South Omaha, for many years, has been famous for being the home to one of the nation’s largest stockyards. Along with the stockyards were many very large packing houses. Wilson, Hammond Bros., Swift, Armour & Cudahy were the big five. In their heyday they employed thousands of immigrants from Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and many other Middle and Eastern European countries. Immigrants who had settled in Omaha to find their dreams in America. One such immigrant was a German by the name of Balthas Jetter. Jetter found his way to Omaha in the later part of the nineteenth century with the full intention of establishing a brewery to help quench the thirsts of those packing house workers.
In 1887 along with a partner, Mr. Young, Jetter established the Jetter and Young Brewery at 30th & “Y” streets in the heart of South Omaha. Annual capacity at the time was an impressive 10,000 barrels. By 1890 Jetter had purchased his partner’s stake in the brewery and had taken on the name South Omaha Brewing Co., B. Jetter prop. An advertisement in the 1890 Omaha city directory shows an artist’s rendition of the brewery, with the Jetter home in the foreground, the large brewing operation in the center and a small lake to the south. The lake was on land that is now known as Upland Park.
Production at the brewery continued to keep pace with the bustling community of South Omaha. The packing house industry was booming and the Jetter Brewing Company kept pace by increasing their production to 30,000 barrels annually by 1902.
In 1905 the brewery became more simply known as the Jetter Brewing Company. During those years after the turn of the century, Jetter’s flagship brand was “Gold Top”. An ad from 1902 touts Gold Top as a beer that “…always snaps and sparkles, that never leaves a bad effect, that is a good beverage and a better tonic, that is Gold Top”.
Jetter’s, as well as the other Omaha breweries, prospered during the early part of the century. Expansion and modernization of the brewery continued. The brewery was now an all brick, concrete and steel structure.
Sometime around 1909, the brewery dropped the Gold Top brand in favor of the brand name “Old Age”. The Old Age label featured three elderly gentlemen conversing while hoisting steins of Old Age beer. A loaf of bread adorns the table the three are sitting around. Those three gentlemen became well known to beer drinkers. The three adorned every bottle of Old Age and appeared on nearly all pieces of advertising used by the brewery.
The Jetter Brewery continued to produce Old Age beer all the way up to Prohibition. At the height of production, the brewery turned out in excess of 100,000 barrels annually. In 1919 when the production of real beer became illegal, the brewery was forced to halt the brewing of Old Age. Jetter’s turned to the production of soda pop and near beer. Soda pop went under the label “Sahara” and featured a scene right out of the desert. Near beer was marketed under the Old Age name as well as St. Regis brew. Production continued well into the twenties, but with prohibition dragging on the brewery was very underutilized and only maintained a skeleton crew of employees. By 1930 the brewery had ended the production of any type of beer or soda. The brewery sat idle for the first time in 43 years.
By 1932, with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the President of the United States, the end of the Volstead Act was near. Balthas Jetter had passed away some years ago and the brewery’s future was uncertain. Enter Charles Morearty. Morearty was a businessman who saw great potential for wealth in the rebirth of the brewing industry. He began a search for a suitable brewing operation in 1932. His search led him to the Jetter Brewing Company, a plant that had remained somewhat production throughout Prohibition. The brewery’s tanks would again soon be filled with Jetter’s Old Age Beer.
Morearty took an option on the purchase of the plant and set about the task of modernizing. Prohibition had put a halt to any incorporation of new brewing technology. The U.S. brewing industry had to catch up with the rest of the world. Morearty spent $250,000 to bring the three and a half acre plant up to standards. The brewery utilized its own water system from three underground springs flowing at 47 degrees.
Modern bottling and kegging equipment was added as well as a fully automated brew house. With all the advancements, the brewery’s output was listed at 150,000 barrels. This was slightly more than peak production just prior to Prohibition. Plans were in place to increase the brewery’s capacity to 250,000 barrels. This would have made Jetter’s the largest brewery in the territory.
Beer became officially legal in Nebraska on August 10, 1933. In an advertisement, Jetter’s addressed “Fellow Nebraskans” in saying that they were not going to rush their beer to the market and that it would not be available until it was at its peak of flavor. That day would be August 24, 1933. This decision was based on the advice of Jetter’s brewmaster Ignatius Kremer.
A free “pretesting” party was held at Krug Park on the afternoon of August 23. Full size bottles of Jetter’s Old Age were sold for 10 cents. The party included dancing, boxing, wrestling matches and live broadcasts on KFAB. Two hundred cartons of beer would be given away as prizes. On that day, everything seemed perfect for the rebirth of Jetter’s.
Less than a year later, the brewery would enter into bankruptcy proceedings. This being the middle of the depression, many breweries who attempted to restart after prohibition were under capitalized. Jetter’s had survived 14 years of Prohibition only to come back and be out of business in less than 12 months.
The brewery fell silent and even though there were attempts by local businessmen later that decade to revive the brewery, beer would never again flow from the tanks.
One must wonder what the brewery would have been like had it survived the Depression.