Breweries, History, roaring twenties

The Day The Party Ended


Schlitz beer crates being broken apart for kindling after Prohibition goes into effect.
From Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society, Inc.

An extended time ago in a land far, far away where beer, wine, and hard liquor were dumped down the drain and everyone had to go dry. Sound like a made up story?! Well, believe or not that was America 100-years-ago this year! Yup, the 18th Amendment went into effect January 17, 1920, which made the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol illegal–except for a few instances. But it was ultimately the Volstead Act that laid the groundwork for the government to “enforce” the 18th. One common misconception was that it prohibited people from drinking alcohol, but it did not! Some well-off folks even stocked up on alcohol before the laws took effect; President Warren G. Harding, for example.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, January 16, 1919
NewspaperArchive.com

The Prohibition experiment lasted from January 17, 1920 to December 5, 1933. For an ever-so-brief moment in our country’s history there was a decline in alcohol consumption and alcohol related illnesses, but then people realized how ridiculously thirsty they were for an adult beverage. Prohibition had more negative impacts than good. When people wanted a drink they turned to the illegally made booze made by bootleggers sold in speakeasies. This gave way to organized crime networks–bootlegging was a lucrative but deadly business. Not all bootlegged booze was safe. Many people were injured or even killed from drinking tainted moonshine.

Another very, very, very, very bad impact of Prohibition was that breweries either shutdown or made other products just to stay in business. Schlitz, my favorite beer, switched to making chocolate! One of our breweries here in Oshkosh switched to root beer. Disrupting brewing operations actually hurt the economy. When the breweries shutdown it led to lost jobs and billions of dollars in revenue dumped down the drain–no pun intended. Did I mention the worst part of all…NO MORE BEER!

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 1920
NewspaperArchive.com

Don’t worry! The story has a happy-ish ending. Thankfully, this horrible dry spell only lasted 13 years–now there is some irony. People rejoiced the day that alcohol flowed freely again. Breweries began brewing operations again and put hundreds of people to work, and beer was finally back! It was a small win for a country battling the Great Depression.

Now go grab a cold, refreshing brew from the refrigerator and read about the brewing industry, the temperance movement, and the effects of prohibition in Wisconsin at Wisconsin Historical Society’s page on Brewing and Prohibition. PROST!

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