By Cathy Taylor
April 5th has officially been named New Beer’s Eve, in celebration of the end of Prohibition in the United States on April 6th, 1933. The sale of beer in the U.S. once again became legal on April 7th, 1933.
On the evening of the 6th, townspeople lined up outside breweries and taverns, waiting for the stroke of midnight when they would finally be able to purchase legally what had been withheld from them for over 13 years – BEER! So for the last 80 years, April 6th has lovingly been referred to by beer connoisseurs across the land as New Beer’s Eve.
Prohibition took roots back in 1920 in the U.S. and, contrary to popular belief, had little or nothing to do with political aspirations. It was primarily the efforts of tea-totaling Protestants who felt the world was going to Hell in a handbasket due to increasing alcohol consumption and took it upon themselves to enforce their stringent beliefs upon the rest of mankind.
Even though those pesky Protestants were successful in their efforts of curtailing the amount of alcohol “legally” sold and consumed from 1920 to 1933, they failed miserably at controlling the amount of spirits that were available illegally, along with the rise in the criminal methods of obtaining it.
Within five years of the start of the new laws of Prohibition, it was estimated that nearly 100,000 speakeasies were running at full capacity in New York City alone. Organized crime syndicates swooped in on the opportunity to capitalize on profits from the illegal distribution of alcohol. And reports of domestic abuse, a crime severely under-reported during that era, became regular headline news.
Forms of Prohibition have actually been around for several hundred years. Back in 1657, the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of hard liquor illegal. Interestingly enough, these people actually considered alcohol as a gift from God. It was the sin of gluttony by man that gave it a bad name. Many physicians of that era claimed that moderation was the key to pious drinking. Any excessive alcohol consumption was considered socially unacceptable and harmful to one’s physical and mental wellness.
Although Prohibition was controversially popular, it nonetheless had staunch opposition from a variety of diverse groups. Probably one of the most avid anti-prohibition groups was that of medical professionals. Alcohol was widely prescribed by physicians during this time for therapeutic purposes and as a very effective pain killer. Prohibition threw a proverbial wrench into the well-oiled gears of pharmaceutical profits for them. Thousands of taxpayer’s dollars were spent to hold Congressional meetings to discuss the medicinal value of beer soon after Prohibition became law.
Another outspoken anti-prohibitionist group was the Women’s Organization for Prohibition Reform, who routinely held rallies to repeal the law right alongside the Women’s Christian Temperance Union who, of course, were solid Prohibitionists. Their side-by-side campaigns often erupted into hair-pulling screaming matches, with husbands routinely called away from the local watering holes to bail their spouses out of jail.
Popular contemporary humorist Will Rogers often poked fun at the hypocritical southern prohibitionists, making comments such as, “The South is dry and it will vote dry. That is, everybody sober enough to stagger to the polls.”
George Cassidy, a self-proclaimed professional bootlegger, appeared before Congress in one of their sessions to boast about the fact that he has been producing and moving his quality alcoholic products for more than ten years, and that the bulk of his clientele was U.S. Senators.
It has been said that economics played the biggest role in the decision to reverse Prohibition in the United States. Prior to 1920, approximately fourteen percent of federal, state and local tax revenue was derived from the sale of alcohol. The government also felt that the jobs created by the alcohol industry were desperately needed.
On the other hand, one has to wonder what other factors influenced the repeal of Prohibition, as it was estimated that over eighty percent of congressmen, senators and other high-ranking government officials regularly consumed alcohol, regardless whether it was legal or illegal.
The first special delivery made by Anheuser-Busch was to the White House after the Cullen-Harrison Act took effect, which raised the alcohol content limit to 3.2%. A team of Clydesdale horses was requested to deliver a case of Budweiser to the steps of the White House to commemorate the victory.
And probably the most damning of all, legal issues began taking over the front page of the local news rag denouncing the local sheriff and his men who routinely showed up, still intoxicated and hung over after a night of imbibing, to bust a local speakeasy.
For whatever good Prohibition may or may not have done, the controversy now rests in the annuls of American history. Unfortunately, alcoholism remains a very real problem in today’s society. Nearly 16,000 alcoholic liver disease deaths occurred in the U. S. last year. And according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of heavy drinkers has increased from 4.9 percent in 1987 to 9.4 percent in 2011.
Of course, their definition of a heavy drinker is anyone who has consumed at least 12 alcoholic beverages within the past 12 months. With those kinds of percentages, can’t we all be considered alcoholics?