In March 2015 they demolished the abandoned three-story factory at 3456 N. Buffum St., in Milwaukee. In its 100 years the building saw many tenants come and go, including a feed and fertilizer dealer, an animal research laboratory, a chemical processor, a fiberglass fabricator, as well as firms manufacturing soap and plastics.
Sixty years ago, this was the birthplace of Quaff-Aid, hailed as a miracle cure for hangovers – until federal agents raided the place.
Built in the early 1900s, when Keefe Street was Milwaukee’s northern city limits, the building was originally Jager Lumber & Manufacturing’s furniture factory. A triangular lot along the Milwaukee Road’s busy Beer Line, the railroad right-of-way dictated the building’s odd shape. According to a 1910 fire insurance map, woodworking machinery originally occupied the first floor, a cabinet shop the second floor, with storage on the third floor. A boiler house attached to the east side of the factory housed a steam engine rated at 75 horsepower, which powered the machinery and heated the building in winter.
In the 1950s, this was the home of Amber Laboratories. The company, an affiliate of yeast processor Milbew Inc., did consulting work for the brewing industry and sought new markets for brewing byproducts. In Spring 1955, Amber introduced “Quaff-Aid,” a hangover remedy consisting of concentrated brewer’s yeast in tablet form.
Brewer’s yeast is naturally high in B-complex vitamins – a long-standing folk remedy for dealing with the morning after a night on the town. Quaff-Aid was heavily advertised in Milwaukee newspapers with the cheerful promise of “No regrets tomorrow for feeling good today.”
Milwaukee being, well, Milwaukee, the hangover pills sold like hotcakes.
The company soon introduced a “Carry Home Party Pak” (five two-tablet packages for 98 cents) and suggested hostesses kick off an evening’s festivities by distributing Quaff-Aid to their guests. To sweeten the deal, the party packs also included – please contain your excitement – paper napkins.
Sold in local drug stores and corner taverns, Quaff-Aid promised “a wonderful time … every time! You’ll be poised, assured, relaxed; have a wonderful sense of lighthearted freedom from worry because you know your fun won’t be spoiled!”
With sales more than doubling each month, the company recognized it had a winner on its hands and started planning national distribution. Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration spoiled the party. In October 1956, federal agents swooped down on the Buffum Street factory and seized a quarter-million hangover pills, alleging the product was ineffective.
Not so, protested Sheldon Bernstein, Amber’s director of research. Bernstein told the Milwaukee Journal the B vitamins in Quaff-Aid were necessary for speedy recovery from overindulgence. Doubtless formerly bleary-eyed drunks all over town agreed with Bernstein but there was no budging the sober forces of justice. Quaff-Aid never returned.
Amber Laboratories recovered from the setback and soon moved out of the building on North Buffum Street. Over the years, Amber expanded into the manufacture of yeast extracts, distilling industrial and beverage alcohol, and making animal feed supplements. In 1983, Amber’s annual sales topped $10 million, and Universal Foods acquired the company.
The last tenant in the Buffum Street building, a recycling center, closed in 2008, leaving behind such a hell-brew of chemical horrors that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted an emergency Superfund cleanup in 2014 just to make the building safe enough to tear down.