The Founding Fathers: Life, Liberty and…Beer!

As Prohibition loomed, Budweiser ads celebrated George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other “Framers of the Constitution” as “moderate” drinkers of “barley-malt brews.”

         Goodwin’s Weekly (Salt Lake City, UT), June 12, 1915.

Historic details specific to each Founding Father were interwoven with an overall strategy of praising them and the Constitution for guaranteeing “Religious, Commercial and Personal Liberty,” and for lauding Anheuser-Busch for establishing their “great” or “gigantic” institution upon the Constitution’s principles, and for employing “7500 people.” 

The Brewers’ Campaign Against Prohibition Topic Page on the Library of Congress Chronicling America website contains a wealth of advertising examples from 1907 to 1918, as the brewing industry waged an unsuccessful battle against the temperance movement. Beer ads touted the health value of “liquid bread,” and the economic benefits of a thriving industry, including jobs and tax revenue. Moderation was extolled and beer and wine were distinguished from hard liquor, while great historic figures, domestic and foreign, were profiled as beer drinkers and sometimes amateur brewers.

None of this could prevent the onslaught of prohibition of “intoxicating beverages,” including beer, first in several states, and then at the national level with the passage and ratification of the 18th Amendment and the enforcement methods specified in the Volstead Act (see Prohibition Topic Page). American anti-German public opinion during World War I fell particularly hard on the mainly German-owned brewing industry.

And what did the brewers do during Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933? Most of the estimated 1300 breweries went out of business, but a few, including Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, and Yuengling, managed to survive by expanding or initiating their production of non-alcoholic products, including “near beer” (maximum 0.5% alcohol by volume), malt beverages, malt extracts (advertised for baking, but also used in illegal home brewing), sodas, ice cream, and, less commonly, cheese (Pabst), ceramics (Coors), and dyes (Shaefer Brewing and Lion Brewery). Ads for these products replaced previous campaigns.

Ads for Bevo (Anheuser-Busch) and Pablo (Pabst) in the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA), February 26, 1918.

The pinnacle of success or perhaps irony was reached in the New York Tribune, August 29, 1920 article, “Near Beers, Very Near Beers, and an Old English Ginger Beer,” illustrated with “A Toast to the Eighteenth Amendment in ‘Half of One Per Cent.’”

“Near Beers, Very Near Beers, and an Old English Ginger Beer,” New York Tribune, August 29, 1920.

Want more? Search Chronicling America yourself and check out the Library of Congress Web Guide on the 18th Amendment.

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