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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy:National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
Courtesy: Jim Massey
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Blueprint for the construction of the plant. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Stock certificate of A.L. Rhomberg

DUBUQUE STAR BREWING COMPANY. Articles of incorporation for Dubuque Star was filed in 1896 with Joseph H. RHOMBERG listed as president, John P. Page as vice-president and Ferdinand Broell and secretary-treasurer. A six-pointed star was developed as the trademark for the brewery's Gold and Silver Star beers. (1) The site of the brewery was a large building constructed at the foot of 4th Street in 1860 by Joseph A. RHOMBERG as a distillery. This had been converted into the IOWA PACIFIC MILL in 1873. Only the office and the base of the large smokestack remained of the original building. (2) The brewery was designed by Ranter, an architect from Chicago who was considered a specialist in brewery architecture. (3) The annual capacity was 35,000 barrels. (4)

The brewery was forced to close along with other breweries on December 31, 1916 and the corporation was allowed to lapse. (5) It became the first brewery to resume operations when it reopened on August 22, 1933 with the repeal of PROHIBITION. (6) The new offiers were Alphons L. RHOMBERG, president; Joseph William RHOMBERG, vice-president; and J. Anthony Rhomberg, secretary-treasurer. Marie and James Ryan made up the board. (7) 3.2 percent beer was the first legalized beer to be sold in the state. (8) It is said the first barrel of beer brewed by the company was sent to Iowa's Governor Clyde Herring as a token of celebration. (9)

Watch fob. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Bottled beer was first produced by the brewery in 1935.

In 1944 Anthony Rhomberg took over the brewery. In 1952 the Star Brewery brought in a new general manager and master brewer. Arnold A. CAITHAM made changes that resulted in the brewery showing a 250% sales increase in the first two years of his five-year plan. (10)

Euchre cards from the 1930s
Euchre cards from the 1960s

Caitham changed the brewing formula and raised the price of the beer to the point it demanded attention. The second change was to cultivate a friendly attitude in every outlet whether it carried Star beer or not. Visiting outlets, Caitham and his staff pressed the slogan that "What Dubuque makes, makes Dubuque." To increase the brewery's image as a good citizen, Caitham joined many civic and fraternal organizations, worked with other business leaders to bring more industry to Dubuque, and worked to bring a baseball team to the community. When the city was awarded a franchise in the Class D Mississippi-Ohio Valley Baseball League, Star Brewery sponsored the team--the first in the city in twenty-two years. By 1957 the company sponsored a team in every local sport. (11)

Economy was an important part of the plan. The company under Caitham chose to withdraw rather than expand. In 1957 there was only one Star distributor in Wisconsin and one in Iowa. The concentration allowed Star to sell 90% of its beer directly and therefore control stock. Star's coal-fired boiler was replaced by one that was gas-fired with an auxiliary in case of gas failure. All equipment in the bottle shop was replaced and reorganized to operate efficiently. Plans for more efficient handling of cases and stainless steel cooperage were also implemented. To make the brewery a source of local pride, the brick surface of the exterior was completely tuck-pointed. (12)

The peak production came in 1959 with 50,000 barrels and an employment of forty workers. (13)

Caitham's tenure with Star was called the company's "Golden Age." In five years the company was producing 35,000 barrels of beer annually. The company's local and county outlets had increased 48%. (14)

The brewery was sold in the 1970s to Joseph Pickett and Sons, Inc. Joseph PICKETT, Sr. was responsible for the modernization of the plant. There was, for example, no can production facilities and the brewery had a single bottle production line. (15) Primarily a keg beer plant, the brewery's two products, Vat 7 and Dubuque Star, commanded only five percent of the local market. (16) Modernization was nearly complete by 1977. Pickett's Premium, introduced in 1973, by then had twelve percent of the local market and was being sold in Illinois and Wisconsin, (17) Pickett also produced Fox Head 400 and Weber, for the Wisconsin market. (18)

Beer label. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Ownership transferred again in the 1980s when the brewery was sold to AGRI Industries of West Des Moines. In 1982 the brewery was renamed Dubuque Star. A super premium brewery, the plant produced Rhomberg Beer until 1985. The efforts were not successful. (19) AGRI closed the brewery in 1983 claiming stiff competition from rival BREWERIES and low profits.

In 1984 a group of Milwaukee investors reopened the brewery for six years. (20) Led by Richard Armitage, the new owners realized they had little chance of competing with brewers like Anheuser-Busch which could produce in a single day triple the amount Star could produce at full capacity in a year. (21) The plan was to produce Star for the local market; Edelweiss for Chicago; Weber for Waukeshaw; and E & B for Michigan. (22)

Dubuque Star was purchased in October 1989, by ZELE BREWING COMPANY of Seattle, Washington. It was anticipated at the time of the sale that the production of Zele products would add an additional twenty thousand barrels to Dubuque Star's annual production. The brewery, however, was closed the following year. (23)

Among the products over the years were: (24)

                  Dubuque Star Lager Beer  1933 - 1938
                  Dubuque Star Select Beer  1933 - 1950
                  Dubuque Star Beer  1933 - 1973
                  Dubuque Bock  1934 - 1943
                  Iowa Beer  1944 - 1949
                  Holiday Beer  1946 - 1956
                  Star Beer  1952 - 1971
                  E&B Beer  1982 - 1985
                  Key City Beer  1983 - 1990
                                        Quittin Time Beer  1983 - 1990

In 1992 Brandevor Enterprises of Seattle reopened the brewery and produced craft beers. In addition to their own brands like Big Muddy Red Ale, Dubuque Star brewed beers for the restaurant chain TGI Friday's and Marriott Hotels achieving sales of 25,000 barrels in 1995 and 1996. They also brewed beers for west coast micro-brewer Tuan Tony Nguyen including Beer Guy and Chau Tien brands. Production fell to only 5,000 barrels in 1998, and the brewery was closed permanently in 1999. (25) In 2001 it was acquired by the city through eminent domain. (26)

As part of the riverfront renovation efforts, the city of Dubuque acquired the building through eminent domain proceedings.
A group of local investors led by developer Wayne Briggs founded Port of Dubuque LLC to develop the brewery site. On March 23, 2006 Stone Cliff Winery announced it had signed an agreement with Port of Dubuque LLC to lease part of the brewery. Stone Cliff moved its entire production operation to the Port of Dubuque in May of 2007. The Star Restaurant and Ultra Lounge offered a 12,000 square facility for dining and entertainment. In addition to these businesses, in 2010 the former brewery was the home of Kurtz Communications, Peninsula Gaming, Epic Construction and a Dubuque Star Brewing Company memorabilia mini-museum. (27)

Dubuque Star Brewery was an important site of several MOTION PICTURES shot in the Dubuque area. In 1978 ZIGGY'S was used for several scenes of the movie F.I.S.T. (28) The movie Take This Job and Shove It, starring Art Carney, was shot at the brewery during the summer of 1981. (29)

Picnic beer bottle. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey

Labels courtesy of Jim Massey

1980s Star sample pack. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Tray. Photo courtesy: Potosi Brewing Company
Wooden box for transportation. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Tool used to scrap the "head" from a glass of beer. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Dubuque Star ash tray. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Dubuque Star ash tray. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Trade Token (face). Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Trade Token (reverse). Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Dubuque Star advertising clock. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Well-preserved bottles and labels. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Tap handle. Photo courtesy: Jim Lang
Beer order form
Beer order form
An unusually large and eye-catching sign. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey



1. "Many Breweries Here, But Only Star Remains," Telegraph Herald, August 31, 1958, p. 42

2. Kruse, Len. My Old Dubuque, Dubuque Iowa: Center for Dubuque History-Loras, 2000, p. 243

3. "Dubuque Star Brewery," Breweries on Waymarking.com. Online: http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3HD2_Dubuque_Star_Brewery_Dubuque_IA

4. Ibid.

5. "Many Breweries Here..."

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. "Iowa Brewed Beer Ready for Thanksgiving," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 14, 1933, p. 11. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=SGlFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QrwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4994,1887063&dq=dubuque+brewing+and+malting+company&hl=en

9. "Many Breweries Here..."

10. "Dubuque Star's Five-Year Plan: Formula for a Future," The Brewer's Digest, July 1957, p. 28

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 29

13. "Time Line in a Bottle," Telegraph Herald. Undated article

14. "National Register of Historic Places Nomination Papers," February 13, 2007, Section 8, Page 34, Online: http://weblink.cityofdubuque.org/WebLink8/1/doc/66014/Page44.aspx

15. "Dubuque Star's Five-Year Plan," p. 29

16. "Dubuque Star Brewery," Wikipedia. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubuque_Star_Brewery

17. "Joseph Pickett and Sons of Dubuque," Falstaff Brewing Corporation, Online: http://www.falstaffbrewing.com/jos__pickett_&_sons.htm

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Thimmesch, Nick. "Dubuque Star Battles Brewery Giants with A Low-Suds Budget," Gainesville Sun, May 26, 1984, Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1320&dat=19840526&id=WKQRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1ukDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4550,3503429&hl=en

22. Ibid.

23. "Joseph Pickett..."

24. "Trade Names for the Brewery at the East 4th Street Extension," Tavern Trove, Online: http://www.taverntrove.com/brewery.php?BreweryId=366

25. "Joseph Pickett and Sons of Dubuque."

26. "Time Line in a Bottle," Telegraph Herald, Undated article.

27. Ibid.

28. "Dubuque Star Brewing Company Building," Main View, Dubuque Main Street, February 2010, Online: http://www.dubuquemainstreet.org/Feb2010newsDMSc.pdf

29. Ibid.