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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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April 7 is NOT the 75th Anniversary of the End of National Prohibition

Posted by Bob Skilnik on March 13, 2008

Gussie Busch Welcomes Back Beer On April 7, 1933

Repeal, Part 1; 

Repeal, Part 2;

And this newsreel which shows the economic impact of the end of Prohibition;

 

It’s already started and I find myself this week screaming at my computer screen, atlasadbeerback.jpgthe 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.)

 Here’s their newest table listing the chronology of National Prohibition.

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.

Read on;

New Beer’s Eve, April 7, 1933 

“I recommend…the passage of legislation…to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer”—President Franklin D. Roosevelt 

The Beginning Of The End        

    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.

3.2% Beer         

   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.                           restaurantrepealad.jpg

     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 hillmanrepealad.jpg 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.                                          womanwithbottledbeer.jpg

     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
Chicago. 
     
  

   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.

Economic Success       

   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.

     Chicago and Springfield, still arguing about who would handle licensing of the brewing industry in Illinois and Chicago, looked at these tax and revenue numbers and decided that they too wanted their fair share of this new cash cow. In the meantime, both brewers and retailers enjoyed the local tax and license lull, harvesting a profit far in excess of what would eventually be realized when the city and the state started to take their share.

Posted in Beer History | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

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.

Posted in Beer & Food In The News, Beer History, Editorial, Food History, Neo-Prohibition | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »