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COM: March 2007

National Bohemian Transition Can: Spring 1965

National Bohemian Transition. National Bohemian Transition. National Bohemian Transition.

This is a unique can. It's the only US can I know that had two different labels on it. Called by collectors the "transition can," it was issued for 60 days in March-April 1965 by National Brewing when they switched from a red to a white label.

National Brewing

I've hesitated to do a Natty Boh can in the past because there's a lot of information online about National Brewing already. However, when I finally tracked down enough information on the transition can to do a good article, I could no longer resist.

National Brewing was a local rival to Baltimore's Gunther Brewing in the 1940s and 1950s. When Gunther was purchased by Hamms in 1959, Natty Boh became Baltimore's best selling beer, a position it maintained throughout the 1960s. (The owner of National Brewing even owned the Baltimore Orioles during their glory years in the 1960s-1970s.) The brewery's logo/mascot was Mr. Boh, a one-eyed happy chap who was featured on National Bohemian cans and ads from the 1930s until the early 1960s. After that he was still used on their ads, but, alas, was no longer on their cans.

National had begun expanding both their production and their marketing area in the mid 1950s, buying existing breweries in Detroit and Florida. They had breweries in three cities in 1965, the original brewery in Baltimore, plus one in Miami and one in Detroit. For a short while previously they had a brewery in Orlando and after the transition can was gone they took over a plant in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1975 they merged with Carling (Black Label Beer) in an attempt to survive competition with the huge nationals: Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, Schlitz and Miller. The brewery changed hands several times, with the original plant closing in around 1980.

The transition can was produced in an effort to make the label look more "modern." According to a friend who lived in the area at the time, although the label claimed that the beer didn't change, in fact it changed for the worse. I'm sure some Natty Boh fans would dispute this but even if the beer did not change, whenever a brewery redid its label it always runs the risk that some customers will think that they changed the product as well. The transition can was a unique way to try and deal with this possibility. Nonetheless, according to a former National Brewing salesman, other breweries were telling customers that the beer's formula had indeed changed for the worse.

There are 4 variations of the transition can:. 
- a straight steel flat top from Baltimore,
- a straight steel zip tab from Baltimore (the can pictured above)
- a 2 piece aluminum zip top from Baltimore
- a straight steel zip from Miami.  The Miami can is the toughest.

1965 National ad.

Advertisement announcing the new label. March 1965.

For some reason the Baltimore can and the Miami can have slightly different text. The Miami can spent a little more text extolling how good National Bohemian beer was. The Miami can also noted that the split label can would be used for 60 days. For some reason, the Detroit National brewery did not issue a transition can, but they also never issued the new white label and seemed to have concentrated on producing National's Colt 45 Malt Liquor.

I have read in several places that the transition can came out in 1963. The cans do often have a 1963 style early zip top, but the March 1965 issue of "The Beverage Journal" for the DC-Maryland-Delaware area carried an advertisement announcing the new can, and the April issue had a small story on the change. It is interesting that many of the zip top cans carried a very early version of the can lid (see my zip top page for more about the different types) but National may have had some of the earlier lids left over to use.

Baltimore can.

Baltimore can text.

Miami can.

Miami can text. (photo by Glenn Raisner)

National Brewing Brewery Dates

Baltimore 1934-1975 (merged with Carling in 1975)
Detroit 1954-1973 (former plant of the Tivoli and Altes breweries)
Orlando 1956-1961 (former plant of Atlantic Brewing and Marlin Brewing)
Miami 1961-1975 (former plant of American Brewing and Anheuser-Busch)
Phoenix 1966-1975 (former plant of Arizona Brewing and Carling)

Sources Used:

Kelly, William J. Brewing in Maryland: From Colonial Times to the Present. (1965)

The National Beverage Journal. (March, April 1965)

NationalBohemian.com: You can still buy Natty Boh, although it's made by Miller in North Carolina.

Raisner, Glenn. "Double Transition" Rustlings. (May 2002)

Tales From the Rise and Fall of National Brewing: Baltimore City Paper

Van Wieren, Dale P. American Breweries II. (West Point, PA., East Coast Breweriana Association, 1995)

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