Behind The Brew! The Gerald Davis Papers

By Spencer Bowman

Recently, we had an individual reach out to us from England with a donation of material related to the Tacoma Heidelberg Brewery. They explained to us the material had belonged to Gerald Davis, their relative who worked for the brewery in the 1950s. Gerald was the son of Norman Davis who purchased and ran the brewery from 1941-1957. Gerald worked primarily in the marketing and advertisement department in the brewery from 1949-1958. The mixture of photographs, advertising mockups, letters, reports, and other internal and personal documents that make up the Gerald Davis papers form a picture of not just the marketing of a local beer brand, but a window into the inner workings of post-war local consumer culture. 

“The marketplace is a commercial battleground. The supermarket or drugstore in which we choose between one competing product, and another is the scene of commercial war between competing manufacturers. Each manufacturer must know enough to be able to influence our selection in favor of his product and in a world where we often really can't tell the difference between competing products. the manufacturer's role is indeed challenging.” 

This opening paragraph from Gerald Davis’ 1965 report What Makes People Buy? punctuates the philosophy of the Heidelberg Marketing Department during this unique era of booming American post-war consumerism. From here the report goes on to outline the ways in which Research Director and Marketing/Advertising Department find out how to get people to buy their products. One of these ways was through market research. The incredible amount of time and attention Davis and his department gave to background market research is evident in A Study of the Seattle-Tacoma Beer Market. This document reports on the results of qualitative studies the brewery conducted to learn how the big three brands of the time, Heidelberg, Rainier, and Olympia, stacked up against each other. The topics touched on are taste preference, brand loyalty, along with “extent consumed” by age group, occupation, and even religion! It also includes a report on "consumer feelings towards the ideal beer package size to be carried home from the store". This was done by interviewing an extensive 775 local housewives about their beer shopping practices. According to their findings in Tacoma, six packs were the most popular, followed by cases of 24. 

The end of the study includes findings obtained by interviewing people on their "feelings and attitudes towards beer in general". According to the introduction, these interviews were “loosely structured” and were conducted in a “conversational manner”. Their findings found that,  

Some of the other findings were quite amusing. For instance, one part of the summary notes that some women interviewed in their study saw beer as having value as a “Hair-set” lotion. Who knew!

Another part of the collection that makes it special is the large number of photos Davis took of the internal department operations. The hundreds of color slides include candid photos of coworkers and friends behind the scenes in offices, images of the brewing facility, and shots of their advertising displays in shops and taverns. (Explore the selection of scanned slides by clicking here) 

In our age where most advertising revolves around algorithms and data brokering, it's fascinating to see the ingenuity and creativity behind a local brewery's strategies to tap into the minds of their consumers in the 1950s.

We are excited to make the items in the Gerald Davis papers available to you both digitally and physically! You can browse the collection of digitized items by clicking here or make an appointment to see them in person by clicking here

Please reach out to us if you have any questions by phone at (253) 280-2814 or email at