Jacob Mathias Leinenkugel was born in Vital, Adendorff, Prussia. In 1845 his father Mathias Leinenkugel, a distiller by trade, fled the cultural and political turmoil of Prussia and took his family to America. Mathias was 35 years old and Jacob was only 3.
The Leinenkugel family found a home in Sauk County, Wisconsin where Mathias set up a brewery in the town of Westfield. It was here that Jacob and his four brothers learned the ropes of the brewing business. It was also here that Jacob made the acquaintance of John Miller, a nephew of a neighboring farmer. Later Jacob met and courted fellow German immigrant Josephine Imhoff. They married in 1865 and over the next 25 years she and Jacob would be partners in both life and in business.
In 1867 the Leinenkugels and the Millers left Sauk County and moved their families 150 miles northwest to the town of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. At this time Chippewa Falls was little more than a logging settlement. The town had a population of just a couple hundred people, mostly railroad workers and lumbermen.
In addition to the scores of thirsty workers there was a natural spring providing plenty of water within walking distance of the river. It was the perfect location for a brewery. Leinenkugel and Miller built a brewhouse over the spring and named their business the Spring Brewery.
It was the first brewery in Chippewa Falls and it was a success. The men rose to prominence in the town and Leinenkugel was elected mayor. Sadly in May of 1883 John Miller's wife Susanna died and a few months later Miller decided to retire and sold his stake in the Spring Brewery to Leinenkugel. Jacob Leinenkugel from then on ran the brewery as sole proprietor.
The Leinenkugel family grew as did the company payroll and the two populations lived together in a large dwelling at the brewery. By the late 1880s Josephine was in charge of preparing meals for her family plus 20 employees. But the long cold Wisconsin winters were taking their toll.
In January of 1890 Josephine contracted pneumonia. Her illness soon became acute and on the 28th of that month she died at the age of 44 years. The consensus was that she had simply worked herself to death.
Leinenkugel carried on, once more expanded his brewery and later remarried. That marriage produced one child. In the summer of 1897 Jacob Leinenkugel contracted an infection of the intestines and died on the 21st of July. He was 57 years of age. His brewery however would continue on, guided ably by his descendents through Prohibition, the rationing of the war years, and the brewery consolidations of the 1960s.
By the 1980s the small-town survivor gained prominence as one of America's most fiercely celebrated regional breweries. In 1988 the family sold the brewery to the Miller Brewing Co. of Milwaukee Wisconsin, who in turn sold it to multinationals. While the company is no longer owned by the family, the plant in Chippewa Falls continues to turn out beer to this day with a Leinenkugel descendant at the helm.