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Pape’s Tops in Pops

A 1907 International delivery truck with Ernest Pape at the wheel.

In 1904, Ernest F. Pape bought out two existing bottling works in Reedsburg and combined the operation into one business. The bottling works operated from the basement of what is today Lorraine’s Gift Shop. The sweet flavored liquid refreshment was delivered by horse-drawn wagons during the early days. But in 1907, Pape (pronounced Poppy) bought an International two-speed truck, probably the first motorized truck in Sauk County. It could carry 15-20 cases.

A new two story building, 35 feet by 35 feet, was built at 400 Vine Street in 1915, to accommodate the burgeoning business. Pape added the second story so that if the pop business failed, he could convert it into a livery stable. “He didn’t think the 1907 bottling business would be around for more than a couple of years, but figured that the livery business would go on forever,” recalled Bill Pape, Ernest’s son, in a 1975 Reedsburg Times Press interview. William G. Pape joined his father in the Reedsburg Bottling Works in 1929, and took it over when his father retired around 1954.

During the 1920s and ’30s, Pape got a contract to ship pop to Camp McCoy for the soldiers. He’d deliver it to the C& NW Depot in Reedsburg and load it onto the train where it would be hauled to the Camp. The return trip brought back empty bottles.

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Pape’s Pop came in three different sized bottles: seven, 12 and 32 ounce. The original bottles were made of hand-blown glass, later they were machine-made. Embossed in the glass were the words, “Pape’s Tops in Pops.” In the ’70s the bottles contained painted yellow labels with the letters in blue.

The pop came in 12 different flavors: orange, root beer, grape, strawberry, crème soda, raspberry, cherry, sparkle up, lemon-lime, ginger ale, punch and cola. Punch was also mixed and often sold in gallon containers for picnics, family gatherings and weddings. Pape never used substitutes or cheap flavorings in his drinks, always striving for a high quality product.

William Pape Jr. recalled, in a 1998 interview, that when he was employed by his grandfather in the early ‘50s, he was put to work washing bottles for 35 cents a day. “Finally,” said Bill, “my mother got so upset about this that she went down and had quite a discussion with my grandfather and I got a raise from 35 cents a day to 50 cents an hour. My grandfather couldn’t believe what had happened to the economy and that anybody could be worth 50 cents an hour.” During the ’50s a seven ounce bottle sold for five cents, but was eventually raised to seven cents. Pape also bottled Squirt and was a jobber for Pepsi-Cola until 1969. Continued next month.

Bill Schuette has served on the board of directors at the Sauk County Historical Society since 1993. He lives in rural Loganville.

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