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COM: April 2004

    Mitchell's Premium Beer: 1953

     

    Mitchell's Beer, front. Mitchell's Beer, side view.

    A beautiful indoor can, Mitchell's Beer.

    This month's featured example is a can that was a gift to me from a longtime collector that I never met!  He saw that a Mitchell's can was on my Top 10 Most Wanted page and so sent it to me! WOW!  Thank you sir!!

Harry Mitchell Brewing: 1934-1956.

The Harry Mitchell Brewing Company was born from the founder's experiences during Prohibition.  Harry Mitchell was born in 1889 in Blechington, England.  Having worked for a time as a bartender in pubs, Mitchell immigrated to the US in about 1910 by joining the US Army, which would give recruits US citizenship once their enlistment was up.  Mitchell was based near El Paso, Texas so when he left the service in 1912 he decided to stay in the area.  Calling on his earlier work experience Mitchell became a bartender in the hotel "Paso Del Norte."   His skill allowed him to quickly rise to the position of head bartender.

El Paso Del Norte, 1910s. El Paso in the 1910s.
El Paso Del Norte, 1910s.
El Paso in the 1910's.

The Prohibition movement was strong in Texas, however, and seeing the writing on the wall in 1916 Mitchell took his wife and moved just a few blocks south, to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.  There he started a bar called the "Mint Cafe."  One of his partners was Enrique Fernandez, the so-called "Al Capone" of Mexico.  Mitchell's instincts were good, Texas elected Prohibitionist majorities to both houses of the State legislature and in early 1918 banned alcohol sales within 10 miles of  military base (which affected El Paso!) and then passed statewide prohibition closing all saloons as of April 16, 1918. More than 200 saloons and bars in El Paso were closed at 10:30 pm April 15.

Mint Cafe (click to see larger). New bridge over Rio Grande at El Paso.
The Mint Cafe (menu cover?). Click to see larger version.
One of the new bridges over the Rio Grande at El Paso.

 

 

With Prohibition arriving in the US, Juárez became a beacon for thirsty Americans.  El Paso advertised itself as the "Wettest Spot on the Rio Grande" and while only 14,000 visitors crossed from El Paso to Juárez from July 1918 to July 1919, only a year later the  number increased to 418,000.  Buses ran from El Paso over the Rio Grande into Juárez every half hour.  The El Paso Electric Company operated streetcars connecting El Paso and Juárez for only a 6¢ fare.  El Paso even had to build two new bridges into Mexico to handle the traffic.  The hotels in El Paso did a booming business in hosting guests that came to party in Mexico, but sleep it off at night back in the US.

 

Most of the beer and liquor sold in Juárez  was manufactured by American companies that moved south of the border as did many of the bar owners and bartenders, including Harry Mitchell.  His Mint Cafe was a huge success.  It attracted numerous celebrities, including Admiral Richard Byrd, Eddie Rickenbacker, Amelia Earhart, Fannie Brice, and Jack Dempsey.  Mitchell kept a book called the "Bar Fly" which his guests signed as a souvenir for the bar's owner.  Mitchell's success seemed to draw the attention of rivals, however, and he began to have problems at his business.  A mysterious fire gutted the cafe's kitchen  in 1931 and in 1932 someone tried unsuccessfully to frame him by planting drugs in his car. He was acquitted in a Mexican court. Labor problems in 1932 proved to be the last straw and Mitchell sold the Mint Cafe and moved back to El Paso.  Prohibition was ending in the US and he wanted to try his hand at running a brewery.

A bar in Tijuana, note all the cars parked in front, probably from the US.

A bar in Tijuana, note all the cars parked in front, probably from the US.  Similar scenes were common in Juárez.

Using the contacts he had made among US visitors to the Mint Cafe, Mitchell soon found enough backers to start brewery.  Construction began on August 5, 1933.  The brewery was built on the site as the ruins of the pre prohibition El Paso Brewery.  The brewery could produce 6,000 barrels annually, with forty-eight 300 barrel storage tanks. The brewery also had its own ice plant, necessary for lagering beer.  On August 5, 1934, one year to the day after the groundbreaking, brewing began.  On November 21, 1934, the brewery announced the arrival of the first batch of Harry Mitchell's Special Lager offering free delivery to homes, which became somewhat of a chore as the beer was quickly very popular.

Harry Mitchell (right, on running board).

Harry Mitchell is the 2d man standing on the running board.  The man behind him with one foot on the running board is probably Enrique Fernandez.

Mitchells Brewmaster circa 1937. Mitchell's Brewing buildings in El Paso.
Mitchell's brewmaster Robert L. Neidhart, circa 1937. The Harry Mitchell Brewing Company, 3801 Frutas Street, El Paso, Texas.

The brewery quickly expanded but competition by other Texas brewers and the costs of starting business made for some lean years.  By 1944, however, the brewery was making a profit.  In 1949 they began canning beer for the first time with a canning line that could fill 250 cans a minute, compared to 220 bottles a minute on the bottling line.  Having created a successful brewery, in 1951 Harry Mitchell decided to retire.  In 1952 and 1953 the brewery continued to expand their market and sales throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  Feeling the pressure from the big national brewers, Mitchell Brewing decided to expand and introduced Golden Grain beer in California.

Mitchell's ad.
Golden Grain, click to see larger version.
1953 Mitchell's advertisement.
Golden Grain by Mitchell's.

 

Golden Grain proved to be a disappointment, however.  Sales were weak in California and Mitchell's Beer was losing ground in Texas to the national brands.  In May 1956 Mitchell's was sold to Falstaff for $1.5 million.  Falstaff ended the production of Mitchell's brands and made the El Paso plant the 9th Falstaff Brewery.  They continued making beer at the old Mitchell's Brewery until it closed in 1967.

Brands Brewed by Mitchell
(Beers which were canned in italics)

Harry Mitchell's Special Lager    1934-1937
Harry Mitchell's Quality Beer      1937-1940
Harry Mitchell's Bock Beer        1938-1941
Harry Mitchell's Select Beer       1940-1942
Mitchell's Premium Beer           1940-1952
Mitchell Premium Beer             1952-1956
Golden Grain                            1955-1956
  

NOTE: most of this page is based on the research of Richard Chavez, who wrote The Bell Rings Again: A History of the Harry Mitchell Brewing Co.  I have tried to add whatever research and details I can to his work.

Mitchells matchbook.

A Mitchell's matchbook cover.

    Sources Used:

    Beer Can Collectors of America.  United States Beer Cans. (Beer Can Collectors of America: Fenton, Mo) 100.

    Beer Can Collectors of America. Catalog of American Beer Cans. (1993) 595.

    Chavez, Richard.  "Harry Mitchell: The Man, the Brewery," Beer Cans & Brewery Collectibles. (June/July 2000) 2, 4-7.

    Chavez, Richard. "The Bell Rings Again: A History of the Harry Mitchell Brewing Company" American Breweriana Journal. (May-June 1995)  4-9.

    Dominique Ahedo, Larry Van Slyke, Valerie Peña, Yvette Barraza, Mirna Gonzalez and Sonia Carrasco. "Prohibition stimulated economies of El Paso, Juárez" Borderlands (19:16 Spring 200-2001).

    Gould, Lewis L. Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era.  (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992)

    "Harry Mitchell Build a Brewery"  Modern Brewery  (February, 1934) 40.

    "Harry Mitchell Brewery of El Paso, Texas" Modern Brewery (March 1935) 72.

    Van Wieren, Dale P. American Breweries II  (West Point, PA.: East Coast Breweriana Association, 1995) 367.
     
    THANKS! to Richard Chavez for his feedback and generosity.

    Web sites

    American Breweriana.org history of Harry Mitchell Brewing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Has a copy of Richard Chavez's article from American Breweriana magazine.

    Falstaff Brewing

     

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