Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Beer’s Day

From Oshkosh Daily Northwestern April 1933
On this day in 1933 it became legal to, once again, sell beer in the city of Oshkosh. Well, sort of. This wasn’t real beer as we know it today. What became legal was beer that contained no more than 3.2 percent alcohol. Prohibition had yet to be repealed but the recently passed Cullen-Harrison Act allowed for the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer and wine in states that were legally considered wet. Wisconsin, which didn’t have state laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol, was wet as wet could be.

In the days leading up to Friday, April 7, Oshkosh was rocking with anticipation. A vote held four days earlier on whether Wisconsin should ratify a Constitutional amendment to repeal Prohibition resulted in a record turnout in the city. The Oshkosh “wets” won by an overwhelming margin of 8 to 1. Reading through the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of that week, it’s impossible to miss the palpable sense of excitement that was building around the prospect of legal beer. Every section of the paper contains articles related to its return. There are stories about bartenders and tavern owners flooding City Hall for permits and whether or not beer was going to be served in the White House. Some of the articles amount to little more than prattle spiced with the word beer. A story that landed on the sports page is really about nothing, but it does mention that it will be more enjoyable to watch baseball now that you can have a beer in hand while doing it. Best of all are the ads and notices dotting the paper that herald beer’s return. A notice posted by the Eagles encourages its members to get together on Friday night and “have one of our OLD TIME Meetings. It’s Time to Smile Again.”
From Oshkosh Daily Northwestern April 1933

The Editors of the Northwestern may have realized they were all getting a little carried away. On April 6th the paper printed a grouchy editorial calling for restraint, warning that “If a lot of “rough stuff” is pulled after 12:01 o’clock tomorrow morning it will be a thing to be deeply regretted later.”

It doesn’t look like the 3.2 beer inspired much rough stuff. The headline the following morning has a chaste tone, stating that beer was back “Like a Prodigal Son.” That’s tagged with a subhead explaining that poor beer had been away “Consorting With Low Characters.” Sounds kind of meek. But then this was meek beer. Much of it had been rushed into production and most of it probably tasted watery and unsatisfying. To legally get the real stuff you’d still have to wait a few months. Prohibition was finally abolished on December 5, 1933. That’s when the real fun began.

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