American Breweriana Journal March/April 2018


A Mountain of the Gods, a City, a Ship and a Beer

By Rich Wagner

Caption 00 Capital Brewing Company, 1900 calendar celebrating the SS Olympia. (Flynn Collection)

Caption 01 Olympia’s “It’s the Water” fountain. (August 1984)

Caption 02 Brew house, August 1984.

I really looked forward to my tour of the Olympia Brewing Company in the summer of 1984. It was owned by Pabst at the time. Tumwater Falls was selected by the founder of the brewery, Leopold F. Schmidt in 1896 when he had the water analyzed and found it to be perfect for brewing and hydro-power.

I had always been intrigued by the inverted horseshoe logo (as superstition has it, permitting the luck to run out) and the “It’s the Water” slogan. The visit was almost like a pilgrimage. As I got another visitor to take our picture at the fountain, there was no way that I could have imagined such a convoluted “name game” with a Philadelphia connection bubbled beneath the surface.

That would come many years later when a friend who is in charge of the ships at Philadelphia’s Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia; one of which is the SS Olympia, shared some rather intriguing tidbits from their archives regarding Olympia’s “flagship” brand. Greek mythology, geography, naval history, trademark law and brewing all converged around this word originally used to describe the home of Greek gods, where Zeus himself held court. The ancient Olympic Games actually originated as a religious festival to those gods.

Reprising such a magnanimous name, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is home to another Mount Olympus, only a few hundred feet shorter than the original. The state capital is the city of Olympia.

Caption 03: Admiral Dewey is celebrated on this tray from Philadelphia. (Ziegler Collection)

As it turns out, U.S. Navy cruisers were named for state capitals, which is how the SS Olympia got her name. Most famous for being Admiral Dewey’s flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the Olympia became a celebrated symbol of American victory. As part of the clamor celebrating the defeat of the Spanish Navy, the Capital Brewing Company of Tumwater, Washington sent six barrels beer to Admiral Dewey. While the intent was patriotic, the marketing value was immense. Capital had been the first west coast brewer to introduce the crown cap a year earlier. Sailors returning to San Francisco after the war started asking for “Olympia Beer,” adding that they wanted “the bottles with the good cap!” Despite the fact that it had been known locally as “Tumwater Beer” the court of public opinion proclaimed it “Olympia Beer.”

The story takes a twist when a law enacted in 1905 prohibited the use of a geographic location in a registered trademark. If the Olympia brand were to survive it couldn’t be trademarked as the name of a city in Washington. The accompanying remarks by Peter G. Schmidt from the company’s 50th Anniversary dinner describe the lengths to which they went to retain the name by referencing the ship instead of the city. And it seems fitting, since the brewery had a connection with the ship when they shipped six barrels of beer to Admiral Dewey following the battle. The letters that I transcribed are the kind of anecdotal history I can usually only dream about.

The first source I encountered when researching this article was one on the Olympia Brewing Co. by Randy Carlson, Bob Kay, Bill Mugrage and Dave Unwin from our May/June 1993 Journal.

Another was Gary Flynn who has written extensively on breweries connected with the Schmidt syndicate: ABJ May/June 2005, Bellingham, September/October 2007, Salem: July/August 2013, Port Townsend. He also has a website which contains a wealth of information.

I would especially like to thank Sean Null, Kevin Smith and Michele Blazer of the Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. As I dug deeper, I discovered the items from their archive originated with the Olympia Tumwater Foundation Archives. Their curator, Karen Johnson, was very helpful and supplied additional information.

Newspaper article and hand written letters from Consulate General and Admiral Dewey which appeared in Olympia Brewing Company’s house organ It’s The Water News (December ) transcribed by the author. (Olympia Tumwater Foundation Archives)

Tacoma Daily News August 8, 1898

Ice For Dewey.

The Capital Brewing Co. this morning sent a dozen barrels of beer to Admiral Dewey at Manila. The steamer Multnomah brought the shipment over from Olympia under the “D.H.” mark, and it will go on the steamship Tacoma for Hongkong, sailing here Thursday morning at daylight. “Everything is “D.H.” on that shipment,” said the purser of the Multnomah. Dewey can’t pay for anything in this country, and we’ll send along a lot of ice to keep the shipment cold, too. “Dewey has had a lot of time over there and is entitled to a little cool drink.”

Consulate General of the U.S.A., Hong Kong 18th September, 1898

Robert Frost, Esq. Olympia, Washington

Dear Sir,

I have your favor of late date notifying as that you had shipped by the S.S. “Tacoma” a consignment of Beer for Admiral Dewey. I turned over promptly over to the Commanding Officer of the W.S. Ship “Baltimore,” and forwarded your letter on to Admiral Dewey. These several consignments of Beer that are being sent to the Admiral are richly deserved, and will be thoroughly appreciated, but I do not know what I have done that I should deserve such a punishment as to be made the humble instrument of their speedy transit without being able to even get a breath of the foam. I assure you I know how Faust must have felt in Hell when he was begging a drop of water from Abraham. However this is a hard world.

Very Sincerely Yours,

R.U., Consul General

Flagship Olympia Manila, P.I., September 20, 1898

Mr. Robert Frost, Olympia, Wash. (Justice of the Peace and local civic leader)

Dear Sir, It affords me much pleasure to accept the six barrels of beer, sent through the consul at Hong Kong and just received, which you were good enough to send as a present to me.

I shall distribute it among the ships of the fleet that took part in the action of May 1st, and the health of yourself and those who contributed this beer will be drunk with enthusiasm.

Thanking you again for the remembrances. I am

Very Truly Yours,

George Dewey

Caption 04: Peter G. Schmidt, president of Olympia Brewing Co. (Olympia Tumwater Foundation Archives)

Remarks by Olympia Brewing Co. president Peter G. Schmidt at the company’s anniversary dinner in 1946:

In 1902 the name was changed to ‘Olympia Brewing Company’ because nearly all our mail came so addressed.

Instead of calling our beer ‘Tumwater’ as the people in this immediate vicinity did when we began to ship to more distant points, they gradually all called it ‘Olympia Beer’. Thereupon we adopted, copyrighted and trade-marked the name ‘Olympia’ for beer and also our slogan ‘It’s the Water’. This slogan was coined by Mr. Frank M. Kenney, then the Company’s secretary and whom most of you know.

About the time we started to trade-mark the name ‘Olympia’ for beer, Congress passed a law that geographical names could not be trade-marked*and after five years battling with the patent office for its registration, we were confronted with an ‘Olympia’ label which had been trade-marked and used by a famous Boston wholesale grocery firm, S.S. Pierce & Co., who had used ‘Olympia’ and a picture of Dewey’s flagship, ‘The Olympia’ on their private label beer to commemorate Dewey’s victory at Manila over the Spanish navy in the Philippines.

Upon investigation we found that S.S. Pierce had, after a few years, abandoned the use of that label and we purchased their rights to the non-geographic use of ‘Olympia’ for beer, so that from then on we had both the common law geographic rights and non-geographic legal trade-mark rights.|”

(Olympia Tumwater Foundation Archives):

* Under the dominant interpretation of the Trademark Act of 1905, no brand name that consisted of a geographic term could ever be registered as a trademark, no matter how remote and obscure the place, on the ground that all place names should remain available for use by all competitors.

Caption 05: “It’s the Art” exhibit. Megan Ockerman, Olympia Tumwater Foundation.

As I conducted internet research for this article I discovered “It’s the Art” Olympia Beer Advertising Art Show had just closed. The Olympia Tumwater Foundation is housed in the Schmidt mansion and is home to the company archives. Included in their collection were original artwork to be used for advertising, particularly print advertising and billboards.

NOTE: This table did not appear in the magazine article due to space constraint.

Breweries associated with the Schmidt family/Olympia Brewing Co.





MT 19a

Centennial, L. F. Schmidt (WA 36)



MT 19b

Centennial , Schmidt & Garner



MT 19c

Centennial , L. F. Schmidt



MT 19d

Centennial, Mueller & Best



WA 98.1a




WA 98.1b




WA 98.1c




WA 98.1d




WA 98.1d

Olympia, Pabst



WA 116a

Olympia, Bellingham Bay (WA 36)



WA 116b

Bellingham Bay



WA 116c




WA 49a

Port Townsend, L. Schmidt (WA 36)

Port Townsend


WA 49b


Port Townsend


OR 92a

Pacific, Adolph



OR 92b

Salem, Adolph



OR 92c

Salem, Adolph



OR 92d

Capitol, Klinger & Beck



OR 92e

Capitol, Beck



OR 92f

Salem Brewery Assn., L. Schmidt (WA 36)



OR 92g

Salem Brewery Assn.



OR 92h




CA 291a

Acme (WA 36)

San Francisco


CA 291b

California Brewing Assn., Acme Plant

San Francisco


CA 291c

California Bottling Assn.

San Francisco


CA 291d


San Francisco