper.

The following year, St. Paul city directories listed him as the proprietor of the Bellevue Hotel, a popular local hotel, restaurant, and saloon overlooking the Mississippi River on the corner of Wabasha and 2nd.

Two years later, on February 18, 1873, at the age of 53, Keller passed away. He left behind his wife Magdalena and their (at least) three children. Despite his stature as a pioneer of the city’s brewing industry—at one point he was the president of the local brewers association—a record of his death didn’t make the local papers.

He is buried alongside his family at the Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul.

Pioneer brewer Andrew F. Keller likely didn’t have a direct hand in Theodore Hamm becoming the owner of the Hamm’s Brewery. However, he created an establishment along Phalen Creek that eventually became one of the nation’s most recognized brands.


Bibliography

  • "The Saint Paul Daily Press." January 1, 1863, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016749/1863-01-01/ed-1/seq-1.
  • "Andrew F. Keller, September 29, 1819." Tavern Trove. https://www.taverntrove.com/wednesday-september-29-1819-andrew-f.-keller-birthday-1823.html.
  • "Andrew F. Keller." Find a Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/190858011/andrew-f-keller.
  • "Andrew Keller 1819-1873." Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records. https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/andrew-keller-24-3tnmc51.
  • Die Minnesota Deutsche Zeitung. "Pittsburg Brauerei [advertisement]." August 1, 1857. 4. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn90059395/1857-08-01/ed-1/seq-4.
  • Hoverson, Doug. Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • "Magdalena Heidt 1831-1904." Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records. https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/magdalena-heidt-24-57f0kv.
  • "St. Paul Minnesota Directories 1856-1922 and 1981." Access Genealogy. Last modified November 2, 2019. https://accessgenealogy.com/minnesota/st-paul-minnesota-directories.htm.