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COM: August 2009

Beer Cans on Matchbooks (1930s-1950s)

Acme Matchbook, detail.

This month I am featuring several cans, specifically those that also appeared on matchbooks. 

Smoking and Beer

Matchbooks were a logical place to advertise beer, the two went together as "minor vices" that were enjoyed by many people.  About 40% of Americans smoked in 1940.  The rate took a huge jump during World War II (1941-1945),  increasing by as much as 75%.  Cigarettes were included in soldiers' rations during the war.  The percentage of Americans who smoked  peaked at 45% in 1954.  It has declined since, starting in the 1960s, especially among those with at least a college education.

The Matchbooks

Most of these come from the late 1930s-early 1940s.  The Acme is from the late 1940s or early 1950s.  The Griesedieck is from the 1950s.  They're all very much to the point, "Here's what our beer looks like in its package." Four of them show both a bottle and a can and the Kuebler shows not only a can and two bottles, but also a beer tap, so you know you can buy it on draft, and it lists the different products the company brews. 

The matchbooks would have been made available in stores where the beer was sold, as well as restaurants and taverns.  According to i-matchbooks.com, the matchbook was invented in 1895 and by the 1920s was "the most popular form of advertising in America."  One of the first companies to use this new form of advertising was Pabst Brewing. 

By the 1930s company could get 2,500 printed matchbooks for $5.00.  That's 1/5th of a cent each.  One was given away with each pack of cigarettes and you'd see trays of them in every restaurant or store free for the taking.  Even better, for advertising, matchbooks, being free and disposable, will often travel a lot between people.  I remember working as a busboy in college and people often left behind half-finished matchbooks.  That was one way to make sure multiple people saw your brand name. 


Matching Can


Kuebler Matchbook. Kuebler. Pennsylvania's Kuebler Brewing adopted cans early.  This can is from about 1937.
Commonwealth Matchbook. New England Ale. You can read more about this can in my September 2006 COM, including the brewery's connect to Dr. Seuss!
Pabst matchbook. Pabst Blue Ribbon. I haven't done a Pabst can as my Can of the Month yet.
Storz Matchbook. Storz can. This Storz can was my November 2004 COM.
Acme matchbook. Acme can. I have had two Acme cans as a Can of the Month, February 2005 and January 2009.
Griesedieck Matchbook. I don't own this can so I can't show you an example yet.  
Fort Pitt matchbook. I have a very rough example of this can.  I will add the photo as soon as I dig it out and photograph it! This matchbook is from about 1935-1936.

Sources Used

Gallup, Alec and Frank Newport  The Gallup Poll (2005) 301

i-matchbooks.com  (opens new window)

matchcover.com (opens new window)

Pennock, Pamela. Advertising Sin and Sickness (Northern Illinois) 2007


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