Healthful Fermented Liquors at the Mechanics’ Institute Expositions – Part 2

The Eighth Fair (1871) had an international flavor featuring exhibits from Australia, China, Japan and Hawaiian islands. It was nearly double the size of the first with 1100 different exhibits. By this time there were 35 breweries according to the San Francisco Municipal Reports, producing 160,000 barrels of beer.

Australian beer featured heavily at this fair and was eagerly sampled by all. R. F. Tooth & Co. – Exhibited Two hogsheads Tooth & Co.’s No. 3 Ale. Pale and XXX Ale, awarded a Diploma for best foreign Ale

Pavilion at Larkin and Grove. (Mechanics' Institute Archives)

Pavilion at Larkin and Grove. (Mechanics’ Institute Archive


In 1882, the exhibition building was moved to the newly purchased block of land that now contains the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – kitty corner to City Hall. This building was intended to be a permanent structure and hosted fifteen industrial fairs as well as many civic and cultural events.

Beer wise, what characterizes these later fairs was the amount of the imported (meaning non-West coast) beer they displayed and that they were often displayed by agents or suppliers (rather than the beer makers themselves).

The first silver medal to any beer product was unfortunately awarded  to one of these “imports” in 1880, to Franz Falk of the Bavaria Brewing Company in Milwaukee for best bottled beer.


1887 would be a watershed year for beer manufacturers at the Fair bringing home an unprecedented four medals.  Albion Brewery would get a Silver Medal for their California Ale and Porter; Fredericksburg Brewery of San Jose would earn a Gold Medal for their Draught Lager – they would from then on make their superiority known in their advertising; and National Brewing Co would be awarded the Gold for its “first class lager”

1887, also according to the municipal reports was a very good year for beer, with the number of breweries holding steady at 34. Beer production jumps three-fold to 611,850 barrels with an aggregate value of $4,575,000.

The winning of accolades at the Expositions was certainly something to brag about.


Daily Alta California 5 May 1888

Daily Alta California 12 May 1891

Daily Alta California
12 May 1891













Consumers still needed to be encouraged to spend their money on local products as the transcontinental railroads were bringing in products from the East everyday that competed with local production. The beer industry in particular was affected – Eastern barley, malt, and hops were coming in and so was beer from St. Louis and Milwaukee.


The fairs would go on through the 1890’s and what seems to characterize the later fairs is more “imported” beers from the eastern United States and these were exhibited by agents exploring the market for potential import.

Year Importers Articles
1880 Bach & Meese, wholesale wine and liquor dealer Budweiser Beer
1880 & 1882 Cutting, John T & Co Falk’s Milwaukee Beer  – 1880 Silver Medal, 1882 Diploma
1881 Richards & Harrison Schlitz Beer (Milwaukee)
1885 Evans, A.F. & Co. Display of Anheuser-Busch St. Louis Lager Beer, Val Blatz Milwaukee Beer
1897 Sherwood & Sherwood (an importing house) Beer and Ale
1897 Goldberg,  Bowen & Co.(a fine grocer and imported food company.) Beer


By the 1890’s however public interest in the Expositions started to wane and the last few were financial disappointments. The last of the Mechanics’ Institute Expositions was held in 1899 and there is no accompanying fair report to show who exhibited what. The Pavilion however was a popular venue and was rented out for other activities like dances, political rallies, ice and roller skating and indoor and outdoor bicycle races until it was destroyed by the disaster of April 18, 1906. The Mechanics’ Pavilion survived the quake that rocked the city and was used as a triage hospital for a brief time. When it became clear that the fire eating up the City was headed towards the Pavilion, the Army evacuated the building and it succumbed to the flames. The Institute for a few years planned to rebuild but eventually decided to sell that block of land to the city so that they could erect the Civic Auditorium – one of the venues for the Panama Pacific Exposition slated to open in February 1915.

The fairs are gone but the Mechanics’ Institute still actively champions creativity and innovation through its programs and services. September will bring a mini-fair in the form of Book’toberfest which will not only feature the new books written by its members but also will have samples of locally brewed beer.



If you would like more information about the brewers who exhibited at the expositions, please let me know!

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  1. Dave
    Jan 6, 2016

    I am interested in any information or pictures you may have regarding Franz Falk Brewing Co. and their agent Cutting, John T & Co. I noted in your post about the Mechanics Institute Expositions that Falk’s Milwaukee Beer was awarded – 1880 Silver Medal, 1882 Diploma.

    Thanks & regards,
    –Dave Olson

    • Taryn
      Jan 6, 2016

      Unfortunately the Mechanics’ Institute lost virtually everything in the 1906 earthquake and fire thus most of the photos from our Exhibitions went up in flames! I can certainly provide you with examples of what the medals and diplomas looked like for that time period (possibly not that exact year) but regrettably not specifically for Falk’s or John Cutting. I will keep my out though and check with the local archives.

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