Theodore Hamm Brewery, St. Paul (1880)Photo byMNHS
ST. PAUL, MN – Despite having become firmly entrenched in local brewing lore due to his association with Theodore Hamm and the creation of Hamm’s Brewing Company, there is little consensus about the life of St. Paul pioneer brewer Andrew F. (A.F.) Keller. To some, he was a pie-in-the-sky dreamer, willing to abandon his family for the lure of potential fortune; others believed he was little more than a poor business owner—one whose questionable decision-making may have cost him a chance at potentially life-changing fame and fortune.
As often happens, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Keller was a noted local business person, credited as the original proprietor of the city’s Pittsburg Brewery (later Hamm’s Brewery), located along the east bank of Phalen Creek above Swede Hollow. His establishment enjoyed some success, having been advertised in local German-language newspapers from 1857 to 1862.
Keller, born in Ensisheim, Germany, on September 29, 1819, emigrated to the United States as a young man and first settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In 1849 or 1850, he married fellow German immigrant Magdelena Heidt in Butler, Pennsylvania. Soon after, the two made their way west to St. Paul. Their eldest son, Julius, was born in the city in 1856.
His Pittsburg Brewery was a small, unassuming hand brewery whose production peaked at around 800 barrels of beer yearly. This volume was a significant amount for the era. The area’s earliest brewers primarily sold their wares on an ultra-local basis—considered little more than neighborhood-only shops. Shipping beer at the time — even short distances—was time-consuming and costly.
The brewery’s name likely referenced Keller’s ties to the Pittsburgh area. Several noted German brewers had gotten their start in the region—including St. Paul’s Anthony Yoerg—and Keller was probably trying to give his fledgling brewery credibility by giving it the ‘Pittsburg’ name.
Then, for an unknown reason, things changed.
On January 1, 1863, local newspapers ran an advertisement announcing that Keller was no longer the brewery’s proprietor. St. Paul grocer Andrew Nessel and his brother Lawrence placed an ad noting that the brewery—called the Excelsior Brewery—was now in full operation and that Keller was to be treated as little more than a salesperson for the establishment. He could collect balances and deliver beer but could no longer contract on behalf of the company.
According to excise records for 1863 and 1864 (which unfortunately don’t tie him directly to a particular brewery), Lawrence Nessel—who is not listed in city directories and may not have lived in St. Paul—brewed between ten and fifteen barrels of lager beer each month. He last appeared in the local tax records in October 1864.
Around the same time, Theodore Hamm assumed ownership of the brewery—which he subsequently called ‘Hamm’s Excelsior Brewery.’
In 1866, Keller moved to Northfield and opened a brewery in the city. He ran it for three years before returning to St. Paul to run a small saloon in the city’s downtown. The city’s 1870 census records list Keller as a saloon keeper.
The following year, city directories listed him as the proprietor of the Bellevue Hotel, a popular local hotel, restaurant, and saloon overlooking the Mississippi River on the corner of Wabasha and 2nd.
Two years later, on February 18, 1873, at the age of 53, Keller passed away. He left behind his wife Magdalena and their (at least) three children. Despite his stature as a pioneer of the city’s brewing industry—at one point, he was the president of the local brewers association—local papers didn’t print a record of his death.
Today, he is buried alongside his family at Oakland Cemetery.
Pioneer brewer Andrew F. Keller may or may not have had a direct hand in Theodore Hamm becoming the owner of the Hamm’s Brewery. However, he created an establishment along Phalen Creek that eventually became home to one of the nation’s most recognized beer brands.
- “The Saint Paul Daily Press.” January 1, 1863, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016749/1863-01-01/ed-1/seq-1.
- “Andrew F. Keller, September 29, 1819.” Tavern Trove. https://www.taverntrove.com/wednesday-september-29-1819-andrew-f.-keller-birthday-1823.html.
- “Andrew F. Keller.” Find a Grave – Millions of Cemetery Records. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/190858011/andrew-f-keller.
- “Andrew Keller 1819-1873.” Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records. https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/andrew-keller-24-3tnmc51.
- Die Minnesota Deutsche Zeitung. “Pittsburg Brauerei [advertisement].” August 1, 1857. 4. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn90059395/1857-08-01/ed-1/seq-4.
- Hoverson, Doug. Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
- “Magdalena Heidt 1831-1904.” Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records. https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/magdalena-heidt-24-57f0kv.
- “St. Paul Minnesota Directories 1856-1922 and 1981.” Access Genealogy. Last modified November 2, 2019. https://accessgenealogy.com/minnesota/st-paul-minnesota-directories.htm.