: UW-Washington County is featuring a historical display of the West Bend Seven-Up bottling plant - which includes a variety of memorabilia from 1950s-1970s. The display coincides with The Alley Cats concert on December 7, which will feature doo-wop music from this era. The 7-Up display is located in the campus art gallery and will be available for viewing prior to and during intermission of the 7:30pm Alley Cats concert. In addition, the gallery will be open prior to the Moraine Symphonic Band concert Saturday, December 1 at 3:00pm and prior to the Moraine Chorus concert on Sunday, December 9 at 2:00pm.
The 7-Up display will take you back in time with a wide variety of old photos and advertising items, including a clock, thermometer and old photos. Company manuals that tout the official 7-Up uniform information are an interesting read. There’s also an original West Bend grape soda label and the die form that was used to print the paper labels for the bottles. In addition to the items from the Kieckhafer family, the Jim and Judy Benike family also donated some items for the display. Jim’s father, Art Benike was a driver for 7-Up for over 40 years. The Benike’s contributed a stuffed 7-up “Sparkly” doll and a display of 7-up cans from 1976 that when all are lined up and stacked perfectly - display the face of Uncle Sam.
The Kieckhafer family distributes 7-Up from their Kilbourn Avenue plant in West Bend to area residents. Doug Kieckhafer, who serves as President of the firm, works beside his son, David, in managing the distribution. The story of this family business began in 1945 when Doug’s grandfather, Albert and his uncles, Clarence and William, purchased The West Bend Bottling Company. The company, which had been in existence since 1892, manufactured soda pop at the time. In 1950, the firm produced five flavors, including orange, cream, grape, cherry and root beer, in both 7 and 24 oz. bottles, turning out approximately 90 cases of pop every hour.
After graduation from West Bend West High School in 1971, Doug worked four summers at the family business while completing college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After completing his college degree, he made the decision to return to West Bend. It wasn’t long before he took over the management reins. At the time, the company was producing the soda as well as distributing it. However, when the market shifted from returnable bottles to aluminum cans, the technological demands to make the production shift to cans, proved to be more of an investment than the company was able to make. By 1992, the actual production of soda was stopped and the firm shifted to a distribution-only facility. Today, all of the bottling is done at a huge facility in Northlake, Illinois.
This shift to mass production has left the West Bend plant as one of the three family owned 7-Up distributors remaining in the state. “Part of our success is the fact that we are an old-fashioned company,” Doug explained. “Bigger is not always better. As long as we can turn a profit and have fun in the process – we’ll be in business.”
Today, the firm has 13 employees and distributes a combination of 175 packages and flavors throughout Washington and Ozaukee Counties. In addition to 7-Up soda, distribution includes A&W, All-Sport, Canada Dry, Deja Blue, Dr. Pepper, Fiji Water, Hawaiian Punch, Sunkist, Sunny D, and Vita-Coco drinks.
A strong community partner, the firm is the only remaining original sponsor for West Bend’s Little League program. (The other three original sponsors included The West Bend Company, Schroeder Dairy and Ott Coal). The firm has also participated in wheel chair bowling fundraisers, the Kiwanis Club’s Duck Derby and is a sponsor of UW-WC’s Fish Fry Frenzy, which raises money for HOPE student scholarships.