A soda beverage bottling works was founded at Ft.
Madison in 1873 by J.B. Beelman, who died the
following year. In 1875, the bottling works was
purchased by John G.H. Stellern, who took Conrad
Schaper as a partner the following year.
At that time, the firm manufactured only seltzer water
and cream soda, the vanilla-flavored beverage that was
the original and for some years the only soda pop
bottled in Ft. Madison.
In 1878, when Schaper and Stellern gave a case of
cream soda to the Ft. Madison Democrat stall, the
paper commented that it was "taken down by the pop,
pop, pop, of the escaping cork". At that time,
soda bottles were sealed with corks, the "popping" off
of which resulted in the name "soda pop."
In 1876, the Democrat reported that Schaper and
Stellern supplied seltzer water and cream soda to
towns within a 50-mile radius of Ft. Madison.
During the winter, deliveries were made to Dallas
City, Ill. [as Dallas City, Ill. was
across the Mississippi River, the horse and sled
traveled across the frozen river], by horse
and sled. Schaper left the partnership in 1878.
Expands to Beer
During the 1880's, John Stellern begin to bottle
various beers, including that produced locally by the
Schlapp Brewery. Stellern bought the brewery in 1894.
He retired the same year and transferred the business
to his son, Frank. They ran the brewery and bottling
works until 1910, when competition and new state laws
forced the brewery to close.
Meanwhile, during the 1880's, Stellern's also began
putting up apple and pear cider (perry) in season,
using earthenware jugs fired at the Stellern brickyard
kilns near Ft. Madison. In 1902 Frank Stellern
took over the business from his dad.
In 1921, the firm moved their soda bottling works from
Avenue G to a part of their disused brewery across the
alley on Avenue H.
11 Flavors in 1930
When George Henry Dues, a grandson of the firm's
founder, assumed management of the works in 1930,
Stellern's list of carbonated soft drinks included
sarsaparilla, grape, root beer, ginger ale, banana,
lemon, orange, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and
their original flavor, cream.
During the years of national prohibition from 1920 to
1933, Stellern bottled Budweiser and Atlas near beers.
These were substitute beers brewed from malt, like
beer, but from which nearly all the alcohol had been
Stellern advertisements of the period claimed that
their Atlas near beer tasted just like the real
product. Near beer was produced and sold legally
during prohibition. Sometimes, however, not all
of the alcohol seems to have been removed. For
example, several confiscated bottles of near beer of
undesigned brand exploded while stored at the Ft.
Madison police station.
Half Gallon "Picnics"
While Stellern's resumed distribution of real beer
after prohibition ended in 1933, they use half-gallon
bottles called "picnics" which retailed for 50 cents
In 1938, the firm began to bottle a new soft drink
called Orange Crush. This was not the sugary drink of
that name sold currently, but a carbonated orange
juice that contained bits of pulp. vStellern's bottled
Dr. Pepper briefly in 1939 and in 1942 begin bottling
Squirt, a popular carbonated grapefruit drink.
Management of the firm was assumed by Jim Keller in
For more than a remarkable 80 years from 1875 to about
1958, the cost of a bottle of soda pop remained at 5
cents, but inflation during the late 1950's eventually
forced up the price.
Finally, unable to compete with the resources and
popularity of nationally advertised carbonated
beverage manufacturers, Stellern's closed in 1960.
Around 1930 the Hawkeye Dairy was started by Henry
Stellern. Upon Henry's death, Harry, his son, came
back from Chicago to help his mother, Bertha with the
farm and dairy.
Milk at first was delivered in the bulk to individual
homes in Fort Madison and was sold by the dipper.
Harry Stellern milked between 20 and 25 cows and
delivered milk 7 days a week for several years. Later
he stopped delivering on Sundays and Christmas.
In 1937, milk was put in glass round bottles in three
sizes, quart, pint and half pint. Half-pint was
mainly used for cream.
Milk was delivered as raw milk until the late 1940's
when it was then pasteurized. About the same time,
square bottles started being used.
In 1955, the cows were all sold and Harry Stellern had
an agreement with Peterson's Dairy to bottle milk for
Hawkeye Dairy. This lasted until 1957 when Harry
Stellern decided to get out of the delivering
This company owns a fine up-to-date brick and tile
making plant just outside the city limits on the
Denmark road. Henry Stellern is the owner and
manager. The latest down-draft kilns are used
and the products are of the best. The capacity
of the plant is 25,000 brick and tile a day.
In this working season from fifteen to
twenty-five men are employed while several are
employed the year around.
Contributed by Thomas