Written By: Bill Syken

In 1949 LIFE staff photographer Frank Scherschel undertook a photo essay on beer drinkers. The essay never ran in the magazine, and without any accompanying story, it is difficult to say why he, ah, poured himself so eagerly into this topic.

The explanation is likely the obvious one. Beer, which humans have been drinking since at least 5000 B.C. and probably longer, is a sudsy bedrock of American culture. It is equally craved by the carefree college student on spring break and the laborer looking for release after a shift. In 2019 the U.S. distributed about 2.8 billion cases. That’s a lot of beer, for better or worse. Homer Simpson summed up the conundrum of America’s love affair with drinking when he hoisted a frosty mug of beer and hailed alcohol as “The cause of, and the solution to, all of life’s problems.”

Scherschel’s essay, capturing beer drinkers in largely festive settings, mostly feels like a celebration. He appears to have done most or all of his shooting in and around Milwaukee, the beer capital of America. He took many shots in what appears to have been a joyous company picnic for auto manufacturing employees, complete with dancing and live music and beer being quaffed from large metal containers. Other images in Scherschel’s essay include a bride and groom mid-toast, a Miller High life vendor at a baseball game (likely the minor league team which called itself the Milwaukee Brewers, which played before the big-league team arrived in town). Scherschel’s most meta image is of beer company employees enjoying a beer break.

Scherschel also naturally ventured into a bar. In shooting the patrons there, he captured moments both communal and solitary. We don’t know who these people are and can only guess at their situations. But the bar Scherschel visited is a place where Homer Simpson would fit right in.

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer Drinking, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

A bride and groom shared a toast, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

A beer vendor hawked Miller High Life at a minor league baseball game in Milwaukee, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

A beer purchaser in Milwaukee, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, Milwaukee, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, Milwaukee, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

The entertainment at his company picnic had beer as well, Milwaukee, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer drinking essay, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Beer plant workers on a beer break, Milwaukee, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Men enjoyed beer while playing poker in a garage, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

A man relaxed in a hammock with a beer beside him, 1949.

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

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