April 7 is NOT the 75th Anniversary of the End of National Prohibition
Posted by Bob Skilnik on March 13, 2008
Gussie Busch Welcomes Back Beer On April 7, 1933
Repeal, Part 1;
Repeal, Part 2;
And this newsreel which shows the economic impact of the end of Prohibition;
It’s already started and I find myself this week screaming at my computer screen, the TV and a few newspapers, and as it now appears, beer writers, breweries, and at least one brewing trade organization.
(ED. NOTE: Julia Herz has suffered through me periodically checking on the Association of Brewers website and its period of misinformation about Repeal. She has, however, gone out of her way and changed their website info in an effort to get the history right. And for this, I tip my hat to her and the AB and their 75 Years of Beer celebration.)
April 7 does NOT signify the end of National Prohibition. National Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933.
From “Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago” by me, Bob Skilnik. Click here for more info about Chicago beer history.
“I recommend…the passage of legislation…to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer”—President Franklin D. Roosevelt
By 1932, National Prohibition was dying. Its dry policy and enforcement had caused a generation of Americans to be raised with a casual disregard of the law. Probably no issue had done so much to divide the country since the Civil War. After some political maneuvering, Democratic presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt, had finally declared himself an advocate for Repeal. Incumbent President Hoover, however, continued to state his belief in National Prohibition, effectively becoming a political lame duck even before the finality of the upcoming presidential election in November.
The economic logic of Repeal was eloquently expressed by August A. Busch of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis. In 1931, Busch had issued a pamphlet titled An Open Letter to the American People, sending a copy to every U.S. Senator and Congressman and taking out ads in leading national magazines explaining his position on legalizing the production and sale of beer. With the country suffering from the throes of the Depression, Busch proclaimed that the legalization of beer would put over one million people back to work, including farmers, railroad employees and even coal miners. In addition, the St. Louis brewer argued that the government would save the $50 million a year it was now wasting through its efforts to enforce Prohibition. Taxation of beer would also help the federal government recoup the estimated $500 million in revenues it had lost since the beginning of Prohibition.
Attending a meeting in February of 1933 of the National Malt Products’ Manufacturing Association at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago, and knowing that the tide had turned, Busch declared himself “100 per cent for beer” and boasted that his St. Louis brewery was ready to restart the production of beer as soon as the law would permit. The Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago was so sure of the relegalization of beer that the faculty announced the resumption of their regular five month training course for brewers in January of 1933. The sweet smell of malt was in the air.
Support in Washington for the reintroduction of 3.2% beer began with an opinion by Representative Beck of Pennsylvania that Congress already had the power to legalize beer and that the Supreme Court would more than likely uphold any favorable congressional action. After some political foot dragging, President-elect Roosevelt finally added his opinion to the debate, saying that he favored the 3.2% beer bill that now was pending in the Senate. The Senate continued negotiations on a bill to legalize beer and made no change to a proposal to tax a barrel of beer at the rate of $5, effectively acknowledging the eventual reinstitution of the legal brewing industry. On February 15, 1933, the Senate took the debate even further when it voted 58 to 23 to begin formal consideration of a resolution proposing repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Later that same day, the Senate passed its approval of the Blaine resolution, proposing repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. The issue was then passed on to the House of Representatives. When Speaker of the House Garner heard of the quickness of the Senate’s actions, he commented surprisingly, “The vote was better than most of us anticipated. We will pass the amendment here Monday- I should say, consider it.”
With a slip of the Speaker’s tongue, there was little doubt on what the outcome of the vote in the House would be.
The same day, the Illinois State Senate also voted its approval of repeal of the Illinois dry laws and the state Search and Seizure Act which had been invoked by State Attorney General Edward Brundage back in July of 1919. Brundage’s narrow interpretation of the law had shut down the sale of beer and booze in Chicago six months before National Prohibition actually took effect.
On February 20, 1933, Congress passed the repeal of the National Prohibition Amendment and submitted its final approval to the states for ratification. In Springfield, Governor Horner presided at a meeting of state senators and representatives and agreed to a June 5 election for a state convention to decide if Illinois delegates would vote for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. With the anticipated results of the state convention being in favor of Repeal, the resumption of the manufacturing, transportation and sale of beer in Illinois was eminent. Horner confirmed this when he indicated his readiness to sign the necessary bills invoking revocation of the Search and Seizure Act and the state prohibition laws as soon as they came to his desk.
On March 13, President Roosevelt used the bully pulpit of his office to formally recommend to Congress a looser interpretation of the Volstead Act, which limited alcohol in beer to one-half of one percent. “I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer…” Upon hearing Roosevelt’s recommendation, Governor Horner signed the bill repealing the two State of Illinois dry enforcement laws, now leaving the enforcement of National Prohibition to the federal government.
Finally, on March 21, 1933, the United States House of Representatives completed action on the Cullen-Harrison bill, permitting the resumption of the manufacture and sale of 3.2% beer and light wines in those states that were now legally considered wet. The next morning, President Roosevelt was scheduled to sign the bill, but a bureaucratic mix up postponed his signing until March 23.
In the meantime, Roosevelt talked of a possible amnesty for violators imprisoned for the manufacturing and sale of beer up to an alcoholic content of 3.2% by weight. In Illinois, there were 3,380 incarcerated federal Prohibition offenders. Roosevelt’s sentiments were perhaps more economic in scope than benevolent. The release of Illinois Prohibition violators, along with the release of similar offenders throughout the United States, would save the federal government millions of badly needed dollars. The President’s amnesty proposal was held by Congress for consideration. With a fifteen day wait required after Roosevelt’s signature, 3.2% beer would again be available on April 7 in nineteen states that had removed their dry laws. Wet advocates cheerfully anticipated that an additional fifteen states would soon join these wet states.
One day after Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison bill, the Justice Department quietly announced that it was dropping its National Prohibition exhibit at Chicago’s A Century of Progress. No reason was given; for Chicagoans, no reason was needed.
New Retail Outlets For Beer
As Chicago prepared for the resumption of legal beer, local issues of home rule, licensing, taxation and dispensing unfolded, especially after the wording of the congressional beer bill declared 3.2% beer as non-intoxicating, a legal technicality needed to nullify the alcoholic restrictions of the Volstead Act. With this ruling by Congress, and concurrence of federal opinion by Illinois Attorney General Otto Kerner, Chicago’s saloons would no longer hold domain over the retail sale of beer as they had done before Prohibition. As a non-intoxicant, beer could now be available in such places as grocery stores and drug stores, even Ma and Pa corner stores. In a meeting of city officials, lawyers advised acting Mayor Corr and key city alderman that simply the repeal of the Illinois prohibition law did not revive the old liquor laws. As a result, the sale of this 3.2%, non-intoxicating beer, now having fallen into the same category as soda water or ginger ale, would be unregulated in off-premise sites unless the Chicago City Council and Springfield acted quickly to correct this unexpected legal quirk.
The City Gets Ready For 3.2% Beer
Unfazed by the political logistics of the resumption of beer, local old time beer establishments made ready. At the Berghoff on West Adams, eighty-year old Herman J. Berghoff proudly displayed Beer Retail License Number 1, issued by the City Collector’s Office for the serving of beer at his famous bar. Installed in 1897, the Berghoff’s wood inlaid bar from Amsterdam, which still serves as the focal point of this Chicago landmark, was made ready for business. In pre-Prohibition days, Berghoff had estimated that he sold as high as forty-two barrels of beer a day. Anticipated demand for the golden nectar seemed just as positive.
At the Righeimer bar on North Clark, Acting Mayor Corr and a host of local politicos rededicated the establishment’s famous 100 foot bar. Corr had been thrust into this position after Mayor Cermak had been shot by a crazed assassin while meeting with President Roosevelt in Miami, Florida. Sadly, the man who represented the local wet interests for so long died just weeks before he could see the return of beer to the city and nation.
Clerks at the City Collector’s office worked overtime to take care of the rush of new applicants for beer licenses. Unexplainably, the City Council had already passed the required ordinance providing for the $150 licensing fee for saloonkeepers in December, 1932, four months before legal beer would flow again in Chicago. Seven hundred and forty-one saloonkeepers had actually paid the fee for the first half of the year even though they were in violation of state and federal dry laws. The Chicago City Council tried unsuccessfully to pull off a similar revenue enhancing stunt back in 1929. At the time, there was a movement afoot in the council to license the 5000 bartenders whom regularly poured illegal drink for thirsty Chicagoans. With a $10 annual fee, it would have meant an additional $50,000 income to the financially desperate city. Referred to committee for further study, the idea was abruptly dropped from the council agenda when someone mentioned that National Prohibition was still in effect. It would be hard to license bartenders when, in theory, there were no bars. By April 7, more than 2600 bars were legally licensed to sell beer, a dramatic drop from the over 7000 licensed bars of pre-Prohibition days.
City breweries began a hiring spree of several hundred with promises of an additional hiring of one thousand more men and women by April 7, as the bottling of beer in Chicago began on March 25. At the Schoenhofen Company, two eight-hour shifts began a daily regime of filling 14,000 cases of beer a day. The politically connected Atlas Brewing Company, granted the first license to resume the brewing of real beer in the Northern District, including neighboring Milwaukee, began plans to bottle 20 to 25 thousand cases a day. Realizing that they’d probably never fill all their outstanding orders by April 7, even with a planned hiring of 200 to 300 more employees, Atlas President Charles Vopicka ordered outdoor posters to be printed for distribution throughout the city during the early morning hours of New Beer’s Eve. Under a picture of a smiling Uncle Sam hoisting a beer, the posters asked for the indulgence of any customers who had not yet received their promised beer delivery. At the Prima Company, management estimated that they would soon begin the bottling of over 3,000,000 bottles of beer a day. The brewery had recently been expanded to a 500,000 barrel capacity in anticipation of Repeal. Employees of the United States Brewing Company on North Elston decorated the exterior of the plant with flags and bunting. A picture of Franklin Roosevelt hung above the entrance of the brewery, edifying the man who represented Repeal to the grateful brewing industry. Coopers readied thousands of new wooden barrels, as did bottle makers their containers, for delivery to breweries. Fifteen hundred beer delivery trucks were prepped for the big night, supplemented by moving vans, milk wagons and coal trucks. Federal inspectors started to make the rounds of Chicago’s seven licensed breweries, measuring the aging tanks, also used for the computation of federal tax due. A final industry estimate, days before the resumption of beer in Chicago, figured that approximately 15,000 men and women had found work in breweries and related industries in Chicago. A heady sense of festivity was settling over Chicago.
There was, however, a sobering note to all the gaiety at the breweries. District police captains quietly placed guards at all the breweries to discourage any possible attempts at hijacking when the trucks finally rolled out for deliveries.
When’s The Party Begin?
In an amusing misunderstanding prior to the big event, E. C. Yellowley, head of the Prohibition Department in Chicago, ruled that the local delivery of beer could begin at 11:01 P. M. on April 6, which would correspond to 12:01 A.M., April 7 in Washington, D. C. Yellowley’s interpretation of the commencement time though, was clarified by United States Attorney General Cummings who ruled that legal beer deliveries would begin at 12:01 A. M. in each respective time zone.
Illinois House Representative Fred A. Britten thought he had a better idea on when beer deliveries should begin in Chicago. In a telephone conversation to the Attorney General, Britten suggested that the commencement time for the serving of legal beer would better serve Chicagoans interests if it began as early as 10:00 P. M., April 6. When Cummings reminded the imploring state representative that federal law distinctly stated that beer deliveries could only begin at 12:01 A. M., April 7, Britten in an amazing display of political chutzpah, suggested a solution to that little time problem. “Chicago will set all the clocks ahead two hours at 10:00 P. M.“, he explained to the skeptical Attorney General. “The City Council will pass the ordinance,” he assured Cummings. To emphasize the seriousness of his request and the careful planning he was ready to carry through to get fresh beer to thirsty Chicagoans, Britten added this assurance to his request. “The trucks will leave the breweries at 10 with all streets cleared and motorcycle squads as escorts.” The U. S. Attorney General could not be persuaded to allow Britten to implement his bizarre plan.
12:01 A. M. ?
As New Beer’s Eve moved closer to reality in Chicago, the Chicago Hotel Association started to put pressure on the brewers and the local hotels, urging the hotel owners and managers not to take delivery of beer until 7 o’ clock Friday morning, hours after beer could legally be sold in the city. John Burke, president of the association and manager of the Congress Hotel expressed his concerns that a wild night of revelry in Chicago might endanger future repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, which still needed to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of all the states. “We feel that we should be careful not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg” he emphasized, and added that the anticipated celebration “…might give a black eye to things at the very beginning,” a very real concern.
Hilmar Ernst, president of the Prima Company and the Illinois Brewers’ Association, brushed off Burke’s criticism. The problem, if there was one, he noted, was a problem for the hotel men, not the brewers. “Even if the hotels want to begin selling at 9 or 10 in the morning, we’ll have to start delivering at midnight to get them supplied. Our brewery alone now has orders calling for the immediate delivery of between 200,000 and 300,000 cases and there will be a lot more by the 7th.” Ernst failed to mention that local breweries had also collected over $2,000,000 in deposits and guaranteed delivery. The I.B.A. president pointed out that the hotels were placing the biggest orders. Worried that delaying the sale of beer until the morning would cut hotel owners out of the huge volume of beer sales that was anticipated, Burke and his concerns were pushed aside by hotel owners and managers. Even a Chicago Tribune suggestion in favor of later day deliveries was ignored by the brewers. “The public demands it (beer) at once,” sighed Anton Laadt, general manager of the Atlas Brewing Company.
W-G-N radio, anticipating the wild night ahead and the historical significance of it all, scheduled special programming throughout Thursday evening and Friday morning to broadcast from the Atlas Brewing Company at 21st and Blue Island. Radio personality Quinn Ryan was scheduled to give an on-site description of the beer manufacturing process straight through to the loading of the beer on to the waiting trucks ready for delivery. The brewery was preparing for delivery of 2,000 barrels and 100,000 cases of beer to retailers on the first night. Additional off-site radio pickups from the Palmer House and the Blackhawk Restaurant would allow at home celebrants to join in Chicago’s New Beer’s Eve festivities. CBS Radio Network arranged a radio hookup to broadcast the festivities in the Midwest’s most important brewing centers of Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis.
A Warning From The City
Because of the quickness of the reinstitution of 3.2% beer and the time consuming efforts needed to debate, write and implement new legislation, the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois discovered that they currently had no regulations on their books to legislate the sale of the soon to be legal beer. The City Council urged Chicagoans to behave themselves during the celebration and warned hoteliers and would be beer retailers that the Council’s course of action on the eventual regulation of beer would be determined by how well the retailers conducted themselves in the first few weeks of beer sales. In some Loop hotels, cards and table tents were prepared for placement in their dining rooms, informing patrons that hotel management was forbidden by federal statue to provide ice, glasses or ginger ale while the customers awaited the serving of beer at 12:01 A. M. It was a little white lie, but hotels feared that celebrants, using hotel provided set-ups, might mix them with bootleg liquor, causing their establishments to be shut down by snooping police or federal agents. Particular attention was to be paid by Chicago police to the more famous Prohibition-era night spots. Clubs like the Frolics, the Chez Paree, Follies Bergere, Vanity Fair and the Green Mill along with the College Inn and the Terrace Garden were warned to be on their best behavior.
Throughout the mix of confusion and anticipation, there seemed to be a sense of serenity coupled with the festivity of the upcoming big event. No one really anticipated any trouble. “Why shouldn’t there be a little celebration?” a night club manager was quoted as saying. “Doesn’t the country need to add a little gaiety to it’s gloom, and is there a better time than right after the legal restriction is first lifted to see whether 3.2 beer can be trusted to add to it?” State’s Attorney Courtney added to the beery mellowness of the moment saying that he expected no trouble.
Jacob Rupert, New York brewer and President of the United States Brewers’ Association wasn’t so sure and recommended that Chicago’s breweries delay their shipments until the late morning. The local brewers cried that they would be swamped by back orders if they waited until morning and continued with their plans for a 12:01 A. M. delivery time.
Beer And Food
Absent from the local papers for years, ads for the Berghoff Brewing Company of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, reappeared in the Chicago Tribune. In a back handed reference to Milwaukee’s Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company, the Berghoff advertised it’s beer as “The Beer that made itself Famous”. Long forgotten ads for Schoenhofen’s “Good Old Edelweiss” and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, “The Old Favorite”, started popping up in the Chicago papers. In a matter of days, beer began a metamorphosis in the city papers, changing from an Old World German concoction, an intoxicating product of the “brewery interests” as it was sinisterly portrayed in years past, into a refreshing family staple that Mom could now add to her weekly grocery list.
“…Profitable beer merchandising will take into account the successful adaptation of food sales strategy…” advised Modern Brewery Age, an industry trade publication. Local stores took heed. As if overnight, beer joined hands with food and, as a result of this marriage of retail convenience, finally became the drink of moderation.
The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) heralded the arrival of real beer to their local stores. To accompany the customer’s supply of beer for the week-end, the A&P ads listed Grandmother’s Rye Bread, liver sausage, butter pretzels, kippered herring and Spanish salted peanuts. It was everything a Chicago family needed to “…make it a gala week-end—right in your own home.” Hillman’s reminded the shopper that they, too, would be carrying beer, “…And Don’t Forget the Accessories!” which included Limburger cheese and frankfurters. Loblaw-Jewel proclaimed that they had “BEER at its best!” The Mandel Brothers department store on State Street rushed to open a new shop called The Tavern, equipped to sell beer steins, six favorite brands of beer and all the foods that go with them. The store’s Men’s Grill Room quickly converted half of the shop to replicate a German beer garden. The Walgreen drug store chain announced that it had also made arrangements with local breweries for a limited supply of bottled beer to be placed on shelves for sale at their outlets. On April 7, their featured daily luncheon special was a roast beef sandwich and a bottle of beer for a quarter, beer now available at their soda fountain counter. Sales later that day were reported as “phenomenal”.
On the North Side, a new pretzel company opened to meet expected demand. Pretzels were becoming big business in the city. One snack food plant manager described the industry’s reaction to legal beer. “We…are ready to turn out pretzels by the billion.” Even the local press got in on the food and beer relationship. Mary Meade’s food column in the Chicago Tribune suggested making a Rye Bread Torte with dark bread leftover from “your beer party,” and discussed how pretzels were now back in style. Chicago families were getting ready for beer and a new classification of food, beer snacks.
New Beer’s Eve
At 12:01 A. M., Friday morning, April 7, 1933, the drinking light was turned on in Chicago and legal, “democratic beer” was reintroduced to the public. With cheers for President Roosevelt ringing through the air, Prohibition agents and city police, supplemented with Brink’s bank guards, allowed the brewery trucks to leave the plants and make their deliveries. Things got off to an embarrassing start near the Atlas Brewing Company. Acting Mayor Frank Corr, Atlas President Charles Vopika, Coroner Frank Walsh and a host of other Democratic Party hacks and functionaries had gathered at the Iroquois Club at 11 P. M. where the guests had been assured that legal beer would be served an hour before the official deadline. They were forced, however, to wait with the rest of Chicago’s eager beer drinkers until beer was finally delivered to the Iroquois and tapped for serving at 12:15 A. M. To their delight, and to the delight of thousands in the city, the beer was conveniently delivered cold from the brewery, saving the valuable time the pre-Prohibition retailer usually needed to ice it down. After a beer or two, acting Mayor Corr stepped before the W-G-N Radio microphone and hailed beer as a hope for prosperity. Atlas Brewing Company President Charles Vopika next came forward and proudly announced that the first case of bottled beer from his brewery was on it’s way by airplane to President Roosevelt in Washington, D. C.
Delays were worse at the Schoenhofen Company. Soon after midnight, trucks and cars were stretched over a mile as crews loaded the beer as quickly as possible. At the Prima Company, management had scrambled to hire an additional 300 extra trucks for city and county deliveries and had charted an entire train to brazenly get some deliveries into Milwaukee and Minnesota that week end. Escorted by motorcycle policemen, the delivery truck caravan slowly moved from the front gates of the Prima Company and through the celebrating crowd as it cautiously headed eastward towards Halsted Street. The police escorts had been requested of Police Commissioner Allman by the owners of all the city breweries that continued to fear the real possibility of hijacking during the early morning hours.
Milwaukee brewers were also ready for the Chicago market. At the Brevoort Hotel, forty cases of Miller High Life beer arrived at 1:30 A. M. after being flown in from the Cream City. The Premier Pabst Corporation, consisting of the Pabst Brewing Company and the Premier Malting Company of Peoria, had a fleet of 100 trucks being readied at their docks in Milwaukee for eventual delivery of their beer to Chicago.
Three of Chicago’s licensed breweries were left in the lurch, unable to take full advantage of New Beer’s Eve. The Bosworth Products Company was in the process of a $75,000 plant renovation and company reorganization, soon to be known as the Atlantic Brewing Company. The Frank McDermott Brewing Company had a comparatively small inventory of its Senate Extra Pale on hand and shipped 15,000 cases and 800 barrels on the first night. Two thousand Bridgeport residents patiently waited outside the brewery hoping to make case purchases. The Monarch Brewing Company showed similar small numbers for available inventory.
In The Loop
Downtown, things were festive but controlled. On North Clark, crowds from Manny Goodman’s spilled out on to the street as other beer lovers fought their way in. In the alley behind the Bismarck Hotel, a throng of one thousand made it difficult for a beer delivery truck to make it’s first drop off of twenty barrels. When the truck finally backed into the loading dock, attendants quickly grabbed six barrels and rolled them in to the hotel for the thirsty celebrants. At the Brevoort Hotel, revelers still crowded the famous round bar at 5 A. M. State Street, on the other hand, was comparatively quiet. Malachy N. Harney, Prohibition Administrator thought he knew why. “Experienced beer drinkers will wait until tonight (Friday) or Saturday night to try the new product. They know that beer just freshly delivered is ‘angry’ from the bouncing it gets. They’ll wait until it has had a day or two to cool and settle before sampling.”
Agent Harney was obviously an out-of-towner who didn’t understand thirsty Chicagoans.
One of the most noticeable features of the Loop crowd was the large number of young females whom were joining in the celebration. Operators of the Hotel Sherman, the Brevoort Hotel and other “MEN ONLY” watering holes had prepared themselves for this intrusion. “What can we do about it? bemoaned James Galbaugh of the Brevoort. “If the ladies insist on coming in-and I suppose they will-we can’t put them out.” Waving beer bottles or hoisting heavy steins, their appearances in bars and clubs were a far cry from the restrictive traditions of the pre-Prohibition era. At that time, women were seldom seen in saloons. If so, they were always accompanied by their husbands and routinely hustled in through the family entrance, usually located on the side of the saloon. An unescorted women in a drinking establishment was normally considered a working girl, whether she was one or not, trying to drum up some needed business.
National Prohibition and 20,000 speakeasies had, in many ways, liberated Chicago’s women. The next day, an older lady, accompanied by her daughter, was overheard describing her feelings towards women and public drinking. As the two generations of women sat at a drug store counter, the younger girl brazenly ordered a beer and goaded her mother to order one, but the older woman refused. “I can’t get used to women drinking in public. In my day, a lady averted her eyes if she had to pass a saloon.” Her next comment was revealing. “I remember how I longed to look inside those swinging doors,” she admitted. And now, in the midst of New Beer’s Eve, women in Chicago were not only looking in, they were pushing their way to the bar, ordering beer along side the men.
But at the Berghoff Restaurant, the bar would remain an all-male enclave that night and would continue to enforce this policy until 1969 when the National Organization for Women finally forced the integration of the sexes at the bar. But on this night, Herman Berghoff’s vow that “ladies will not be seated at the bar” held firm for another thirty-six years.
At The Speakeasies
Despite pressure from mob beer drummers, many of the speakeasies curtailed further ordering of bootlegged draft beer, and as a result, ran out by April 5. Those speaks that still held a small draft supply continued to sell at the inflated price of 25 cents a stein even though the barrel price had dropped significantly. At 12:01 A.M., however, the stein price quickly dropped to 10 to 15 cents, the competition of the lower priced legal beer having it’s effect. Canadian bottled beer was also plentiful and dropped in price from $1 per bottle to 50 cents as owners hurried to unload their illegal inventory.
With the return of legal beer, some speakeasy owners began to cautiously remove the iron bars from their doors and windows, openly displaying bottles of whisky and gin on the back bar to anyone who now freely entered their premises. Even with its open availability, most owners reported little call for the harder stuff. Anticipating late deliveries of legal beer as the breweries serviced the licensed, legitimate establishments first, most speakeasy owners placed duplicate orders with three and four breweries, hoping to get at least one beer shipment in before the last of the wildcat and needled brew ran out. But as one delivery quickly followed another, a number of the speakeasies actually had more beer on hand than they could use. The situation would rectify itself by the next day.
Back At The Breweries
The principal areas of confusion and celebration were around the breweries themselves. In the streets adjacent to the breweries, cars were lined up, waiting to get to the loading docks for cases, half barrels or even the unwieldy 31 gallon barrels of beer. Some local breweries reported that delivery trucks were still waiting in line to be loaded with beer as late as 5 o’clock in the morning. Police later confirmed that they spent most of their time just trying to untangle the traffic jams around the breweries which began around 9 P. M., having few other problems throughout the rest of the city.
Supplies Start Running Short
In the early morning of April 7, as the sun broke over Lake Michigan, Chicago was still en fete. The local breweries were now operating on a 24 hour basis, exhausting workers who were putting in double and triple shifts, trying to keep up with mounting back orders. Between two and five o’ clock in the afternoon, frantic requests for beer tied up local phone lines, making it impossible to reach any of the breweries with additional orders.
In Mandel’s new Tavern Room, a lack of sufficient waitresses caused a minor ruckus when they couldn’t keep up with the initial round of orders. Store detectives were quickly called in to retain order. The Tavern Room manager wisely placed the first round on the house and pulled store personnel from other departments to handle the demanding crowd. Those satisfied beer drinkers who eventually wandered outside were treated to the sight of six, one-ton champion Clydesdales from Anheuser-Busch pulling a bright red beer wagon through the Loop. A-B owner, August Busch, had big plans for
Joe Durbin, editor of Brewery Age had earlier estimated that there would be enough beer on hand for the initial celebration to provide every Chicagoan with 35 steins of beer. But unrelenting demand for legal beer soon outstripped supply. The shelves at A & P, National Tea and Kroger-Consumer stores were stripped of beer before noon. Ecstatic store representatives added that sales of food now referred to as “beer snacks”, were the biggest of any day in the history of their chain grocery stores, with the greatest demand being for rye bread, pretzels, cheese and sausage. Hillman’s and other grocery stores reported similar sales. A local cheese wholesaler later accounted that city-wide demand for Swiss, Brie and American cheese had been record breaking.
At the Bismarck Hotel, 20 barrels of fresh beer were emptied between 12:30 A. M. and 2 A. M. Perhaps overreacting to the initial rush, Bismarck Hotel officials announced later that morning that 50 barrels of beer would now be part of their normal inventory. The Berghoff took stock of last night’s business to find that they had rolled out an unbelievable 81 barrels of beer since 12:01 A.M.
Where Did All The Beer Come From?
Even with the overwhelming demand, prices for beer remained stable. An eight-ounce glass was selling for ten cents, a twelve-ounce stein for ten to fifteen cents. Cases ran between $2.30 to $2.90. But by the end of the second day of sales, questions were arising as to the quality of the legal brew. After years of drinking needle beer with an alcoholic strength of around 7%, some neighborhood beer connoisseurs complained that the new beer didn’t quite have the taste or jolt of illegal brew, an opinion that city officials concurred with. Reports from chemists working under Dr. Herman N. Bundesen, President of the City Board of Health, revealed that veteran Prohibition-era beer drinkers, unhappy with the taste and strength of the legal beer, were probably correct in their criticisms. Even comparative analysis of recently seized home brew indicated that homebrewers were surpassing the 3.2% alcohol limit.
Doctor Robert Wahl, head of the Wahl Institute, explained that his laboratory was in the process of checking the new beer for taste, effervescence and clarity. Because of the higher alcoholic content that is normally found in darker beers such as a Kulmbacher or Muenchener, Wahl advised that Americans would have to be content with the pale or Pilsner type beers. He noted that research was being conducted at the Institute to develop a dark, flavorful beer that would be under the legal alcoholic content of 3.2% by weight, 4% by volume. In developing such a beer, Wahl mentioned how important it was for the beer to have what the Germans call “suffigkeit”. A beer has “suffigkeit” explained Wahl, “when you can drink it all afternoon and still not have enough.” Less filling, taste great?
Wahl later reported that his tests had indicated that the new beer was indeed disappointing. Out of ten beers analyzed in his laboratory, Wahl deemed only three to be of good quality.
His assessment of the new beer was immediately challenged by local braumeisters. Brewers William Faude of Schoenhofen and Charles Ellman of Atlas proclaimed their beer better than pre-Prohibition beer. “Prohibition taught us how to make beer,” Ellman argued. “When you are selling a beverage for its taste only, and not for a kick, you must strive for perfection. It’s hard to make a drink out of nothing, but the brewers did it!” Looking back at the fact that most of the near beer that left the Chicago breweries was eventually needled with alcohol, Ellman’s argument fell short of local reality. Federal Chemist John W. Fonner, in making his analysis of possible violators of the 3.2% limit, found that none of the beers he tested exceeded the legal limit for alcoholic content; on the contrary, most were well under it. Fonner speculated that some of the brewers might have been overly cautious in brewing the new beer, some of which tested at a low of 2.48%. Fred D. L. Squires, Research Secretary for the American Business Men’s Prohibition Foundation, agreed with Fonner’s analysis of the new beer. “We had forty investigators out (testing) with ebullimeters’” said Squires. His findings concluded that the new beer was “…a mere froth, running as low as 2.6 per cent alcohol by weight.”
A more probable cause as to why the tested beer failed to meet the maximum legal alcoholic content was the fact that the beer now available had been brewed under the old Prohibition formula for near beer. This opinion made more sense. Why brew a full-bodied beer with choice ingredients only to have it dealcoholized? This would explain how the brewers had hundreds of thousands of cases of beer ready for sale in such a short period of time. After all, old-time local brewers had been stating for decades that their beer required two months for lagering purposes. Despite the loud protests of local brewers, Chicagoans were getting a weakened version of the kind of beer they had drunk before Prohibition. City brewers continued to insist that their beer was up to government standards but week-end arrest for drunkenness indicated otherwise. Police records showed only 63 persons were charged with drunkenness on Saturday night in Chicago. This was about one-third of the normal arrest figures during a typical Prohibition-era week-end.
August A. Busch’s prediction of a greatly increased cash flow to the coffers of the federal government proved true. For the first day of nationwide beer sales, it was estimated that the federal tax for beer would bring in $7,500,000 to the United States Treasury. The Federal Government, anxious to grab its share of this new source of revenue had placed a $1000 a year federal license fee on each brewery and a $5 excise tax on every barrel of beer that left the breweries for delivery.
In just forty-eight hours, $25,000,000 had been pumped into various beer-related trades as diverse as bottling manufacturers to the sawdust wholesalers whose product lay strewn on the floors of saloons. In Chicago, early estimates placed the retail sale of beer at close to $4,000,000. Even the non-beer related State Street department stores enjoyed a sales boon as store owners recorded the greatest spending spree since the stock market collapse and the beginning of the Depression. Downtown hotels were forced to turn away potential guests as rooms were booked as quickly as they became available. Nonetheless, revelers from out of town and the far reaches of the city continued to migrate to the Loop for the beer drinkathon.