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Posts Tagged ‘National Prohibition’

Events Leading Up To National Prohibition

Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 6, 2008

 

 

Racking Room - Chicago's Columbus Brewery

Racking Room - Chicago's Columbus Brewery, 1915

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.

Congressional Actions

     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.

Author Bob Skilnik Discussing Beer On Fox

Author discussing beer on Fox News Channel

     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.

1919 Referendum

      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.

     One such observer was Johnny Torrio. 

Signed and personalized copies of Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago are available through  Amazon. Click on the “New” link, next to the “Used” link. I have brand new copies availble for $9.90 as Christmas stocking-stuffers.

For a look at the evolution of American Beer, pick up this Christmas gift,
Beer & Food: An American History. 

Intro By Jim Koch, Founder Of The Boston Beer Company, Makers Of Samuel Adams Beers

Intro By Jim Koch, Founder Of The Boston Beer Company, Makers Of Samuel Adams Beers

 

                                                            

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So Do We All Agree That December 5, 1933 Is The End Of National Prohibition?

Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 4, 2008

I’ve been bitching and moaning for the last few years about April 7, 1933 being celebrated by various groups as the end of Prohibition when the real end was December 5, 1933. On that date, the 18th Amendment was nullified by the passing of the 21st Amendment. In the meantime, I’ve heard all the contorted stories by a dwindling number of revisionists who still want to hang their hats on April 7.

Today is December 5, the 75th Anniversary of the end of Prohibition. Period. And as expected, beer writers and bloggers are wringing their hands about the significance of the date, its meaning in the grand scheme of things and whether it should be seen as a day of celebration or reflection. And with these postings, there seems to be a need to also tie the date to homebrewing and its supposed illegality during the dry years.

I contend, however, that homebrewing, per se, was NEVER illegal; what was illegal was the way in which malt extract (called “syrup” back then) was labeled and advertised. To support this argument, I’ve included a section from my last book, Beer & Food: An American History. What makes this book so interesting is that while it takes a look at the early marriage of American beer and food and how this union was cultivated, and gives a fascinating glimpse into why there might be a beer in your fridge today, it really details the history and development of beer in the Colonies and the eventual United States of America.

It’s this history that too many beer drinkers, writers, amateur historians and bloggers don’t understand, and as a result, the same old tired beer stories are told over and over. For instance;

1.) If I had a dime for every uninformed claim that corn and rice were dumped into beer coppers as a result of Prohibition (“They were brewing lighter beers for women,” “Brewers wanted more profit so they cheapened their beers”), I’d be writing this entry from the southern coast of France.

2.) Speaking of Prohibition, one of my “favorite” quotes and quite often pouring out of the mouths of some respected contemporary beer writers and “authorities,” is this, “National Prohibition forever changed the face of the U.S. brewing industry and the beers of old.” However, if you look at the neverending changes in the character, quality and brewing of American beer, you’d see that change was and is constant in the industry. In the short time of just a few decades, U.S. beer went from a creature with British origins but often brewed with indigenous American ingredients and brought to fermentation in a manner that some Belgian breweries still use today, to a murky German lager, in short time. . .cleaned up as a golden-colored Bohemian-styled pilsner, soon changed to a lighter version of the product from Pilsen with the addition of costly corn and rice, a product that eventually enjoyed shelf stability with pasteurization, benefited from the change from brewing as an art to brewing as a science and the resultant “cleaner” brew with the isolation of a single and pure cell of yeast, widespread bottling, the use of crown caps, a demand for ice-cold beer, the use of mechanical refrigeration, a wave of brewery closings and consolidations throughout the country when British investors bought into breweries throughout the U.S., only to find that intense competition had taken the bloom off the industry’s rose, increased beer taxes during the Spanish-American War, the brewing of a mandated weakened beer of 2.75% alcohol during WW I, the cessation of brewing in the United States on December 1, 1918, the later resumption of beer with an alcoholic strength of 3.2%, and finally. . .National Prohibition. So I find it hard to accept the argument that Prohibition irrevocably changed beer and brewing in the U.S. Folks, it was changing the moment the first colonist fired up his brew kettle, and it has continued to see change to this very day.

3.) Homebrewing was illegal during Prohibition. No, it wasn’t. Read on.

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Voices: A brief history of beer

Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 9, 2008

Metro is the world\'s largest global newspaper.my view by metro

On Monday, breweries throughout the U.S. celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of National Prohibition. The thing is, according to the Constitution, National Prohibition ended Dec. 5, 1933.

The “Noble Experiment” was caused by a confluence of events that eventually pitted prohibitionists against the “cabal” of German-American-owned saloons and breweries. Congress gradually fell under the relentless lobbying efforts of the well-financed Anti-Saloon League, showing a willingness to end the manufacture and sale of alcohol with the 1913 ratification of the 16th Amendment that brought us the income tax (on a side note, April 15 is just around the corner!). In 1920, Congress reveled in a whopping $5.4 billion in income taxes. The often-taxed-and-licensed drink trade was forgotten, the feds no longer needing the tax funds they produced.

MORE HERE

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National Prohibition; Its REAL Anniversary

Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 4, 2007

april7behindhotelunloadingbeer2.jpg 

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.
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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.

Read more about Chicago’s fascinating beer and brewing history.

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