Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dr. Gale exposes the Pabst Brewing Company myth of winning a Blue Ribbon (or Gold Medal) at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

It is so rare to have research change an inaccurate historical account, but through perseverance, the Pabst Mansion website changed their claim about what Pabst Brewing Company actually won at the 1893 World's Fair. History has been accurately restored - at least at Pabst Mansion.

Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin claimed, on their websites, to have won their Blue Ribbon, then claimed they won a gold medal, at the 1893 Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition and that's how their "Best Select" beer (named for the founder of the brewery, Jacob Best) got its name changed to "Pabst Blue Ribbon" after the World's Fair was over.

Pabst Brewing Company had won ribbons and awards at many other previous beer competitions at home and abroad, but not at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Starting in 1882, Pabst had blue silk ribbons tied around the neck of each bottle as a marketing ploy to make "Best Select" beer bottles stand out in Taverns, Saloons and Pubs. Considering all the awards that Best Select beer won up to that point in time, they never won a literal “Blue Ribbon.” The first Blue Ribbon, according to the company, came from the 1893 World’s Fair.

The World’s Fair organizers judged all contest prizes a little differently than had been judged in previous world fairs. Instead of competing directly against exhibitors in the same categories, each contest was judged against a list of criteria that represented a standard of excellence for that category.

For the beer exhibitions, the judges were told to score each brew on purity, color, and flavor and then assigned a score between 0 and 100. All beers that scored an 80 or higher would be awarded a Bronze St. Gaudens Medal (no gold or silver medals were awarded) and a certificate of excellence. Things didn’t exactly work out that way once the exposition opened. The beer judges decided to come up with their own scoring system with ranked prizes awarded based on numerical scores in categories of their own creation. The brewers were left to assume that whoever ended the fair with the highest score “won”, never mind that there was, officially, no grand prize and that each medal was bronze and looked exactly the same as all the other medals.
Bronze St. Gaudens Medal awarded to all exhibitor winners.

Captain Frederick Pabst quickly announced himself as the “grand prize winner,” even though their medal and certificate were the same as those won by other brewers who had scored 80% or higher. As the story is told, Pabst celebrated by having the entire brewery in Milwaukee draped in blue ribbon and gave all his workers a paid day off. The attention and sales that followed inspired the company to change the beer name from Best Select to Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Pabst was one of the first executives to understand and utilize a national advertising campaign. More importantly, Pabst realized that he needed to make his product and insignia available and visible everywhere. He managed this by creating a real estate empire that stretched from coast to coast and border to border. Over a period of twenty-five years, hundreds upon hundreds of Pabst taverns or “tied houses” were created and leased all over the country. These tied houses were to display their logo and serve Pabst Brewing Company’s products exclusively.

Pabst continued to boast that their "Best Select" beer was picked as “Selected as America’s Best in 1893” and has it printed on each and every bottle and can of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Additionally, Pabst states on their website, until very recently, that they were awarded the “Gold Medal for Brewing Excellence” at the Exposition.

NOTE: As with all official WCE souvenirs, permission was given to companies to produce items for sale. This included official picture books, "so-called" half dollar souvenir coins, etc. The W.B Conkley company was given permission to produce blue ribbons for the contestants that were awarded a bronze medallion and official certificate. The ribbons were to be made of silk, gold leaf lettering with gold fringe. Contestants were charged $2.50 for each ribbon.
After Four Centuries the World's Fair. The Discovery of America to be Commemorated by an International Exposition” – Published in 1891 by the Department of Publicity and Promotion. World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois 
“Awards are designed to indicate some independent and essential excellence in the article exhibited, and as an evidence of advancement in the state of the art represented by it. They will be granted, upon specific points of excellence or advancement, formulated in words by a Board of Judges or Examiners, who will be competent experts; and the evidence of such awards will be parchment certificates, accompanied by bronze medals.Such awards will constitute an enduring, historical record of development and progress, and at the same time afford exhibitors lasting mementoes of their success.”
"The Book of the Fair: an historical and descriptive presentation of the world's science, art, and industry, as viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.” by: Hubert Howe Bancroft. The Bancroft Company, Chicago - San Francisco. Published in 1893 {this book is in my personal collection}.

Designed to set forth the display made by the Congress of Nations, of human achievement in material form, so as the effectually to Illustrate the progress of mankind in all the departments of civilized life. 
“As to awards and medals, it was decided, after much discussion, that they should be distributed among every class of exhibits. By congressional act of April 1890 it was provided that the national commission should, among other functions, appoint all judges and examiners for the Exposition and award all premiums, if any". At a later session of the national legislature $100,000 was appropriated for the casting of 50,000 bronze medals and for 50,000 diplomas, this but a small portion of the outlay to be incurred by the committee of awards.By many of the exhibitors protests were made against awards of any kind, some of them even threatening to withdraw their exhibits on the ground that they had everything to lose and nothing to gain by their goods being classed with those of inferior grade. This question determined, came the method of granting awards, whether by what were termed, in self-explanatory phrase, the single judge or the jury system, the latter the one adopted at former international exhibitions. The former provoked no little opposition, not only from exhibitors, but from the director-general and the chiefs of departments, whose tables were covered with written protests and offers to withdraw applications for exhibiting space. Especially were artists opposed to the single judge system, refusing to submit their work to the judgment of any single member of their profession. By the head of the Fine Arts department it was stated before the Board of Control that the adoption of this system would leave the galleries of the Art Palace almost bare of the choicest works of living artists. 
Finally it was determined to place all decisions in the hands of juries, competitors to state their intention to compete for prizes, a written report to be filed in each instance, stating why an award had been made or withheld, and with right of appeal to the executive committee, by whom a re-examination might be ordered. In the interests of American artists and of the Department of Fine Arts advisory committees and juries of selection were established in the principal art centers of Europe and the United States. Of the organization and functions of these committees mention will be made in connection with art exhibits.” 
Original Statement (9/2015):
“In November of 1893, the Pabst Brewing Company was awarded the Gold Medal for Brewing Excellence at the Exposition. (Sorry, there was no blue ribbon.)”

Today's Statement (10/2017):
"In November of 1893, the Pabst Brewing Company was presented with a certificate for brewing excellence at the Exposition, not the often thought blue ribbon."

Current Statement (10/2017): "Pabst is awarded the blue ribbon at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, beating out many other popular American brewers. And not surprisingly, some unpopular ones." 

These organizations are revered and are expected to source stories for accuracy, before printing, of historic information. They are just propagating inaccurate information about Pabst and the 1893 World's Fair. You can see how wrong information gets accepted as fact.  

I am very pleased at the outcome I received from sending the Pabst Mansion my research paper to the appropriate addresses (online and snail-mail), numerous times! 

The Pabst Brewing Company, to this day, ignored my repeated mailings of my research paper! 

Research by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. SO, Dr.
    You were able to put a pin prick into the bubble of a long time myth that hurt no one, especially since the company has gone through so many subsequent acquisitions.
    No one else's "Due Diligence" uncovered this anomaly. Your info is not going to change anything about a great old American beer and Brand.

    1. It's awesome for an historian to correct history @Wesssss. I too am surprised that I'm the first to uncover a 124 year old lie. You should reread the article so you’ll understand that I did not make any claims about Pabst products or brands. So... YES. I'm taking credit for the discovery and exposure of the "real" facts.

  2. Any beer is better than no beer.. It stumps me when people say they can taste any difference. To be abole to discern the tast, means you are really so deep intop drinking that by the time you taste it, you are inebriated to the point of not knowing any difference to begin with. I do avoid beers that give me bad hangovers-- and buy more of the ones that don't, but that's after the fact..


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