7. Fiesta and Famine

From: Hoptopia

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112 in the election year of 1932, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” a song composed by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen, blared from radios across the country as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign anthem and the anthem of the repeal cause. In the midst of the Great Depression, the song optimistically declared: So long sad times, go ’long bad times, We are rid of you at last. Howdy, gay times. Cloudy gray times, You are now a thing of the past. Happy days are here again The skies above are clear again Let us sing a song of cheer again Happy days are here again. The song reflected faith in Roosevelt’s political vision and the possible renewed freedom to drink booze legally. It inspired hope for consumers across the country who had been criminalized during Prohibition and those who produced beer, wine, and spirits. Growers of grain, grapes, and hops also looked forward to the happy days of repeal. On the Pacific Coast, the pages of a newly founded agricultural hop journal, the Oregon Hop Grower (later to become the Pacific Hop Grower), expressed support for Roosevelt’s election and the renewed domestic beer market.1 As the year progressed, the country turned its eyes to repeal developments at both the state and national levels. Come election month, Oregon even received attention from across the country. A November issue of the New York Times noted, “Early reports indicated that Oregon’s prohibition law might be repealed.” The author also suggested that “[t]he vote in Oregon was sev en Fiesta and Famine Fiesta and Famine • 113 the heaviest on record.”2 Clearly, the repeal issue struck a chord with the state’s populace. Although these events in the Far West were not necessarily center stage in most of the nation’s mind, they signaled a sign of things to come. More important, that autumn Oregonians joined voters across the country who sought change, casting their five electoral votes for the Democratic candidate for president, who won in a landslide.3 Roosevelt followed through with his campaign promise early on. Though industrial and agricultural reform lay at the center of his New Deal agenda, he understood the need to once again legalize the production and sale of alcohol. In one of his first actions after he assumed the presidency in March 1933, Roosevelt helped push through the Cullen-Harrison Act to legalize beer produced at 3.2 percent alcohol. The limits in alcohol content reflected a measured approach to reintroducing beer to a country in which many still supported temperance. But the decision had an immediate impact that spring. Most notably, on April 6, the day leading up to the legal selling of 3.2 percent beer, spontaneous public celebrations erupted for what the media dubbed “New Beer’s Eve.” Representatives from St. Louis’s AnheuserBusch brewery took to the nation’s capital, ceremoniously trucking in fresh batches of lager to the doors of the White House. Local breweries from coast to coast engaged in similar celebrations.4 The return of domestic brewing held a deeper meaning than the ability to legally drink beer; it also translated into more jobs and revenue created in the associated industries.5 In May 1933 the national media reported, “The legal beer faucet has now been turned on for more than a month, and the gurgle of its noisy stream has spelled good news to industry, capital and labor.” The article mentioned that nearly half a billion dollars of taxes would be collected within a year from the beer industry, and it estimated that, in New York state alone, the Cullen-Harrison Act opened the door for forty thousand jobs, including “19,000 directly in the breweries, 221,000 in cooperage, lithography , bottle making, [and] lumbering.”6 These numbers did not even reflect the immediate growth of the hotel and restaurants industries. It made sense, then, that as the year progressed, Roosevelt promoted broader repeal of Prohibition, citing economic stimulus to create new jobs and alcohol taxes. By December 5, Congress fell in line with the president and ratified the TwentyFirst Amendment to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment in its entirety. In an even greater celebration than New Beer’s Eve, the cheerful nation opened countless bottles of booze not limited to 3.2 percent alcohol. The American public could turn now to their beverage of choice in depressed times.7 114 • chapter seven In hindsight, many agreed that the Prohibition experiment was misguided. Perhaps...


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