More Wunder Beer History from an Expert

I received the following email from Dr. Tom Jacobs (tom-com -AT- , an expert on the history of brewing in the San Francisco area. It and his email address are reprinted with permission.

Subject: Wunder beer
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2003


I am a dentist practicing in San Francisco and have for more than 35 years collected material related to brewers and beer bottlers operating in San Francisco before prohibition. One of my patients recently encouraged me to search the web with some keywords of interest to me. I tried "San Francisco Brewery" and came up with your information on the Wunder Brewery. I have a lot of stuff on Wunder including the reverse glass sign shown at the foot of your work crew photo. I also own a copy of the porcelain sign you picture however the Taft example has the metal brackets to hang it on a post and mine does not (you can see the two metal straps just above the sign in the photo). I also have a sign for "Pacific Club" beer brewed by Wunder.

I looked in a copy of the 1905 San Francisco directory and found Matthew S. O'Brien listed as living at 426 Fillmore St. and being employed as a foreman at the Wunder Bottling Co. at the corner of 7th and Harrison. At that time a brewery and a beer bottling works were often distinctly separate entities. Brewers brewed beer and bottlers put it in bottles. This separation was encouraged early on because the government required that the beer be placed in kegs first with a tax stamp then transported across a public thoroughfare to the bottling house. This made sure that bottled beer did not escape the federal tax. Pabst in the 1890's managed to change the law to allow beer to be transported to the bottling house by pipeline. This pipeline was constructed under careful government supervision and the government gauger held the key. Only the largest breweries used this system. Smaller breweries which would be most if not all of San Francisco did it the old way.

Your ancestor may have been part owner in the brewery but could have owned part of the bottling works and not the brewery. The latter might be more likely. The Wunder Bottling Co. seemed quite successful and Wunder beer in general seemed to do well. Bottlers (agents) embossed bottles in Oakland, Sacramento, and Stockton. The San Francisco bottle has a large "W" monogram surrounded with the words "Wunder Bottling Co. San Francisco". The bottles come in three sizes.

I have a book entitled "Journal of Investment" from January 1897 offering the Bavaria (later Wunder) Brewery for sale. I has two artist renderings of the property including a view looking south showing the stables (in front of which I believe your photo was taken). It says the capacity of the brewery was 24,000 barrels per year which would place it well below the National Brewery at 90,000 barrels and the Wieland Brewery at 240,000 barrels.

I own two large photos of the brewery and have another book showing earthquake damage from 1906. Ironically the main building survived until the early 1990's but was torn down because of damage suffered in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. It was in close proximity the Marina District that was so dramatically covered with collapsed burning buildings at that time. The brewery had been made into a residence. The building was just one story on Greenwich Street and had been remodeled to look like a Spanish-style stucco from the 1920's or 30's but the rear down the slope was four stories and looked much as it did at the turn of the century. I salvaged some bricks from the foundation of the brewery when it was demolished.


Tom Jacobs

This is wonderful information, and I really appreciated hearing from Dr. Jacobs!