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April 13, 2013

Decline of Prohibition led to return of beer in April 1933

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The Daily Star

---- — “I think this would be a good time for a beer,” remarked President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he signed the Cullen-Harrison Act on March 22, 1933. This marked the beginning of the end for Prohibition that year.

The Act became law on April 7, once again allowing the manufacture and sale of what was called “3.2 beer.” From this point, states were readying to ask their voters on whether to repeal the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, or Prohibition, and to ratify the 21st Amendment.

Oneonta and the region were ready for the changes provided by the Cullen-Harrison Act. There were no unusual local events that took place on April 7, unlike in Washington, where Anheuser-BuschInc. sent a team of Clydesdale horses to deliver a case of beer to the White House. On Thursday night, April 6, Oneonta’s Common Council passed an ordinance to establish control over beer in the city. The ordinance provided that all wholesale and retail dealers, including restaurants and hotels had to obtain a temporary license to sell or serve beer. Prices were fixed at $50 for wholesale dealers and $15 for retailers.

The City Clerk’s office was busy on Friday, April 7, as 23 temporary licenses were issued, but as far as the beer itself, “The supply of the new brew was limited throughout the day, and the few places where it was available reported a brisk demand. Only two brewing companies made deliveries here, so far as The Star learned.” Fourteen more licenses were issued on Saturday, as the clerk’s office re-opened.

Since demand was high, it was apparently a good time to get onto the supply side, as it was reported on April 13 that Cobleskill had a new brewery in full operation.

“The plant is not large and its location is in the vicinity of ‘Blackrock’ at the head of North street. Delbert Curtis is the proprietor and brewmaster. His product is called Curtis Special Brew.”

Just about a month later the Otsego County Alcoholic Beverage Control board held its organizational meeting on Friday, May 12. The control board was formed to recommend applicants to the state beer control board for permanent licenses.

“The business of dispensing alcoholic beverages will be maintained at a high level,” the county board told the Star. “The bootlegger will not be tolerated. It is going to be tough for the ‘tough places’ to get along, and we mean this.”

Also in May, voters in New York prepared to go to the polls to decide on whether to repeal the 18th Amendment.

Some who voted for Oneonta to go dry in 1918 made a final appeal to keep Prohibition in place. About 300 attended a rally on Sunday evening, May 21, at the First United Methodist Church on Chestnut Street.

The Rev. Virgil M. Cosby of the First United Presbyterian Church was one of the speakers, telling his listeners, “When the 18th Amendment became law, the people who had fought for it sat down to enjoy peace, thinking that nothing could be done to remove it. But when the Christian lies down, the devil works harder than ever, and today we are beginning to realize that those forces we thought were dead were working all the time.”

New York voted for the repeal on Tuesday, May 23. Locally the results were quite close, as 4,965 voted for repeal while 4,699 voted against it in Otsego County. Cherry Valley, Maryland, Middlefield, Morris, Oneonta city, Otsego, Richfield, Roseboom and Springfield were the towns with “wet” majorities. Of the “dry” towns against repeal, Edmeston had the most lopsided vote, with 75 for repeal, 281 against it.

Readers of The Oneonta Star observed state after state favoring the repeal of the 18th Amendment in the next several months. All bodies of government getting revenue from excise taxes and licenses began to enjoy seeing their coffers filling up once again, and the repeals were putting some people back to work during the Great Depression.

Utah was considered to be the deciding state, becoming the 36th for the repeal on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 1933, allowing the 21st Amendment to be ratified.

On Monday: The idea behind a hiking path along the Susquehanna River shores of Oneonta date back to 1975.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.