As a thunderstorm crashed across Schuylkill County as the clock struck midnight on April 7, 1933, residents lined up for their first legal beer in more than a decade. As the clock struck midnight, the whistles at the Yuengling Brewery on Mahantango Street blew in celebration and a line of trucks stretched for blocks awaiting loads of beer bound for cities across the Mid-Atlantic. The first truck loaded was bound for Washington, DC and a delivery at President Franklin Roosevelt’s White House. By the afternoon of April 7, the line of trucks on Mahantango Street stretched for nearly a mile.
On April 7, 1933, the first step in ending the era of Prohibition had been taken. Sales of beer containing up to 3.2 percent alcohol had been legalized by the Cullen-Harrison Act that passed through Congress in March 1933.
On the front page of the Pottsville Republican, a reporter documented the scenes in Pottsville as beer returned to Schuylkill County. They address several key issues – taxes, revenue for state and Federal government, lack of supply, the outrageous prices, and Pottsville’s cool reaction to the sale of 3.2 percent beer.
From the Pottsville Republican, April 7, 1933:
Pottsville and Schuylkill County had its beer back on Friday, but not as in the “good old days.”
“Canoes” were selling for the price of “schooners,” and bottled goods were at a rate which if the state tax is added will put the new amber fluid in almost the same category as old time champagne, with the poor man’s “bucket of suds” just as distant as it was during the height of Prohibition. Pottsville had but one five cent glass of beer on sale, Friday, and that looked like one of the samplers they used to give out with a nickel glass of whiskey.
Bottled goods was on delivery in three of the restaurants of the city at 13 cents a bottle, but the proprietors were emphatic in their statement that if the state put a tax on the beverage, the price would have to be 20 cents a bottle, which would rate 10 cents for a six-ounce glass.
There was no talk of the old time growlers on the streets, but there was considerable talk of the fact that the breweries were demanding cash on the counter, and that there did not seem to be any immediate prospect of the 3.2 percent brew getting on sale on consignment.
This development, however, did not seem to deter the list of applicants at the revenue office, which was still doing business with a long line of customers, although the rush was not as great as on Thursday, when some 550 applications were filed.
The chief reaction to the taking of restrictions off the 3.2 brew appeared to be in the financial columns, where the heavier content had its inception. Uncle Sam was getting his in retail permits at the revenue office, while up at the breweries, the stamps were going on the barrels and the bottles in an ever increasing addition to the national receipts. And on the sidelines, the state officers were wondering just when their “revenue cut” was coming in and how much.
This much seemed certain. If the state tax is such that a tax of $1.00 per barrel is put on the beverage and a license fee of any consequence is caused the dealer, “beer” will go so high that the workingman who voted to get his “schooner back” won’t be able to find it on the horizon. The price of draught beer was running around 15 cents of an eight-ounce glass, and the old quarts that the “big glass” saloon keeper used to put out were merely a memory.
There did not appear to be any of the general demand of the public for the beverage that the beer enthusiasts seemed to think was in the offing. The weekend unquestionably will see hundreds of places prepared to supply the beverage, but if the general consensus of opinion holds up, the bottled stuff will be just so much “ketchup” on the shelves.
The chain stores up to noon had received no consignments, but it was generally understood that they would put the beer on the shelves for general sales.
Pottsville’s first flush of the new beer was marked chiefly by the shipment from the brewery here of consignments that were understood to have reached 52,000 cases by noon Friday. When the brewery whistle blew at 12:00 o’clock, there was a general scurry of the trucks, which continued until lasted this afternoon. Some 80 trucks were said to have left here for various sections of the country, the first truck to leave town being one consigned to Washington, D.C., where it arrived short 75 cases, purloined from the truck enroute. Thefts from the various trucks were reported on all sides Friday.
The line of trucks Friday night extended as far west as Twelfth St., and at various times during the day was back as far as Eighth St.
The reaction even fooled the police, most of whom were veterans of the good old days, and had hauled drunks in to headquarters on push carts before the days of city cars and taxicabs came into being.
They didn’t have a single drunk to report this a.m., and the cops were responsible for the statement that about the only wetness apparent was that from the thunderstorm which sent everyone scurrying for gum coats, or the shelter of their homes. Even the usual run of the “needled beer lodgers” was lacking last night.
There was some talk Friday that the supply might run out, and that orders might be curtailed, but late this afternoon there was an intimation that the demands for supplies had been met with little or no indication of any early wiping out of the available supply.
There might have been a rush for the “nickel goblets” but when these were lacking there was a general tendency on the part of the general public to let the beer take care of itself for the time being at the price it was being sold.
Featured Image: A pro-beer protest in New Jersey in 1932 (AP Photo)