By Carol Mowdy Bond
Progress Beer was the first legal beer-brewing operation in Oklahoma. And it all started in Yukon with John Kroutil and Gustave F. Streich.
In lending some perspective to this story, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified Jan. 29, 1919, and included a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, aka Prohibition. On Dec. 5, 1933, the U.S. Congress ratified the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition.
Kroutil and Streich started brewing their suds in a barn east of today’s Kimbell Park, 525 South 7th Street, on what is today’s Walnut Street. The barn is no longer there.
In 1933, Kroutil and Streich opened Progress Brewing Company at 501 N. Douglass in Oklahoma City.
The six-story brew house operations grew until it had the capacity to produce 100,000 barrels of Progress Beer, with a 3.2 % alcoholic content, on a daily basis.
During the Great Depression, the plant employed 1,000 people daily. The brew house is still in the same location, but is owned by another entity.
Bottle caps, arriving in large, wooden kegs, were manufactured by W.H. Hutchinson & Sons, Inc., in Chicago, Illinois.
Kroutil brought the grain to Yukon via the railroad. And he used a conveyor belt to get it to the top floor of the brewery. Using gravity flow, he began the first beer-making steps on the top floor, then it would flow down to the floor beneath for the next step, and so forth, until it reached the first floor where it was bottled, then taken out to the docks and loaded.
In today’s Napa Valley wine-producing region of California, there are hundreds of vineyards and wineries. Many of these producers are really into the gravity flow concept these days. But Kroutil was using gravity flow in beer production close to 100 years ago!
Progress Beer was one of only three licensed post-prohibition breweries in Oklahoma, and it was the longest lived.
Although Kroutil died in 1954, the brewery was sold to Lone Star Brewery which produced the beer from 1959 to 1974.
Born in 1875 in Bohemia (today’s Czechoslovakia) near Prague, Kroutil and his brother Frank and their parents, Frantisek and Katerina Kroutil, emigrated from Bohemia in 1881. They first settled in Wahoo, Nebraska. Sources differ, saying they moved to an El Reno farm in Oklahoma Territory somewhere between 1890 and 1895.
In 1902, Kroutil and brother Frank and A. F. Dobry acquired a small grain elevator and mill that had been established in 1893. Kroutil became president of the mill, with Frank as the vice president.
At the mill and silos, every day at noon, a whistle blew to signify it was lunch time. Another whistle blew at 5 p.m.
In 1918, John Kroutil built the mill’s large office building, still located at 301 West Elm immediately west of the Yukon Mill.
Over time, the Kroutil brothers cranked up their operations, and the mill became the largest flour plant in the state and the Southwest. By the 1930s, the mill had the capacity to produce 2,000 barrels of flour per day. From the Yukon area, they exported “Yukon’s Best Flour” to every state in the U.S., and to some locations abroad.
The Kroutils installed big steam-powered electric generators to run the flour mill. The generators were so big that they allowed Yukon to have electricity. Kroutil served as the president of the Yukon Electric Company, which was formed in 1907. Eventually OG&E bought the rights to provide electricity to Yukon. But Raymond Kroutil, the grandfather of Ray and Randy Wright and their sister Carolyn Wright Henthorn, required that as part of the sale to OG&E, that he would get free electricity for life.
Dobry sold out to the Kroutils in 1933, and started a second mill across the street known as Dobry Mills. Today the combined locations are known as Yukon’s iconic flour mill and silos next to the train tracks, on both sides of Main Street aka Route 66 .
Ray Wright’s childhood memories include school tours of the mill and silos, saying that he and the other children always received a miller cap and a small bag of flour during their tours.
The mill ceased production in 1969.
In 1912, Kroutil and his brother Frank opened the Yukon National Bank. Kroutil served as the president of YNB.
In 1933, John Kroutil was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Obviously, he was a
visionary ahead of his time, as one of the founding fathers who helped put into place the groundwork for today’s Yukon.
Carrying on the tradition, Kroutil’s great-great-nephews Randy and Ray, and their sister, Kroutil’s great-great-niece, Carolyn, are prominent members of the Yukon community.
Randy is the Yukon National Bank president and C.E.O. Carolyn is the bank’s executive vice president in marketing. Ray manages all the Wright family properties.
And bringing it all full circle, Ray’s wife, Cathy, is a wine maker.
She owns Farfalla Wines in Yukon, a family owned winery with a tasting room. Cheers.