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January 12, 1920: Fire destroys Fitger’s original brewery

On this day in Duluth in 1920, the oldest portion of the Fitger’s Brewery—the original 1881 Lake Superior Brewery building constructed by then owner Mike Fink—was destroyed by fire. The old structure stood between the brew house and the office/bottling facility—two massive stone and brick buildings that were left unharmed by the flames. The building’s contents were likely worth more than the structure itself; it was used to store cases, barrels and advertising matter—all highly flammable. The advertising  was useless anyway, as Prohibition would begin in a matter of days and the brewery could no longer sell the products the pieces promoted. The Duluth News Tribune reported that, “Three hundred light barrels in one section of the building sent flames high above the four-story modern brewery which the old building adjoins. Firemen put six streams of water on the building from the roof and front windows.” The paper also reported that the old brewery was built in 1882 by August Fitger and quoted Fitger as saying, “I put those bricks in place with my own hands nearly 40 years ago.” Fitger’s statement may have been a bit of poetic license; the original brewery, begun in 1881, had already been completed by Mike Fink early in 1882 and producing beer for months before Fink hired Fitger in the fall of 1882. But it wasn’t until October 1883 that Fink hired masons Meining & Yager to apply the building’s brick veneer. So while Fitger could have put a some bricks in the building, it wasn’t as if he had built the place himself, as his statement implied. The entire history of Fitger’s Brewing Co.—as well as the entire history of beer brewing in Duluth and Superior—can be found within the pages of Naturally Brewed, Naturally Better: The Historic Breweries of Duluth & Superior.

Mike Fink’s 1881 Lake Superior Brewery, which became the first home of Fitger’s brewery. (Image: C & R Johnson Collection)