Born in Herbolzheim, Baden, Germany, in October 1825, Theodore Hamm emigrated to the United States in 1854, finding work as a butcher in Buffalo, NY, and Chicago, IL. While in Chicago, he married Louise Bucholz, who joined him from Germany once Hamm was established in the city. In August 1856, the couple moved to Saint Paul. Hamm carried on as a butcher until opening a boarding house near the corner of Front and Walnut streets called Sailor's Rest. Next, he operated a saloon near Third and Robert streets, and later a hotel and pub on West Seventh near Seven Corners. The couple ran that business until Hamm became the owner of a brewery located alongside Phalen Creek.
Andrew F. Keller was the first owner of Excelsior Brewing Co, likely opening for business in 1858. The small hand brewery was near Greenbrier and Minnehaha streets, situated alongside the west bank of Phalen Creek. With access to a seemingly endless supply of artesian water from natural wells underneath Phalen Creek and many nearby sandstone caves to refrigerate and age beer, the area was well suited to support this type of industry. In 1865 Hamm gained ownership of the brewery and began brewing and selling lager beer as Hamm's Excelsior Brewing Co. The Hamm family moved from their home and settled near the brewery to better support the new venture.
Hamm moved the brewery to the east side of Phalen Creek and began the business of growing the new company. Since his arrival in the city, Hamm had carved a niche for himself as a saloon and boarding house owner. He maintained business relationships with local brewers as the owner but likely hadn't intended on entering the brewing trade to this significant a degree. That being said, through an "untiring devotion to his business" and a combination of perfect location, impeccable timing, and decidedly progressive business acumen, Hamm became the president of one of the most successful businesses in Minnesota history.
The state experienced a population boom from 1860 to 1880, with significant growth in urban locations. A majority of the new inhabitants were of German descent, and they longed for the core cultural values of their homelands. Lager-style ales, taverns, and beer gardens were an essential part of their lifestyle and were seen as a "cultural focal point" of the various German-American groups in Saint Paul. The demand for lager beer was high enough that the number of Minnesota breweries grew from fourteen in the 1860s to over one-hundred-and-thirty in the 1880s.
In 1865, the small brewery only could produce five hundred barrels of beer a year. However, the business capacity multiplied. By 1878, it was producing nearly six thousand barrels of beer yearly, and four years later, that number increased to twenty-six thousand barrels a year. In 1886, two decades after its inception, the Hamm's Brewery produced forty thousand barrels of beer, making it the state's second-largest brewery. During the same period, the facility that began as a small operation overlooking Swede Hollow grew to encompass four acres of buildings. Local beer delivery that had once been serviced by pushcart now required a stable of horses pulling a team of delivery trucks four by a hitch each morning.
Increased business at the brewery allowed Hamm to engage in other business ventures. In 1874 he partnered with Philip Thon to become part-owner of the Brainerd Flouring Mills, a company that adjoined the brewery on Phalen Creek. Also, in keeping with his previous roots in the butcher trade, Hamm kept as many as forty steers in fattening stalls near the brewery. He raised pigs, slaughtered them, and provided sausage meat to customers throughout the city.
Hamm and his wife, along with close friends, took a thirteen-month trip to Europe in 1886. The excursion counted a stop in Herbolzheim amongst its sites. The trip was an intermingling of business and pleasure, allowing the group to enjoy the region while Hamm visited breweries to gain new ideas for his company. While Mr. and Mrs. Hamm and party vacationing, the couple's eldest son William commissioned German-American architect Augustus Gauger to build his parents a new home at 671 Greenbrier St. The house, which had twenty rooms and eight fireplaces, was located on the bluff above the brewery and Swede Hollow. Hamm's children later occupied four homes on the same block.
The brewery business was booming, and Hamm took steps to modernize the facility to keep up with the growing demand for his company's beer. On September 27, 1894, he officially opened the 'modern' Hamm's Brewery with a free-to-the-public inspection of the new facility. The brewery was now a large campus of facilities devoted to brewing and boasted a larger brewhouse, bottling works, refrigeration, and many other improvements. The brewery's five-hundred barrel yearly capacity of 1865 had given way to an establishment capable of producing one thousand barrels a day. According to published reports, over ten thousand people from throughout the region attended the day-long celebration.
On February 2, 1896, Louise Hamm passed away at the age of sixty-three. A devoted family man, Hamm began to take steps to ensure his children were adequately provided for in the future. The brewery had done business in Hamm's name since 1865, but Articles of Incorporation were filed with the secretary of state on June 1, 1896. Theodore Hamm was named the president of the newly formed Theo. Hamm Brewing Company and his son William became its secretary and treasurer. The capital stock of the corporation was valued at 1.2 million dollars. On this same date, Hamm filed to incorporate the Theo. Hamm Realty Company. Hamm's children were later given access to annuities to use as they wished.
Hamm passed away from heart failure on Friday, July 31, 1903, at seventy-three years old. He left behind a son and five daughters. While legally considered the brewery's president at the time of his death, Hamm had been informally retired from the business for many years. After his father's passing, his son William became the brewery's second president.
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