Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’
Posted by Bob Skilnik on January 21, 2009
Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 6, 2008
Well, December 5 has come and gone, but the romanticizing of pre-Prohibition beer continues. I’ve included a chapter from Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago that explains the national events leading up to January 16, 1920 and the state of beers during this time. As you’ll read, these beers were NOT the romanticized pre-Prohibition “craft” beers that some wax nostagically about.
While the brewers and their allies in Chicago battled with the almost fanatical strength and determination of local prohibitionists, national and international events were occurring that would take the matter of prohibition to Washington and out of the hands of local officials.
By the end of 1916, there were 23 dry states with prohibition laws on their books. With the well financed congressional lobbying efforts of the Anti-Saloon League and the U.S.A.’s declaration of war with Germany on April 6, 1917, the campaign for national prohibition became interwoven with President Woodrow Wilson’s institution of a wartime food control bill.
In 1917, Wayne Wheeler and the Anti-Saloon League lobbied to attach a provision to Wilson’s food bill that would make it illegal to use any food material in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages, except for scientific, medicinal or sacramental purposes. Wet Senators promptly threatened to filibuster the bill. A compromise was eventually reached that took beer and wine out of the prohibition clause of the food control bill but gave the President the discretion to later limit or stop the manufacture of beer or wine as he saw fit. The compromise bill was passed on August 10, 1917. As mandated by a rider attached to the compromised food bill, the production of distilled alcohol ceased on September 8, although sales of the remaining stock of ardent spirits could legally continue.
Most threatening to the nation’s brewers was a Senate resolution for a constitutional prohibition amendment that had passed weeks earlier on August 1. With the passage of the resolution, the necessary time for state legislators to ratify the constitutional amendment, which had been originally limited to five years, was compromised to six, avoiding a threatened wet filibuster but giving the League more time to marshal their forces. If ratified by Congress, the liquor industry would be given one year to close and dispose of its’ bonded stock. In exchange for this one year grace period, the House of Representatives pushed through the Webb Resolution on December 17, which further extended the time for ratification of the constitutional prohibition amendment to seven years, allowing considerable time for the Anti-Saloon League to influence the decisions of the legislative representatives of the remaining wet states.
On December 11, 1917, Wilson exercised his authority to further reduce the amount of permissible food materials used for the manufacture of beer by thirty-percent and limited it’s legal alcoholic content to a paltry 2 3/4% by weight.
On November 21, 1918, ten days after the Armistice, Congress passed a wartime prohibition bill as a rider to the Food Stimulation Act. This bill was to take effect the following year but the Federal Food Administration used it’s authority to order the cessation of brewing nine days after the wartime prohibition bill was passed. Preparing for the cessation of brewing in Chicago, local breweries began to produce all the beer they possibly could before the cutoff date of December 1, 1918. A scarcity of grains and the resultant closing of some plants in order to economize made the challenge of this new post-war measure difficult for the industry to respond to in such a short period of time.
Beginning on December 1, Chicago brewers used the down time after the imposed brewing stoppage to continue to bottle, keg and sell whatever stock was still on hand. There was also a rotated layoff of the 7,500 employed by the local industry. In this manner, the local brewers hoped that they would be able to quickly recommence the brewing of beer if given the President’s approval. With the brewing moratorium in effect and no hope for a quick resumption of production, Chicago Brewers’ Association President William Legner estimated that the country’s dwindling supply of beer would run out by May 1, 1919.
The German Brewers And World War I
The German and German-American brewers were not prepared to challenge the dictates of Washington after the declaration of war against Germany. Anti-German hysteria had already gripped Chicago, not only with the nodding approval of the local Anti-Saloon League, but also because of the questionable actions of some German-American organizations. When hostilities in Europe commenced in 1914, the United States Brewers’ Association began funneling money to the National German-American Alliance, headquartered in Chicago. But as the U.S. moved from a neutral to a more proactive stance, the USBA continued to maintain their fraternal ties with pro-German organizations. The Alliance used the funds, in part, to send out press releases that were pro-German in tone.
As public opinion turned against “hyphenated Americans,” including the highly visible German-American brewers, Mayor Thompson, at the time courting the favor of Chicago’s German-American voters, caused additional problems for the local German community. His refusal to support the early national Liberty Loan efforts or to assume the role of local draft chairman, infuriated many patriotic Chicagoans and earned him the name of “Kaiser Bill”. In an effort to calm down some of the local anti-German bias and prove their loyalty to the U.S., Chicago brewers and members of affiliated trades and businesses later subscribed about $1,400,000 to the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign. Through the efforts of the Manufacturers’ and Dealers Association of Chicago, brewers distributed several hundred thousand copies of the Appeal by American Brewers to the American People, which attempted to repudiate charges that the brewers were pro-German. These efforts proved ineffectual as wartime Chicago developed a siege mentality.
In late 1918, A. Mitchell Palmer, who held the federal position of Custodian of Alien Property, began an investigation of the Schoenhofen Brewery and its owners because of the family’s close ties to friends and relatives in Germany. The World War I Office of Alien Property Custodian had been created by an Executive Order on October 12, 1917. The Trading With The Enemy Act of October 6, 1917, had already authorized Palmer to assume control and dispose of enemy owned property in the United States. Instigated by the Anti-Saloon League’s Wayne Wheeler, federal agents seized the corporate and trust files of the brewery. Title to the brewery property was then placed in the control of the federal government in order to prevent the possible use of the company assets by enemy aliens against the United States. German owners of breweries throughout the U.S. suffered similar federal actions. Palmer eventually controlled $506 million of German owned trusts, including the Schoenhofen’s. Ironically, Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, whose failed attempt to kill Hitler at his Wolf’s Lair in Eastern Prussia in 1944 would lead to his own death, was purported to have been a descendant of Peter Schoenhofen, founder of the Chicago brewery.
Ratification Of The Eighteenth Amendment
After appeals to the beer drinking public and failed legislative efforts by the brewers to resume brewing, the fate of the drink industry was sealed on January 16, 1919, with the shockingly quick ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment by the constitutionally required thirty-sixth state. One year later, the entire country would fall under National Prohibition. The Illinois Legislature had already followed suit with twenty-eight other dry states and ratified the National Prohibition Amendment, the Senate on January 8, with a vote of 30 to 15, the House by a vote of 84 to 66 on January 14.
But Springfield was not Chicago. Provisions of the wartime prohibition bill, passed in 1918, pushed the last date for the legal retail sale of beer and liquor further back to June 30, 1919. Brewers, distillers and saloonkeepers still held out hope that President Wilson would revoke the wartime prohibition bill and give them until January of 1920 to put their affairs in order, as agreed upon in the Eighteenth Amendment. The Armistice had been signed on November 11, 1918; as far as the brewers were concerned, the wartime prohibition bill was void. Prohibitionists countered that the war could not be considered over until demobilization of the European Expeditionary Forces was complete, a process that could last six months or more.
In Chicago, Deputy City Collector George F. Lohman estimated that the abrupt loss in city revenue from brewery and saloon licensing and permit fees would exceed $8,000,000 per year should the saloons be forced to close. He also took note of the additional loss to real estate owners of useless saloon sites after the closings, speculating that the financial blow to them would be ten times greater than the loss to the city from liquor license fees. It was a loss that would heavily impact local brewers since they owned a significant portion of the Chicago saloons.
A local Anti-Salooner official naively suggested that raising taxes to cover the $8,000,000 revenue deficit could easily be avoided by simply reducing expenses in all city departments. A Chicago Tribune editorial, however, demanded a quick revision of taxes to make up the huge deficit. Acknowledging the cost of politics in Chicago and a need for municipal belt tightening, the paper also suggested a realistic percentage of the needed money be allocated for the waste of funds that flowed through Mayor Thompson’s executive departments.
While brewers’ and distillers’ representatives continued to challenge the wartime prohibition bill and the National Prohibition Amendment in Washington, stocks of beer in Chicago were becoming scarce. By February of 1919, barrel prices had risen to $17, reflecting the dwindling supply.
With prohibition fever sweeping the nation, Anti-Saloon and Chicago Dry Federation forces successfully managed to include the issue of making Chicago a possible dry territory on the April mayoral ticket, months before National Prohibition would take effect. It had been an uphill battle for dry forces to include such a symbolic issue for city-wide vote, culminating with a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court that the question had to be included in the April, 1919 election. But the results of the referendum clearly demonstrated the present and future attitude of a majority of Chicagoans and their insistence on the right to drink. Wets won the issue by a majority of 247,228 votes, 266,529 men and 124,731 women voting against Chicago prohibition. Had there been a dry victory, local saloons would have been compelled to close their doors on May 1, in compliance with Illinois state law, fostered by local option.
Chicago Wet And Dry Vote By Wards For 1919
Ward Dry Wet Wet
Votes Votes Majority
1 1,024 7,792 6,768
2 3,188 12,826 9,638
3 6,087 11,980 5,893
4 873 13,907 2,806
5 2,203 9,637 7,434
6 9,791 12,597 2,806
7 10,693 13,004 2,311
8 3,738 8,329 4,591
9 4,836 7,784 2,948
10 405 7,104 6,699
11 857 8,858 8,001
12 1,105 10,488 9,383
13 10,472 13,730 3,258
14 3,043 10,448 7,405
15 2,486 11,221 8,735
16 509 6,966 6,457
17 568 4,490 3,922
18 2,949 9,496 6,547
19 588 5,247 4,689
20 624 4,685 4,061
21 4,104 9,784 5,680
22 728 6,771 6,043
23 5,131 12,370 7,239
24 2,111 11,811 9,700
25 12,563 16,576 4,013
26 6,826 16,288 9,462
27 8,714 19,865 11,151
28 3,531 10,651 7,120
29 3,026 13,350 10,324
30 2,094 9,033 6,939
31 4,979 12,228 7,249
32 10,145 15,160 5,015
33 9,578 17,011 7,433
34 2,280 17,141 14,679
35 6,943 18,622 11,679
_____ _____ _____
Totals 114,032 391,260 247,228[xi]
“There will be no let up until fanaticism has been completely overthrown,” vowed William Fisher, secretary of the wet Trades Union Liberty League as he reviewed the overwhelming election results. “This is the message Chicago sends to Congress.”
Congress, however, had its own agenda, something that brewers’ attorney Levy Mayer ruefully pointed out. Although the referendum had deflected the local option move to make Chicago a dry territory months before National Prohibition, its results could not stop its inevitability. Passage of the Eighteenth Amendment had been through legislative action, not by a popular mandate. “Members of the legislature and congress…have without a direct vote of the people, undertaken to amend the constitution and say to more than 100,000,000 people that they shall not drink malt, vinous or spirituous beverages of any kind, and that possession of such beverages makes their possessors felons.” Mayer then threw down this challenge to the electorate. “ I can stand it if the rest of the American people can.”
Buoyed by the results of the referendum vote and on the advice of legal counsel, Chicago brewers defiantly restarted the brewing of 2.75 % beer on May 1, following the lead of New York brewers. At this point, low alcohol small beer was better than no beer.
Hoping to influence President Wilson’s decision on extending the wartime prohibition bill’s effective date of July 1, 1919, the Chicago City Council adopted the following resolution and left no doubt as to its stance on National Prohibition;
“Whereas, In the present day of democracy the majority rules, and the city has by a vote of 300,000 at the last general election declared against a dry Chicago; and
Whereas, If demobilization is not complete before July 1 the country will go dry by presidential decree, which will, when effective, mean a property damage in Chicago of about $15,000,000, a loss of business of $25,000,000 and inability of the administration to meet the pay-roll of the police and firemen; therefore
Be it resolved by the City Council that we petition the United States Senate, Congress and President Wilson to declare the army of the United States demobilized by July 1, 1919.”
Hopefully, if Wilson acceded to the City Council’s petition and to similar demands from other municipalities that feared that a reliable cash cow was prematurely drying up, it would give local governments six more months to draw additional revenues from the local breweries and their affiliated saloons and give them a little more time to get their financial houses in order. The absoluteness of National Prohibition would still be six months away, not scheduled to take effect until January 16, 1920, but time was running short. Wilson, however, let the wartime prohibition bill and the last date for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages come into law on July 1, 1919. He offered one ray of hope to the drink interests when he stated that when “demobilization is terminated, my power to act without congressional action will be exercised.” With this ambiguous statement by Wilson of a possible short reprieve, there were predictions that saloons in states that were still wet might be back in operation by the end of August. Local brewer association president William G. Legner was wary, however, of unwarranted enthusiasm concerning the possible reopening of saloons.
Chicago Reacts To The Wartime Prohibition Bill
In Chicago, attitudes towards the up coming closing date of city saloons proved defiant, not surprising after the results of the April election. Over the back bars of many of the saloons were signs declaring, “THIS SALOON WILL BE OPEN FOR BUSINESS AFTER JULY 1.” Rumors abounded that some local brewers were so confident that the ban would be lifted before July 1, that they were not only brewing beer, despite the restrictions, but were once again brewing full strength brew.
When informed that there were strong indications that some Chicago saloons would remain open after July 1, United States District Attorney Charles F. Clyne countered that he would be forced to prosecute any violators. It was pointedly noted that Police Chief Garrity had 5000 policemen at his disposal for enforcement of the closings. As the deadline date approached, however, Garrity was away in New York. Acting as chief in Garrity’s absence, First Deputy General Superintendent of Police, John M. Alcock startled everyone by declaring that “…after midnight it is a federal question (the enforcement of saloon closings),” and indicated a reluctance to act.
In the seedier areas around Chicago’s barrel houses, the crowds of bums and hoboes grew unusually large as saloonkeepers tried to unload their stock. Huge schooners of beer dropped back to a nickel, shots of whisky from ten to twenty cents, depending on the quality. Authorities predicted a marked increase in the number of drunks who would probably apply for the cure at the healing Bridewell, Washingtonian and Keeley Institutes when the wartime prohibition law took effect.
A last minute price war took place in saloons throughout the city as retailers dumped stock. “Only two days more to shop-do your shopping now!” was a commonly-themed advertisement seen in many of the saloon windows as the deadline approached. A majority of dealers were staying open well past the 1 A.M. closing time, hoping to squeeze out the last bit of change from thirsty Chicagoans. Travelling salesmen, their satchels loaded with booze, scurried through the neighborhoods trying to entice potential customers of the necessity of buying their products now.
For the would be home brewer, small cans of Hopfen und Malz Extrakt were popping up for sale in delis and food stores. By adding water and a packet of yeast to the malted extract, the beer drinker was promised a stimulating malt beverage of at least 5% alcohol in five to seven days.
First Ward Alderman Michael Kenna’s Workingmen’s Exchange mockingly announced a series of recitations and songs on June 30 to mark the passing of John Barleycorn, including “The Old Man’s Drunk Again” and “Father, Dear Father, Come Home With Me Now.” At the Hamilton Club, a dinner dance was to be held until midnight when the body of the late John Barleycorn would be brought in by pallbearers for a solemn, but tongue-in-cheek wake. Preparations in hotels, cafes and saloons throughout the city were being made, proprietors predicting record business. When some establishments still threatened to stay open after midnight, July 1, Alderman Anton J. Cermak of the United Societies warned that those who defied the law would endanger any chance of reopening if President Wilson finally declared the Army demobilized and allowed the bars to reopen.
Good Bye To Beer
On June 30, 1919, Chicagoans celebrated like never before. Whisky and some of the more exotic mixed drinks seemed to be the drinks of choice. The reason for this was simple; Cermak declared that Chicago saloons had run out of real beer before June 30. “Two days before June 30, the last available barrel of real beer had gone from the breweries. There wasn’t a beer jag in town, unless some youngster had a make believe.”[xxii] If Cermak was correct in his sobering assessment, it would have been the second time since the hot summer of 1854 that Chicago had run out of beer. The Green Mill Garden, the Marigold Room, the Sheridan Inn and the Rainbow enjoyed record business. On the South Side, the De Luxe, the Entertainers and the Elite, were reported to be open well past midnight. An estimate that over $1,500,000 had been spent on beer and booze caused one observer of Chicago’s greatest wassailing occasion to suggest that the city motto be changed from “I Will” to “I Swill.”
The Illinois Search And Seizure Act
With a collective hangover of tens of thousands, the city slowly awoke the next day to learn that United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer had announced the night before that the manufacture and sale of beer with 2 3/4% alcohol could continue until the federal courts ruled on whether or not such beer was legally intoxicating. Recent test cases in New York had resulted in a decision to question what amount of alcohol in beer could be legally considered intoxicating. “We will proceed in an orderly fashion to establish whether intoxicating beverages proscribed by the law include those having less than 2 3/4% per cent alcohol,” advised Palmer. Until the Supreme Court ruled on a legal definition of intoxicating or until January 16, 1920, 2 3/4% beer could continue to be sold in those states that did not have dry laws on their books. Impulsively acting on Palmer’s ruling, Illinois Attorney General Edward J. Brundage initially issued a statement that the sale of beer and wine with 2 3/4% alcohol could continue in Illinois until National Prohibition took effect on January 16, 1920. In accordance with these opinions, the Chicago City Council quickly passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of temporary sixty-day liquor licenses, a move introduced by Alderman Cermak. The licenses now sold for $50 a month instead of the old cost of $83, which would have allowed the sale of hard alcohol.
Later that day, City Corporation Counsel Samuel A. Ettelson conferred with Attorney General Brundage on Palmer’s ruling. As a result of their meeting, despite no federal court rulings on the definition of what amount of alcohol in beer was legally considered intoxicating, Police Chief Garrity was instructed to arrest anyone who attempted to sell any beverage that contained more than one-half of 1 % of alcohol. Brundage now ruled that “The search and seizure act of the state of Illinois, in force and effect after July 1, 1919, defines intoxicating liquor or liquids as including all distilled spirituous, vinous, fermented, or malt liquors which contain more than one-half of 1 percent by volume of alcohol, and all alcoholic liquids, compounds, and preparations, whether proprietary, patented, or not, which are portable and are capable of or suitable for being used as a beverage.”
When reporters questioned Brundage on his reversed decision, he claimed that he had been earlier misinformed. “I was called on the telephone at my home and informed that the government had modified its provisions of the wartime prohibition act to permit sale of light beverages containing no more than 2 3/4 per cent of alcohol. I said that if this were true, it would be permissible under the Illinois law to sell such beverages here. When the full details of the federal government’s action were shown to me I immediately issued the new statement regarding the search and seizure law, which effectually prohibits the sale of anything containing more than one half of one percent of alcohol.”
With the enforcement of state law versus a yet established federal opinion, the death knoll for beer in Chicago was sounded at 6:30 P.M. July 1, 1919.
Some saloons and clubs openly defied the closing mandate. It was later reported that fanatical prohibitionist Reverend Arthur Burrage Farwell of the Chicago Law and Order League and his team of vigilant investigators had found violations of the 12 o’clock closing law on June 30. Farwell also disclosed that whiskey was seen purchased at the Dorchester at 67th and Dorchester and at the Tavern, located at 58th and State. The Reverend stayed long enough at these locations to additionally note in his report that women in all stages of undress were seen in both places.
Local Brewers Go On The Offensive
After the closings, the Chicago Brewers’ Association passed a resolution to continue to challenge not only the wartime prohibition bill but to also challenge the National Prohibition Act by hastening any test cases through the courts. What they needed was a brewer willing to act as a “victim” for a test case on the legality of manufacturing 2 3/4% beer. The procedural events leading up to a ruling had already been mapped out by the brewers and their attorneys. Industry leaders anticipated that an expected federal suit would charge a consenting brewer with a violation of the food conservation act and the selling of an intoxicating beverage. After arrest, the association’s plan called for the brewer to plead guilty and pay the fine.
On July 14, a suit was filed by District Attorney Clyne against the Stenson Brewing Company. It was charged that the brewery “did use grains and cereals in the manufacture and production of beer for beverage purposes containing as much as one-half of one percent alcoholic content by both weight and volume…” and sold the beer on July 2 to Timothy King, a saloonkeeper at 3153 Archer Avenue. Six counts were included in the suit, three for the sale of the beer and three concerning the manufacture of the beer. The Stenson brothers abruptly changed their original strategy of pleading guilty and instead argued that they were innocent of the charges, stating that the November 21, 1918 wartime prohibition bill “relates only to beer which is in fact intoxicating” and that the information used in the charges “fails to allege that the beer made or sold was in fact intoxicating.” They also argued that the wartime prohibition bill should be construed as unconstitutional and void since it was a wartime measure and that at the time of the manufacture and sale of their beer “No war affecting the United States was in progress.”
Attorney Clyne confirmed that a dozen more suits would soon be filed against the North American Brewing Company, the Hoffman Brewing Company and the Primalt Products Company, the old Independent Brewing Association. The Stenson case was the first suit of it’s kind in the United States since a criminal statute was brought into question. Both Levy Mayer, special counsel of the Chicago Brewers’ Association, and Attorney Clyne worked together on bringing the test case to the District Court and eventually to the Supreme Court, hoping to force the federal court to arrive at a definitive ruling of what percentage of alcohol was to be considered intoxicating. A demurrer filed on July 21 by attorneys for the brewers once again argued that the wartime prohibition bill was void since it was passed as a war measure, the war now over, and that the law did not fix the alcoholic content which beer might contain.
All arguments and legal challenges by brewery industry and legal representatives were ended with the passage of the Volstead Act on October 27, 1919. The Act clarified prohibition enforcement procedures and mandated a limit of 0.5 percent alcohol of any and all drink as the baseline standard for intoxicating beverages. In doing so, the Volstead Act quashed the final question of legality for National Prohibition.
Early Effects Of No Beer In Chicago
Of the forty-three city breweries operating before July 1, only sixteen had renewed their brewing licenses. It had been expected that most of the remaining twenty-seven breweries would have applied for license extensions to produce 2 ¾% beer. But now, just days into the end of the drink trade in Chicago, saloonkeepers were serving near beer, pop or numerous other non-alcoholic drinks such as Old Crowe Flavor. Of the 120 bars in the Loop, all but 16 remained open, waiting hopefully for President Wilson to declare the Army demobilized and allow a return to a whisky and real beer business. But as the saloonkeepers and brewers waited for a sign from Washington, the early effects of the state mandated search and seizure law began to cascade throughout the restaurant and hotel industry. Waiters at the downtown hotels and clubs started to bemoan their now sober customers. “I got a $1.50 in tips today,” complained one frustrated waiter at Vogelsang’s Restaurant. “Before July 1, it was a poor day when I didn’t clean up $8 to $10 in tips.” A Hotel Sherman waiter echoed his comrade’s sentiment. “The firewater sure did lubricate a man’s pocketbook. How’s a man gonna get tips on lemonade?” he asked.
Others realized the futility of it all; whether beer and booze came back briefly next week or next month, National Prohibition was just around the corner. At the famous De Jonghe’s, a soda fountain was soon installed. Workers at the Palmer House bar were following suit, converting the business into a soda fountain emporium.
In less than a week after the state search and seizure law had taken effect in Chicago, saloon owners started to complain of poor business. One drink or two of near beer or some non-alcoholic concoction was the limit for regulars whom continued to visit their old drinking haunts simply out of habit. But the habit was starting to fade. John Dunne, a saloonkeeper near the Criminal Courts building, gave all his bartenders the day off for the Fourth of July. By noon, manning the bar by himself, he sold one bottle of soda on a day that business customarily boomed. At 12:10, Dunne had enough and closed for the day. Bartenders throughout the city complained that customers didn’t loiter like they did before. After the usual rush at lunch and after work, the once busy bars were quickly deserted as near beer and soda pop failed to satisfy the cravings of patrons for something more stimulating. Once thriving saloons lay deserted save for the empty beer kegs piled next to the bar. Wooden cases still holding bottles drained of their contents and now stacked for disposal beckoned their old customers through dirty saloon windows to enjoy “A Case Of Good Judgement”, but to no avail.
Chicagoans had given the state imposed Search and Seizure Act less than one week before turning in their verdicts; prohibition, in a state or federal form, was not for them. There were those who quietly observed the reactions of thirsty Chicagoans with marked interest and heard their grumblings of “no whiskey” and “near beer” and watched the frustration and disappointment of desperate saloon owners as their livelihoods slowly collapsed. They realized that the prohibition of beer and strong drink would never satisfy the needs of a population accustomed to serious libations.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on August 26, 2008
I received an e-mail from Kevin Brown, a writer with the Ale Street News. I met Kevin a few months ago in St. Louis when we were enjoying the hospitality of St. Louis brewers at a beer dinner, the prelude to a long weekend of beer tastings and tours.
His latest article will be about great beer towns and Chicago, of course, has to be included…but why?
Posted by Bob Skilnik on August 13, 2008
CFF’s FESTIV-ALE: A Celebration of Beer
Leading the fight against cystic fibrosis, the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, along with the Young Professional Leadership Committee, will host FESTIV-ALE: A Celebration of Beer. Join us Thursday, September 25th from 6pm-7pm for the VIP reception and 7pm to 10pm for All Access at Goose Island BrewPub Wrigleyville, 3535 N. Clark – a great unofficial start to Chicago’s Oktoberfest.
The event will bring together beer enthusiasts to sample hand crafted, high end beers from over 12 of the Midwest’s finest vendors. These include Flatlander’s, Flossmoor Station, Goose Island, Gordon Biersch, Govnor’s Public House, Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, Peak Organic Brewery, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, Summit Brewery, Trumer Brauerei, Two Brothers & Walter Payton’s Roundhouse.
Tickets are $50 for regular entry and $75 for the VIP reception. Included in the ticket price are all you can eat heavy appetizers and unlimited beer tastings. This event also features silent and live auctions, Towers of Beer raffles and a live band – “The Balance”. Come out and “Cure What Ales Ya!” For more information and to purchase tickets online please go to http://www.chicagofestivale.com or call 312-236-4491 ext. 114.
This 21 and over event is hosted by the Young Professional Leadership Committee and presented by Goose Island BrewPub Wrigleyville. FESTIV-ALE still has partnerships available if your company is interested please call 312-236-4491 ext. 114.
The mission of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a nonprofit donor-supported organization, is to assure the development of the means to cure and control cystic fibrosis and to improve the quality of life for those with the disease. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States.
For further information about cystic fibrosis go to http://www.cff.org.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 19, 2008
Not having yet seen nor tasted the “Old” Schlitz-formula beer, I still managed to call the pricing of this beer in an earlier post.
“I imagine it will be priced somewhere between a higher-priced craft beer and a great quality pseudo-craft beer like Blue Moon.”
And that seems to be a problem with its sales. As one liquor store sales manger has noted, label owner Pabst has overpriced it.
Part of the problem, he said, is Pabst’s pricing. At $9.99 for a 12-pack and $5.99 for a six-pack, it’s more expensive than Budweiser, about the same as Michelob and almost as expensive as more upscale brews such as Samuel Adams. “It’s just overpriced,” he said.
And that’s a shame because you know damn well that the only other thing that could give Schlitz a push in sales would be a strong marketing and sales campaign. But this is the Pabst Brewing Co., whose sales luck with its flagship brand has been based on a non-existent ad and/or media campaign, relying instead, on nostalgia and a good mix of shallow-pocketed college kids who look at the “popular-priced (read: cheap)” beer as a God send. In the case of Schlitz, Pabst has decided to position it as an expensive “super-premium” priced beer…and still use no marketing and sales oomph behind the brand.
A few years ago, I organized 2 study groups for a marketing consultant group that was working for Pabst, trying to understand why Old Style sales were so sluggish in Chicago, where it had once ruled supreme. Old Style is another beer in the Pabst Brewing Co.’s portfolio. We came up with a couple of viable options, but many of them began with the opening phrase, “You have to throw more money at the brand,” and when anyone said this, the beer distributors in the group just sighed as their eyes rolled over.
There’s a hell of a lot of baggage behind the demise of Schlitz, detailed in my book, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago. Like Old Style before it, Schlitz was Chicago’s #1 selling beer, ignoring Budweiser’s reign as the nation’s top-selling beer. Today, it’s just another beer, unless Pabst gets serious about Schlitz and either runs a pantsload of sales, positioning the beer, or starts running a viable and long-running ad campaign.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 15, 2008
About once a year, I get an e-mail or telephone call from someone who wants to open up a brewpub or brewery in Chicago. They tell me they have all their ducks in a row…and a year or two later, nothing has happened. Some readers might recall the high hopes of a brewpub being built in the Beverly section of Chicago…and then nothing.
I’m now talking to a contractor who supposedly has ownership of a building on the Chicago register of historic buildings and additional empty land across the street. It’s on the South Side of Chicago, in Bridgeport. If you haven’t been to Bridgeport lately, the transformation has been amazing. Condos, a new business center, multi-million dollar houses…and Daley’s left, to boot. But it needs something to forever remove the stigma of being a a knuckle-dragging neighborhood of White Sox fans who hide in wait of unsuspecting Cubs fans during the annual CrossTown Classics, or whatever the hell they call the on-field clashing of the Sox vs. Cubs teams…and the subsequent stories of Cub fans being handed their heads for the trip back over Roosevelt Road.
Where was I? This guy owns a plumbing business, tells me he has the go-ahead of the local alderman, and is looking for a brewpub or brewery to work with to begin the anchoring of new businesses in the area. Like GI’s old situation, this building is located in a TIF area, so there’s a City of Chicago tax stimulus package involved. He’d rebuild the building interior to specifications if he had someone moving in and wants to build other retail shops across the street.
The old business district on 35th and Halsted has been rebuilt, there is new construction everywhere in the area, and as I remember Goose Island when it first opened, this area is much less life-threatening than GI’s neighborhood used to be. Compared to what the Halls built their business on, this area’s a paradise, a stone’s throw away from U.S. Cellular Field, I-55 and the Dan Ryan…15 minutes to The Loop.
Anyway, he’s talking about a multi-million project. He has continued to call me every 6 months or so and keeps me up-to-date on his progress. Just talked to him last Friday. Since the news came out on Monday about The Goose, and I spoke to him last Friday, it’s almost like fate has entered the arena.
Aside from the combined 26,000 sq ft on two levels, he figures the basement would add another 13,000. He’s pricing this at around $40 per sq ft or so and would adjust this for a long-term lease. What makes this nice is the fact that the the lessee could add input for whatever was needed before construction begins and not have to retro-fit around something. That and plenty of parking, a rare North Side thing. The alderman’s supposed to be a big supporter of the development. Construction begins in June.
You want a Chicago venue for Real Ale…with fracking parking to boot? Here it is, but first it needs a brewpub.
And I haven’t even talked about the development of the property across the street…
Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 10, 2008
In September of 1977, a group of Leo Burnett’s top officials met in their 10th floor conference room in the Prudential Building in Chicago to view four commercials using the resurrected gusto theme. The commercials had been put together quickly, a reaction to Schlitz’s insistence on getting something ready as soon as possible.
Burnett employees had researched their commercial ideas by taking a simple storyboard with a sketched sequence of the proposed commercials to the Woodfield Mall in nearby Schaumburg, Illinois. Passers-by were asked by the Burnett people if they understood the commercials. Because of the urgency imposed upon the advertising agency by the brewery, the Burnett people simply wanted to make sure that their initial efforts were on the right track. As a result, they did not ask for the subjects’ opinions as to whether they either liked the product or its proposed style of presentation. With assurances that the test subjects simply understood the concept of the storyboards, the four commercials went into film production.
The commercials varied from one featuring a Muhammad Ali-like boxer with a full entourage to a rugged outdoorsman with his pet mountain lion. In each of the four commercials, an off-camera voice asked the lead characters to give up their Schlitz beer for another brand. The commercials, as Richard Stanwood, at the time Burnett’s director of creative services, would later recall, were meant to be “interruptive.”
At the screening of the new commercials, the Burnett people watched as the boxer told a disembodied voice that he was going to knock him “…down for the count” for even suggesting a switch from the Schlitz label. The outdoorsman in one of the following commercials told his pet mountain lion to calm down after his choice of Schlitz beer was also challenged and snarled back to the animal, “Just a minute, babe. I’ll handle this.”
The group of fifteen Burnett creatives approved the series of commercials without objection as did Schlitz representatives who viewed the commercials soon after.
The reactions to the commercials once they went public were almost immediate; people hated them. Burnett officials were appalled at the reaction.
Jack Powers, who managed the Schlitz account at Burnett, was stunned by the swift public response to the commercials. “I can assure you that we have no desire to threaten the people of the United States. It (the commercials) was supposed to be fun, tongue-in-cheek stuff.”
At Schlitz, the feeling about the unexpected consumer backlash to the series of commercials was much worse. “A really great tragedy-—really, really bad,” a brewery spokesman admitted.
Ten weeks after the commercials first began to air, Schlitz management ordered them pulled. Soon after, the Leo Burnett ad agency was fired by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company.
The short-lived run of commercials would go down in advertising history as “The Drink Schlitz or I’ll Kill You” ad campaign.
* The complete story of the demise of Schlitz, including comments from Uihlein family members (major stockholders of Schlitz) can be found in my book, BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago. The aftermath is continued with the detailing of an attempt by Pabst to buy Schlitz, the blocked merger of G. Heileman and Schlitz by the federal government, and the managerial conflicts that hastened the end of Stroh after it acquired Schlitz.
Geoffrey Baer at Channel 11, WTTW Talks About Schlitz Tied-Houses On “Chicago Tonight,” April 10, 7 P.M
Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 10, 2008
I fed his producer a bunch of info about the former Schlitz saloons in Chicago. It’ll be interesting to see if I get a “Contributor” mention.
From the WTTW site;
Is there something in your neighborhood you’ve always wanted to know more about? Our resident Chicago expert Geoffrey Baer joins us to answer many of those questions in a new segment called “Ask Geoffrey.”
I hope the topic gets the attention it deserves.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 5, 2008
The story of the rise and fall of Schlitz, especially in Chicago where it held the top beer sales position for years, is described in my best-selling book, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago.
The downfall of Schlitz, combined with a bottler’s strike at Anheuser-Busch in 1976 allowed Old Style, a sleeper brand that had been in Chicago since the early 1900s, to take over the Chicagoland beer market. OS distributors took their battle for supremacy to neighborhood taverns, bottle by bottle and case by case until the brand dominated more than 40% of the local beer market.
The problems of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company were brought upon themselves and a board of directors who refused to acknowledge their production mistakes, the sudden death of CEO Bob Uihlein, Jr., and no real leader to take over the business when Bob died, a leader who could handle the meddlesome Uihleins.
At one point, G. Heileman and owner Russ Cleary were poised to buy Schlitz when the Uihlein family-dominated board of directors decided to end it all and sell. At the last minute, the Justice Department stopped the sale, claiming an unfair dominance of the market with the merger. It was a sham of a claim since the combination of G. Heileman and Schlitz would have held about 16% of the national market while Anheuser-Busch already held around 27%.
From Wall Street down through the brewing industry itself, the merger was considered to be a life saver for Schlitz and a boost to G. Heileman which was trying to shed the mantle of being just a regional brewery. It was a perfect match. The feds thought otherwise.
Stroh eventually brought Schlitz but the merger was a disaster. After the family-owned Stroh gave up in 1999, the Schlitz label went to Pabst.
What most beer drinkers don’t realize is that while Pabst owns the label, they actually don’t own any breweries. Their portfolio of once proud regional brands are now brewed by Miller.
I really hope they bring back the original formula and make the brand available again as a draft, bottled and canned product. After Stroh closed, you could only get canned Schlitz beer, which dried up a lot of draft accounts in Chicago. It was a staple at Southport Lanes, for instance
The problem now is, how do you reposition Schlitz as a premium or super-premium beer? It’s had no advertising budget, no media exposure, no nothing for years, just a reputation as a cheap beer that sat on shelves and accumulated dust. The trick will be to be able to convince young beer drinkers that Schlitz is once again a quality product and worth every penny. I imagine it will be priced somewhere between a higher-priced craft beer and a great quality pseudo-craft beer like Blue Moon.
Chicago was it’s number 1 market. It might have been the beer that made Milwaukee famous, but it was Chicago beer drinkers who really made it so.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
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.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on February 7, 2008
Stop by and say “Hello!” Sunday, February 10th at 2 P.M.
20 South Prospect Avenue
Park Ridge, IL 60068-4188
“Bob Skilnik thinks most historians have overlooked what a thirsty job it was being hog butcher to the world.”
Illinois Heritage Magazine
“Skilnik’s book, quite skillfully, brings focus to the history of Chicago’s beer production, distribution, retail sale, and consumption patterns.”
From the Author
Why breweries? Why bother writing about this long forgotten local industry?
As a kid growing up in the predominately Irish neighborhood of Bridgeport during the 1950s and early ’60s, there were two distinctive smells I’ll always remember, the putrid fumes of the nearby Chicago Stockyards and the balancing sweet malt aroma from our two neighborhood breweries. Living just blocks away from both industries, the aroma of the breweries was, understandably, more appealing.
In my youth, little did I know that one neighborhood brewery had once belonged to gangster Johnny Torrio, later passed on to the control of Al Capone and, eventually, Frank Nitti. During National Prohibition, the later renamed Canadian Ace Brewery was known as the Manhattan Brewing Company, supplying much of the thirsty South Side with illegal brew.
But now they’re gone. A few years ago, I tried to find some information about the old Chicago brewing industry, but most books of local history were useless. It was almost as though the industry had never existed. That is why this book was written.
About the Author
Bob Skilnik is an alumnus of Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology – the oldest school of brewing technology in the U.S. – where he earned a degree in brewing technology. He is the former associate editor for the American Breweriana Journal, a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Good Eating food section, trade journals, magazines and newspapers.
He has appeared on ABC’s “The View,” the Fox News Channel, ESPN2, and Chicago’s WTTW. BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago is his fifth book.
A fascinating look at the rise and fall of Chicago’s brewing industry, by Midwest Book Review
Brewing technology expert and former associate editor for the “American Breweriana Journal” Bob Skilnik presents Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago, a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Chicago’s brewing industry across the decades.
From the illegal alcohol trafficking during the Prohibition era, to famous beer riots, the interplay of beer and politics, lists of every Chicago brewery since 1833 with addresses and dates of operation, a guided tour of the local breweries that remain, and much more, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago covers everything a Chicago beer lover could hope for with extra surprises in store.
Written in a down-to-earth, friendly narrative tone, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago blends spot-on accurate research with an inviting prose style.
Recommended both for casual readers curious about the history of beer in Chicago and scholars in need of research information on the topic.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 4, 2007
Unloading beer behind the Hilton, April 7, 1933
December 5, 1933 notes a “first” in constitutional history. It was on this day, 75 years ago, that American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry. For some of us, December 5, 1933 will always be remembered as the end of National Prohibition. Unfortunately, there are too many writers and trade organizations who should know this, but have chosen, instead, to revise U.S. history for their own purposes, and if I might, usually for self-promoting ones.
You might recall my rants back in April when organizations like the Brewers Association, the A & E network and Anheuser-Busch, with its pimping of “The American Brew” an hour-long movie commissioned by the St. Louis brewery, and beer geek sites like Beeradvocate proclaimed April 7 as the day that Prohibition was “repealed today in 1933.” The Jacksonville Business Journal went so far as to proclaim that “The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect April 7, 1933…” , an amazing feat since the states hadn’t even gotten around to setting up constitutional referendums and state conventions to vote for delegates who would set the constitutional change into effect. They weren’t alone in repeating this historical inaccuracy, but the list of offenders would probably be longer than this entire blog entry.
So once again, let me beat this dead horse one more time. The passages below are from my book, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago, (I have NEW copies, signed, available at Amazon under the NEW/USED link) and gives the story of events leading up to December 5, 1933 from a Windy City perspective. But throughout the story, the thread leading up to the end of Prohibition can be found.
On another note, keep in mind that April 7, 1933 brought back beer, and only beer with an alcoholic strength of 3.2 % alcohol by weight. Although somewhat an arbitrary alcohol level, it was the result of a modification of the Volstead Act that was passed by Congress on October 27, 1919 in order to put an end to the brewing industry’s question, as it pertained to the 18th Amendment, of what constituted an “intoxicating beverage.” Typical of laws that Congress passes—even today—it usually falls into the robed lap of courts to sort out a vague bill or amendment that is the result of compromise or simply a rush to get something passed. In the case of the 18th, the brewers claimed that the mandated cessation of the manufacturing of “intoxicating beverages,” as proclaimed in the amendment was too vague, and until a legal definition of what constituted an “intoxicating beverage” could be determined, the 18th Amendment would be open to challenge. Before this predicament dropped into the lap of courts, Congress went back and defined the alcoholic strength of any beverage with a content of 1/2 of 1% of alcohol to be considered “intoxicating.” This was done through the passage of the Volstead Act in the fall of 1919.
What brought 3.2% beer back on April 7 was merely a rewriting of the Volstead Act. There was no consitutional amendment, no nullification of the 18th nor passage of the the yet-to-be-voted-on 21st Amendment. A month earlier, 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…”
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. If the bill had been signed by FDR on March 21, as originally scheduled, 3.2% beer would have actually returned on April 5, since the bill stipulated a 15-waiting period before it could go into effect.
With 3.2% beer’s return on April 7, 1933, that still left wine, liqueurs or liquor to deal with. It actually meant that stonger beers would also have to wait for their return. Nobody was toasting April 7 with a barleywine in hand. There’s also an interesting sidenote here, suggested by the dates of the Cullen-Harrison bill and FDR’s delay in signing the bill until March 23.
At this time in U.S. beer history, the brewing industry was still under the influence of German and German-American brewers. Lager was the most popular beer, not a surprise with wide-girthed Braumeisters still turning out the golden brew. One demonstrated point of their pride of product during the pre-Prohibition era was the brewers’ insistence of a lagering period of at least one month. Now with events as chaotic as they were prior to April 7, and with FDR’s delayed signing of the C-H bill on March 23, they would have had to be clairvoyant to have good-quality and properly aged beer conveniently ready for April 7.
So how did they do it? They used weaker, and I would go as far as to claim, inferior beer. In Chicago alone, there were 5 legally-licensed breweries that were pumping out real beer and then extracting the alcohol from the beer and selling it as “cereal beverage,” in other words, near beer. I made an earlier reference back in April that the beer was “weak-assed” and some beer blogger made the remark with some disdain that there was nothing wrong with weak beer, or as geeks like to put it “session beer.” I agree; there is nothing wrong with lighter-alcohol session beers. If your group is babbling at the bar after something like 3 barleywines or Imperial Stouts, it might be an early end to your little bier klatsch…and that’s no fun. But think about what you would do if you were a brewer back then. How would you handle the grain and hops bill if you knew that in the final process, you would be required to boil the hell out of the beer and collect the vapors of alcohol for shipment to a government-bonded warehouse where alcohol was stored? Would you start with a nice heaving load of fine Moravian malts, maybe throw some crystal malt in for color and a little more body, and then dip into your supply of “noble” hops for character; maybe some for bittering and then topping off the batch with a touch for some added nose?
Of course not! You’d probably use some indifferent malt—and certainly not a lot—and most likely the minimum amount of hops (and who knows how old those hops were?) Why strive for a quality brew when you knew that the beers would be stripped of alcohol and then, either at the local speakeasy or on the delivery truck, the beer would be injected with alcohol through the bung-hole of the wooden barrel, giving rise to the Roaring Twenties speakeasy standby, “needle beer?”
To give you another example of the quality of the beer that was consumed on April 7 and somewhat beyond, city and federal agents were hitting the streets and testing beers in Chicago on April 7, 1933 to make sure the brewers were conforming to the 3.2% alcohol by weight limit, about 4% alcohol by volume (abv). Not one beer sample was in violation. On the contrary, the agents remarked that the beers were well below the legal limit. Why? Because the beer that rolled into the streets of the U.S.A. on April 7 was the indifferent beer that had been brewed for alcohol extraction, brewed to be near beer. It was brewed with the least amount of grains and hops and probably hard to argue that it had been aged for at least a month. What would be the purpose?
After the euphoria and initial beer supplies ran out throughout U.S. breweries, the suds factories started turning out “green” beer, beers that demonstrated little lagering, if any at all. It became so bad that Blatz (and others) began running full-page newspaper ads, thanking FDR for bringing “Democratic” beer back to the masses while pledging to the President and all beer drinkers in the country that they would release no beer, despite the demand, until it had gone through a proper period of maturation. That wasn’t “session beer,” my blogging critic, that was shit beer that they were drinking in the aftermath of April 7, 1933.
But boy, did I digress. Ah yes, December 5, 1933…
As required by Congress, Illinois was busying itself in late April of 1933 in preparation for a state election and convention to act on the 21st Amendment, hopefully to repeal the disastrous 18th Amendment. After Congress had refused the state’s request for a special cash grant to fund state elections for Repeal, Illinois decided to incorporate a June judicial election with the Repeal election, combining the expenses of two separate elections. Downstate democrats, however, worried that incorporating the judicial election and the vote for Repeal might bring about a backlash from local dry advocates and hurt the chances of some of their Democratic judges running for reelection. As a result of this political concern, the Illinois State Senate, led by these wary Democratic forces, unbelievably voted to postpone the election for Repeal until April of 1934.
Republicans had a field day with the Senate vote, expressing disbelief that the same party that had been swept into the Oval Office on a platform of repeal, the party of “democratic beer,” was now voting to delay the state ratification of Repeal. “Evidently,” sneered State Senator Martin R. Carlson of Moline, “you Democrats don’t care to repeal the 18th Amendment.”
Colonel Ira L. Reeves of Chicago, Commander of the anti-Prohibition organization called the Crusaders, and a pro-Repeal lobbyist, thought he saw a darker explanation for the actions of the Democrats. “Naturally they (the brewers) want to prolong their present monopoly as long as possible, and apparently they are lining up the downstate dry legislators to accomplish that purpose.” Reeves went on to suggest that brewers had made a pact with Prohibitionists. Reeves singled out the boisterous State Senator Frank McDermott with his brewery in Bridgeport, owned by McDermott since 1923. How could McDermott go back to his Stockyards constituency and tell them he voted to defer Repeal until next year, Reeves wanted to know?
The logic of Reeve’s argument seemed solid. Other Repeal advocates affirmed his contention. Since years before Prohibition, brewers and distillers had maintained an adversarial relationship. Their divisiveness was one blatant reason that later prohibitionist efforts had so been so successful. Commenting on the charge that brewers wanted to continue a monopoly on the drink trade, Captain W. W. Bayley, Chicago Chief of the Association Against the 18th Amendment said, “…it would not be surprising to have proof show up that such is the situation now.”
It was too much for editors of the trade magazine, The Brewer And Malster And Beverageur, who demanded an apology from Reeves. “It is unthinkable that they (the brewers) would ally themselves with the bootleggers and gangsters and the fanatics of the Anti-Saloon League.”
Days later, with pressure from all sides and a chance to rethink their positions, the Democrats capitulated. The Illinois Senate voted to restore June 5, 1933, as the day for the election of delegates to the State Repeal Convention. Additional pressures from Governor Henry Horner and various lobbyists groups, including the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, had persuaded the Senate to wisely reverse their ill-advised prior decision. Without protest, the Illinois House of Representatives concurred with the Senate’s actions.
On the morning of June 5, expectations were high for the repeal of the 18th Amendment. With chances for thunderstorms forecast throughout Monday, a voter turnout for a Chicago judicial election would normally have been predicted to be low. Historically, this pattern of a small voter turnout was in Chicago, and still is, typical for such an election. But, this was no simple judicial election. With reports coming in from ward headquarters throughout the city, the Cook County Democratic Organization was predicting an unprecedented turnout of 710,000 votes. Nonetheless, ward heelers continued to heavily canvass the city during the day. As a further enticement to get constituents out to vote, local Democratic leaders pragmatically stressed the household economics of Repeal. As part of their door-to-door strategy, it was pointed out by Democratic party officials and ward heelers alike that unless the 18th Amendment was repealed, $6 to $10 out of every $100 earned in a weekly paycheck would revert back to the Federal Government in new taxes. Repeal meant beer, booze, and no new taxes—one hell of a “read my lips” argument that any tax-paying voter could understand.
Democratic Party leader Patrick A. Nash wasted no words in his final communiqué to Chicago voters before the polls opened. “Support President Roosevelt. Repeal the 18th Amendment. Elect judicial leaders. Vote the Repeal ticket straight. Vote the Democratic judicial ticket straight.”
Republican County Chairman William H. Weber was not quite as direct or forceful in his party’s approval of Repeal. “Vote the Republican judicial ticket straight and destroy the receivership ring,” taking a final shot at the Democrats. Although the parties shared an equal amount of delegates for the Repeal of the 18th Amendment, Weber’s statement conservatively avoided the paramount issue of Repeal. The national Republican’s Party endorsement and enforcement of Prohibition and the local organization’s lukewarm embrace of Repeal were noted by beer-drinking Chicagoans. From post-Prohibition on, the Democratic Party, the party of democratic beer and Repeal, has held sway in Chicago.
Illinois’ Repeal Election
On April 28, 1933, at 1:43 A.M., Governor Horner signed the House bill ordering the Illinois Prohibition Repeal Convention to assemble on July 10. With the required nominating petitions finally signed, Chicago precinct workers started to flood their wards with sample ballots. Mayor Kelly asked the people of Chicago to support the vote for Repeal. “I urge that all citizens of our great city support the President and his administration in his efforts to bring back prosperity and eliminate the evils which Prohibition has cast into our midst. This can best be done by voting for the Repeal candidates.” Perhaps as a further inducement to the electorate to get out and vote, Kelly overruled an earlier opinion by Leon Hornstein, first assistant to Chicago Corporation Counsel William H. Sexton, that the sale of beer on election day would be illegal. Hornstein claimed that the state legislature had forgotten to repeal the pre-Prohibition election law requiring saloons to be closed during elections. Kelly disagreed, Sexton demurred and the saloons of Chicago were allowed to stay open on Election Day.
The tally of votes was no surprise. Not only was the vote for Repeal in Chicago overwhelming, it was a vote of approximately 11 to 1 in favor of it. In Committeeman Moe Rosenberg’s 24th Ward on the West Side of the city, reports showed that Repealists had voted yes at an astounding ratio of 76 to 1. Not surprisingly, a Republican precinct captain complained that in one precinct of Rosenberg’s ward, 200 votes had been stuffed into a ballot box when that many voters had not even registered in the precinct. Rosenberg, recently indicted by a federal grand jury for income tax invasion, scoffed at the report. In Bridgeport, voters followed the dictates of native son County Treasurer Joe McDonough and voted 40 to 1 for Repeal.
The next day, the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune declared National Prohibition officially dead in Illinois and expressed hope that the remaining dry states would soon follow Illinois’ lead. “A law which made the drinking of a glass of beer a crime was unenforceable..,” said the paper. As evidence of the state citizenry’s overwhelming rebuff of Prohibition, a total of 883,000 voters turned out to for approval of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, more than 560,000 votes for Repeal coming from Chicago. All that was left was the state convention.
The Repeal Convention
On July 10, Governor Horner opened the convention and officially signaled the beginning of the end of National Prohibition in Illinois. “The eighteenth amendment is doomed. Let us pray that with it will go the political cowardice that made it possible.” At noon, Democratic state leader Patrick A. Nash presented the resolution to ratify Repeal of the 18th Amendment at the state repeal convention. In just fifty-four minutes, the fifty bipartisan delegates went through the necessary procedural motions and unanimously voted to ratify the 21st Amendment, nullifying the 18th.
The Prairie Schooner, Illinois, now became the tenth state to moor at the wet dock of Repeal.
At 4:31 P.M., December 5, 1933, Repeal took effect in Chicago with the ratification by Utah of the Twenty-First Amendment. The “Noble Experiment” had lasted 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, and 32 1/2 minutes. President Roosevelt officially proclaimed an end to National Prohibition and urged all Americans to confine their purchases of alcoholic beverages to licensed dealers. The President also issued a special plea to state officials not to allow the return of the saloon. A check of the City Collector’s Office, however, indicated that close to 7,000 liquor dealers were now ready to serve the 3,500,000 residents of Chicago, averaging one saloon for every 500 Chicagoans. It was about the same number of saloons that had operated in Chicago before the onset of National Prohibition.
So as you can see, even using the Illinois/Chicago above as a historical example of a national event, please, please, please, quit bending the truth when it comes to U.S. history, even if beer is involved.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on October 30, 2007
If you’ve ever lived in or visited Chicago, there are quintessential foods and drinks that you have to experience while you’re here, tasty treats that are part of Chicago’s cuisine. Vienna hot dogs (Chicago-style, and please, NO catsup—or Mr. Burns, is that ketchup?), Italian beef sandwiches, Old Style beer (although this is an illusion since Pabst contracts the brewing of the beer out to Miller, but more importantly, nobody drinks Old Style except out-of-towners who stop at Wrigley Field, say stupid things like “Go Cubbies” (aargh!), and throw down a few Old Styles as the Cubs lose, because they heard that it’s “Chicago’s Beer,” maybe a chunk of deep-dish pizza (even though most Chicagoans eat thin crust), and a bag of Jays Potato Chips.
Long story short on the history of Jays, but the company used to be named for its original owner, Leonard Japp, Sr., who started his bar snack business during Prohibition in Chicago. Since 8,000 licensed saloons were replaced with 10,000 to 15,000 speakeasies, Leonard did OK. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, however, the name “Japp” didn’t play too well with Chicagoans. The family was going to change the name to “Jax,” but there was a brewery in New Orleans with the same name, so “Jays” became the new name of the Chicago snack food business, more or less by default.
Jeffrey Dunn, president and CEO of Ubiquity Brands, the contemporary owner of Jays and Select Snacks has announced that the business has filed for Chapter 11. Reported more than $20 million in debt to unsecured non-bank creditors (how the hell this happens in “Big Business” is always beyond my comprehension. Go to your bank and ask for a $10,000 unsecured loan and watch how fast they show you the door), the rumor is that Synder, another snack food company, might reach into the bag of crumbs of what will be left of Jays after the owners scramble to pick up some quick cash from bits and pieces of the operation. The bankruptcy follows by three weeks the company’s sale of its Lincoln Snacks division to ConAgra Foods.
So, for the hell of it, why not pick up a sixer of Old Style and a big bag of Jays (“Can’t Stop Eatin’ Em!) this weekend and spill a sip of beer and a greasy chip or two on the curb for all the homeys of Chicago’s former food and drink businesses who are no longer with us…
Or maybe try this recipe for Jays Potato Chip Cookies and wash them down with a cold Old Style.
Posted by Bob Skilnik on July 5, 2007