Rainier Brewing: 1933-1977
Note: I made several correction to this page after I did more research and discovered several errors. My apologies for the errors. I am continuing my research on these cans and will update this page as necessary. Additions and corrections are always welcome: please email me.
Rainier Brewing went through several different name changes during its lifetime. It had been founded as Seattle Brewing and Malting Company but when Washington State started statewide Prohibition in 1916, the owners moved to San Francisco and continued brewing Rainier Beer until national prohibition in 1920. When national prohibition ended in 1933 Emil Sick opened Sick's Century Brewing Company in Seattle. Sick bought numerous breweries in the 1930s, and purchased the right to use the old Rainier beer name from the Rainier Company in San Francisco in 1935. From 1935-1953 there were two breweries making Rainier Beer, the San Francisco brewery selling in California and Oregon, and the Seattle brewery selling in Washington and Alaska. When the San Francisco Rainier Brewery was purchased by Hamms in 1953, the Seattle Brewery bought exclusive rights to the name "Rainier" and took over the San Francisco brewery's markets.
In 1952 the Sick's Rainier Brewing Company prepared to celebrate its 75th anniversary by issuing a special set of colorful cans. The result was the Rainier Jubilee set which lasted until 1963. The last series was issued in a zip top, but these are fairly scarce, far more so than the flattop version. Rainier Brewing held on until 1977 when it was sold to G. Heilman Brewing.
The Sick's Seattle Brewing and Malting Company, circa 1939.
The Rainier Jubilee is the largest by far of all the 1950s can sets. Issued between 1952 and 1964 there are four sets and one individual commemorative can. The solo can was the first to be issued for a short run in 1953. In the USBC it is 118-14 and 118-28 (one from the Seattle brewery and one from Spokane).
The first Jubilee Can.
The first Jubilee set consisted of six Christmas cans sold from Thanksgiving until Christmas in 1952. Earlier that year, Rainier had approached advertising agency Walter Landor and Associates who did work for over 30 American breweries. They had created the Rainier "R" logo for Sick's Seattle Brewing and Malting in 1949. Landor suggested a series of cans featuring a party theme with bright, eye-catching colors. Apparently the Rainier executives were nervous about such a radical change in design so Landor suggested they run a test by marketing brightly colored Christmas cans. The design featured a turkey dinner on a holiday table on front and Christmas bells on the back. They were originally sold just in the Seattle area in special six-packs labeled "Jubilee Special Holiday Cans." The cans were an obvious success and were repeated in Christmas 1953 throughout Rainier's marketing area in the northwest. These are by far the rarest of the Jubilee cans. It was not until 1988 when a case of the Christmas cans and their original cases were found under a home in Billings Montana, that it was confirmed that there were six different cans issued in this set.
A Rainier Christmas Can.
Encouraged by the Christmas cans' success, in early 1953 Rainier issued the Party series which had 12 designs. In 1956, the Cartoon series replaced the Party series. The Cartoon series had six cans, each designed by a different cartoonist. The third series, called the brewery series, had six different designs and came out in 1957. It seems to be the most common of the four sets. The special Reindeer can (sold only in Alaska) may be found in both the "Party" and "Brewery" sets. The Spokane brewery closed in 1962 so the final Jubilee cans were issued, as zip tops, from the Seattle facility. In 1964 the Jubilee cans and the "Truly Mild" slogan were replaced by a "Touch of Old World Flavor" campaign ending the amazing run of the Jubilee cans.
Advertising the Party Series. A newspaper ad. Click to see larger version .
The Party and Brewery sets were also designed by Walter Landor and Associates. In the early 1950s they designed brewery advertising to tap into the growing home market. With the advent of canned beer in 1935, more and more consumers were buying beer at stores to take home, a trend that rapidly accelerated after the Second World War. (click to see 1939 Brewers Digest Ad emphasizing this change) Beer was something you bought at the grocery store as much as you did at a bar or tavern. Landor begin designing colorful packaging to fit into this new market to spark consumer interest. The designs illustrated activities and themes associated with drinking beer, such as sports, outdoor hobbies, cookouts, parties, etc. Rainier was not the only brewery to use this theme. Milwaukee's Blatz Brewing and Griesedieck Brothers in St. Louis issued colorful Christmas cans. Gettleman Brewing and Cincinnati's Red Top Brewing used the same idea with cans showing fishing, BBQs, baseball games, etc. Gettleman Brewing in Milwaukee even used some of Rainier's Party Series designs after they hired Landor to run their campaign. But Rainier did it first and used the idea the longest.
No one is entirely certain how many different variations there are, but estimates range as high as 11,000! Not including the Christmas cans, there were three series, with a total of 24 designs. A total of 22 colors were used, but not every color was used in every set. Each set used between 15 to 18 of the available 22 colors. The colors are...black, deep purple, pinkish purple, violet, metallic red, enamel red orange, orange, yellow, metallic yellow green, enamel yellow green, metallic green, enamel green, enamel blue green, metallic blue green, turquoise, metallic blue, enamel blue, metallic bronze, flesh, pink, gray, and red gold.
There are also two variations of the gold band band across the upper left corner of the can face. It may be blank, or it may have the words "Rainier for Life" on it. The first two series had both 12 and 16 ounce cans, and the third series also has 11 and 15 ounce cans. The 16 ounce cans also had two variations of the wording on the front of the can. Finally, there were two different brewery locations, Seattle and Spokane, although the Spokane plant only made 11 and 12 ounce cans. The Seattle facility made all four sizes. And, oh yes, part way through the second series, the brewery changed names. The 11,000 estimate, however, is too high as it depends on every design being produced in every variation, from both breweries in every color. The actually number of variations, however, still MAY be into the thousands.
The following is a list of the three main sets along with a brief description of the designs in each, the sizes available and which of the two breweries made them. The series are listed in the order they appeared. I have also linked each can listed to a picture of an example can when possible. I picked the best can I could find for each photo. Thank you to Stephen R. for some great photos!
Party Series (1953-1956)-Available from Sick's Seattle Brewing and Malting and Sick's Rainier Brewing-Seattle in 12 and 16 oz. It was also made by Sick's Spokane Brewery and Sick's Rainier Brewing-Spokane in 12 oz.
-This series may have both the blank gold and "Rainier for Life" stripe variations.
Beer Garden (beer kegs, pretzel, people seated at a table)
Diamond Jubilee (two interlocked wedding rings, bicycle.)
Drinking Songs ("Roll Out the barrel")
Food (chef pouring beer, salad.)
Games (scrabble blocks, bull's-eye.)
Geographic (Golden Gate Bridge*, Mount Rainier)
Home Entertainment (man at BBQ, couple watching TV)
Hunting and Fishing (frying pan and coffee pot on campfire, man and fish)
Parties and Music (party scenes, keyboard, singer)
Paul Bunyan (Paul Bunyan and Babe, log rolling.)
Sports (tennis, skiing, mountain climbing)
Toasts (Rainier stein, "good luck")
* originally I thought this was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Thanks to several Rusty Bunch members for the correction.
Cartoon Series (1956)-Available from Sick's Seattle Brewing and Malting in 12 and 16 oz and from Sick's Spokane Brewery in 12 oz
-The cartoon series is unique because each can was designed by a different notable cartoonist of the day. I've listed the cartoonist after the can design. For a few cans I have added extra photos of the fronts and backs of the can in question. (Thanks to Roy for the extra pics, I am sorry I was so slow to post them!)
Barbecue (dejected man standing by a grill as guests run from rain. -- Robert Osborn)
Do It Yourself (a woman hanging wall paper while bothered by a cat. -- VIP i.e. Virgil Partch) (front back)
Dutchman (a Dutchman in wooden shoes. -- Ray Patin) (front back)
In the Northwest (mountaineers scaling a peak to find a party. -- Irwin Caplan) (front back)
Outdoor life (a golfer failing to sink a putt. -- Bob Cram) (front back)
Surprise party (guests dropping in on a man in pajamas. -- William Steig, who wrote and drew the children's book, 'Shrek.')
1956 magazine ad.
Brewery Series (1957-1964)-This is the most common series. Available from Sick's Rainier Brewing-Seattle in 11, 12, 15 and 16 oz cans, and from Sick's Rainier Brewing-Spokane in 11 and 12 oz.
-This series may have both the blank gold and "Rainier for Life" stripe variations.
-The 16 oz cans may have "King Size" or "Rainier for Life" on front.
Beer Can Collectors of America. United States Beer Cans (Beer Can Collectors of America: Fenton, Mo) 118.
Beer Can Collectors of America. Catalog of American Beer Cans. (1993) 665.
Garard, Michael. "The Reindeer Can--It's Nothing to Laugh At" Beer Can Collectors News Report. January-February 1980 (10:1) 11.
Jeziorski, Dan. "Jolly Jubilees" Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles. December-January 1998. (27:6) 4-5.
Mugrage, 'Premium' Bill. "Rainier Jubilee: The Ultimate in Series Cans" Beer Can Collectors News Report. July-August 1980 (10:4) 8-9.
O'Dell, Bill. "Rainier Jubilees" Beer Can Collectors News Report. January 1976 (6:1) 4-5.
Pirie, Bob. "The Story Behind the Scenic-View Gettleman Beer Can Series" Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles. April-May 2001. (31:2) 22-27.
"Some Local Breweries That Make It Go!" Brewers Digest. (September 1939) 24-37.
Van Wieren, Dale P. American Breweries II (West Point, PA.: East Coast Breweriana Association, 1995) 382-383.
Thank you to Stephen R. and Roy McCoy for the great pictures! And to Bob P. for the nicer copy of the "Gay Way" ad!