The Gund Brewery advertisement shown here is an example of the company’s struggle to cope with the monumental societal change known as Prohibition.
By 1920, after Congress passed the Volstead Act, manufacturing and selling alcoholic drinks was illegal in the United States.
The ban on alcoholic beverages was championed by those hoping to rid society of social ills such as alcoholism and family violence. Prohibition was presented as a cure for the public. This movement was also motivated by political factors and anti-German sentiment.
Decades before Prohibition was put in place, John Gund began brewing beer in La Crosse. The company operated in La Crosse from its establishment in 1854 to 1920, when Prohibition and internal issues forced the company to close.
At its peak, Gund Brewing’s best-selling beer, Peerless, sold 600,000 barrels in one year.
When Prohibition was put in place, Gund Brewing tried to rebrand its company and moved from manufacturing alcoholic beverages to producing soft drinks.
The advertisement pictured here shows people of different ages enjoying Gund’s newest creation, Gund’s Peerless Beverage, “the Everyday Soft Drink.”
In fact, this advertisement uses a theme that Gund Brewing had used successfully in beer advertisements, namely that its product is enjoyed by people of all ages and is appropriate at every stage of life.
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The three couples portrayed are a young pair courting in a canoe, a more mature and formally dressed couple dining out, and finally, in the center scene, we see Grandma pouring Grandpa and herself big glasses of Gund’s Beverage.
His book and her knitting basket help to set a domestic scene, and the lighting suggests they are seated by the fireplace. This was a drink that could be enjoyed by all, that was “unusually palatable and refreshing” and invoked scenes of peace and tranquility.
The advertisement shows Gund’s attempt at coping with the instability that Prohibition had brought to a company that specialized in alcoholic beverages.
Unfortunately, Gund Brewing’s efforts at adapting were not enough to keep the company afloat during Prohibition. Not long after the Volstead Act went into effect, Gund Brewing went under and closed in 1920.
However, Gund Brewing, and this advertisement, are important pieces of La Crosse’s history and show how businesses in La Crosse tried to cope with a rapidly changing world.
This artifact was donated to La Crosse County Historical Society in 2011 by Tye Schwalbe.
To learn more about the Prohibition Era in La Crosse, come to Oak Grove Cemetery on Saturday, Sept. 14, for La Crosse County Historical Society’s 20th production of Discover the Silent City. Tickets are now available.
The 10:30 a.m. motor coach tour is still available for those who are unable to walk the tour. Walking tours begin at 11 a.m. and the last tour will depart at 3 p.m. Purchase a ticket in advance to select your desired tour time. Call La Crosse County Historical Society at 608-782-1980 or visit 145 W. Ave. S. or online for Discover the Silent City tickets.