The Return of Beer


One of the most popular changes the day Roosevelt became President was the repeal of the Volstead Act.  That law had restricted alcohol to 3.5% in drinks.  On March 6th 1933, each state was moving to repeal - partially to get taxes and partly because the public demanded repeal.

In Washington State a boisterous session in Olympia overwhelming passed a bill allowing Governor Martin to call a repeal convention as soon as the US Congress passed a bill repealing prohibition.  It was thought that it would take 5 months and happen in the summer of 1933.

Federal Beer and Liquor Laws

 Roosevelt called on Congress his first week in office to pass the Beer Bill.   It limited beer to 3.5% but now beer was legal   He also wanted to repeal of the Volstead Act (National Prohibition Act) which had outlawed liquor.  That repeal would take time.  Each state had to vote for repeal.   Bringing back liquor was very popular.  The public was in favor with 81% popularity. 

On December 5th, 1933 prohibition ended with the passing of the 18th amendment.

But the Beer Bill was much simple.  Roosevelt saw many advantages, the most obvious being his raising taxes.   Brewers would be required to take out a $1,000 a year license.  If the government taxed $5 a barrel on beer, it would bring in $150 million tax dollars the first year.  So far wines were not mentioned in the Beer Bill.  

On the ninth day in Roosevelt's administration on Tuesday, March 14th 1933, the House passed the repeal of the Beer Law with a vote of 316 to 97.   Two days later the Senate followed with a 43 to 30 affirmative vote.  Roosevelt signed that law, expecting at least $125 million taxes to be collected during this partial year.

Fourteen days into his administration and just 9 days after he suggested it - Roosevelt signed the Beer Bill into law on March 22nd - effective April 6th


States were rushing to pass their own new beer tax laws.  Seventeen states announced they had beer tax laws already on the books. They were ready to allow the selling of beer ,now that the US government had passed the federal law.  Twenty other states immediately introduced legislation to approve and tax beer sales. 

There was an immediate crush of brewery orders to suppliers of bottles, malt, hops, and all things used in beer production.  In Wisconsin, the beer capital of the nation, brewers said they expected 27,000 jobs to return.

In St Louis Annheuser-Busch had already brewed 50,000 gallons of beer - just waiting for final federal approval.

The Brooklyn Brewery started taking orders for immediate distribution of their beer as soon as it looked like the law would pass.  In Los Angeles all their breweries were placing gigantic bottle orders and buying other beer-making ingredients.

The Spokane Brewing Company

The Spokane Brewing Company was so optimistic, they immediately ordered ten railroad carloads from Owens Glass for 11 oz and 23 oz beer bottles,.  They also ordered a carload of Louisiana rice which was to be used as malt, replacing corn.     In the past , their beer sales had been $1 million.   More volume was anticipated now.  

Plans were announced to spend $100,000 to recondition their $400,000 brewing plant at Broadway and Lincoln.  The Spokane Brewery, formerly the old Galland Brewery, intended to rehire the sixty-five beer-making employees and return to selling more than the 100,000 barrels of beer - like in their earlier years.   

Immediately, the brewery planned to control and supply seventeen key beer hall parlors.  These prize locations were quickly determined, and they rented those buildings.  The hotels were rapidly seeing opportunities to return to beer sales.  They started to set up beer drinking rooms.

The Inland Brewery

Charles Theis president of Inland Brewery said:

"Our plant at 1402 West 2nd will open now that the legislation is passed."    "We have ordered ten railroad cars of Wisconsin malt and forty-two hundred pounds of  Yakima hops."   "An order for seven cars of bottles has been issued."   "We are so optimistic on our success that an order for two million bottle labels has been placed." "We plan to spend $20,000 improving our existing plant."

Theis predicted that for the first time groceries and delicatessens would start selling bottled beer.  He also has been getting  lot of inquiries to sell to other outlets on the coast.

His prediction was accurate.   The next day grocers Jack Bowles, Frank Greenough, and Harry Trunkey went to city hall.  They wanted officials to approve grocery sales.   The mayor immediately saw the benefit.  The city could get a new windfall tax and he said he would support it.


Weyerhaeuser said this was the biggest week in lumber sales in over a year  Brewers everywhere were ordering.  Forty carloads of lumber were already booked by firms to make beer cases and kegs for the breweries.  

Long Lake Lumber had sold twenty railroad cars of lumber to the breweries.  McGoldrick Lumber received an eight car order and Western Pine Lumber had booked ten cars.   Wilson Box Company had received four railroad carloads of box orders and was running full speed to fill the new customers request.  Seattle Lumber Mill and other box makers on the coast reported they had received two hundred carloads of lumber sales to make boxes headed to breweries.

Questions By The City

Immediately, people were asking questions. 

Can only American citizens now get beer parlor licenses?   Would beer parlors be restricted to selling beer only in a downtown district.  Can women now frequent beer parlors?   What will the city charge for licenses?   Can a person drink an open beer in a grocery store?

Banks Prosper

Banks had lots of business after the Beer Law was passed.

The following Monday after the Beer Bill passed, Fred Stanton, vice president of Washington Trust Bank said:

"Our bank opened more new accounts Monday than it had ever opened in the entire history of this bank."   "Some of the optimism is over the new Beer Bill passing"  "We ran out of savings books yesterday and had to use some very old unused Farmers and Merchants Bank saving books."  "We hear only one thing in our lobby - that turn is about to happen, and things are going to get better."  "Merchants have seen an explosion of sales."

Joe Ferris at Spokane and Eastern Bank repeated almost the exact words of Stanton - all positive.  Lots of old out-of-print currency was flowing into the bank to be exchanged for new money.   There was a rush to get in on the new excitement that was everywhere.

Comments By Jimmie Durkin

Jimmie Durkin has probably sold more beer and liquor than anyone else in the city. 

With his chin resting on his left hand and his right hand resting of the office safe, Durkin said:

"There is too much talk about beer licensing and not much about the people running the beer parlors"  "If all this talk about taxing and licensing happens, there will not be any more 5 cent beer for the working man." 

"I think it is better to reach everyone by selling to groceries, drug stores, confectioneries, and soda parlors."  "The days of making a profit by dispensing beer alone without other products are gone.'  "It takes a lunchpail brigade to create a demand for beer and that is not there any more."

"Until men go back to work - they have no money for beer."

What! No Beer?

Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante opened a new movie at the Fox Theater.  It is a clever plot eyeing the new Beer Law.  Keaton has to make money to win the love of Phyllis Barry, the town barber.   Durante convinces Keaton to buy a brewery to "get rich".   What is produced in the movie is 100% laughter, but little profits.

The 5 Cent Beer

Four months later after the Beer Bill has passed a new problem has emerged.  Some breweries are worried retailers are now returning to selling 5 cents beer again. 

Five cent beer has brought smiles to the consumers, frowns to the brows of the brewers, and a row among retailers.   Groceries and most retailer places are sticking to the 10 cents draught beer price.

Brewers have a plan that is working.  They are simply refusing to sell barrels or draught beer to any bar, saloon, or retailer selling at 5 cents a glass.  They complain that the 5 cent sellers are actually conning the public.   The accusation is that these sellers are actually pouring draught beer into thick-walled ceramic mugs. 

The buyer thinks he is getting 11 or 12 ounces of beer - when he is actually only getting around 7 ounces.

The 5 cent beer problem is rapidly working out.  Unanimously all the local breweries want the higher price.  They have announced they have now cut off anybody selling at a low price.



The return of beer to the public was one of the most important changes made by Roosevelt in his first 100 days.  

A majority of the public loved drinking their favorit beer again.  It was a welome return to normalcy during an otherwise very depressing, deep economic depression.













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