From the 1920s through the mid-1940s, The F.W. Fitch Company dominated much of the shampoo industry in the United States. This firm cemented Des Moines’ reputation as a leader for the personal care products industry in the United States. Completed in 1917, the Main Building marks the beginning of the firm as a national manufacturer of personal care products. By the 1920s, the F.W. Fitch Company had a product line of more than a dozen products including, “Mentho-Pep,” a utility personal care product used as an after-shave lotion, mouthwash, or treatment for insect bites and sunburn. The soap plant, top left, built in 1929, allowed the Fitch Co. to begin production on its own line of soap.
By 1945, the firm’s payroll had swelled to 400 workers. Following World War II, however, The F.W. Fitch Co. experienced a steep decline in sales. The loss of contracts with the U.S. Army following the end of the war, substantial construction costs associated with a new plant and the on-going expense to sponsor Fitch’s Bandwagon drained the firm’s cash flow in an unsustainable hemorrhage. The Fitch Co. sold its assets to Grove Laboratories in 1949.
The main building is currently occupied by a wide variety of tenants from artists to entrepreneurs. The Soap Building and the attached Annex were abandoned and in a state of disrepair when the Exile team began looking for a place to call home more than a year ago. There were certainly other locations around Des Moines better suited for a brewery, but none with the history and character of the F.W. Fitch Soap Building. This company helped put Des Moines on the map in the 1930’s and was once a landmark in the city. While Des Moines is no longer striving for recognition, thanks Forbes, we believe that this economically depressed neighborhood can be restored to its former luster. Through a dedication to tradition and quality, Exile Brewing Co. hopes to become synonymous with the city of Des Moines in the same way the Fitch Co. once was. We are proud to call Des Moines home. We hope Des Moines will soon be proud to call us its own.