Brooklyn and beer have a long history together, as do beautiful women and beer advertising. These early advertisements from our collection illustrate that point:
But no beauty was quite like Miss Rheingold:
From 1942 to 1965, Liebmann Breweries of Bushwick, Brooklyn used an annual beauty contest to sell beer. It was a clever marketing ploy that offered the general public the opportunity to choose Miss Rheingold. Ballot boxes were placed in taverns, grocery stores and other locations and citizens could vote as many times as they liked.
Liebmann took the contest seriously, hiring an outside company to handle the voting and providing each winner with various amounts of cash, modeling fees, and accommodation. It was reported that their ballot count was second only to Presidential elections. An ad announcing Miss Rheingold 1950 proclaims, "Yes - in a town full of pretty girl's there's only one Miss Rheingold. She's a New York tradition that can't be matched."
Or could she? For over twenty years the ads were almost identical. Young blondes (and occasional brunettes) were seen picnicking, sailing, and skiing as they announced, "My beer is Rheingold - the DRY beer."
As a representative of a New York brand, Miss Rheingold was expected to attract New York customers. But her "girl next door" appeal started to fade by the 60s. Advertisers shot her dancing in the streets of Puerto Rico and hanging out with fishmongers in the Fulton Fish market. But these new "candid" shots couldn't erase the fact that Rheingold wasn't selling.
In 1965, the Times asked, "How does a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Miss Rheingold sell Rheingold beer to Negroes? Or Puerto Ricans? Or to Italians, Greeks, Chinese or to the Irish for that matter?" Times were changing.
After "many, many meetings at the brewery," Liebmann cancelled the election and put millions of dollars into new advertising campaigns that featured a new group of women: first generation Americans. In radio, tv, and print ads Chinese dancers performed on Mott Street, African Americans sang the blues in Brooklyn, and Italians got married on the Lower East Side - all while enjoying Rheingold.
Miss Rheingold was out. Although she had become a legendary Brooklyn figure (Brooklynites still remember her to this day), her failure to boost sales made her obsolete from a business perspective. Rheingold revived the competition in 2004, but the young, scantily clad participants just weren't the same. The new contest lasted a year, allowing Miss Rheingold to become a permanent part of Brooklyn's past.