December 05, 2008
75th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition today
Posted by Gary Storck
December 5, 2008
Like many German immigrants, my German immigrant ancestors opened a brewery in Slinger, Wisconsin in the 1880's, back when the town was still known as Schleisingerville.
When Prohibition took effect in Wisconsin, some breweries produced "near beer". At Storck, a decision was made to convert to producing ice cream. But prohibition did not sit well with people whose German culture included a love for beer. While ostensibly producing ice cream, these earlier Storcks continued to brew beer:
In reality, Prohibition did not completely shut down Storck's brewing operations in 1919. As the children ate ice cream and played outside the factory, their fathers drank real beer out of the shiny copper mugs that hung in Rathskeller. The Storck family and their employees knew exactly what to do anytime a stranger visited the plant. Real beer was easily discharged from the Rathskeller and the tapper was quickly hidden inside the Rathskeller's wall. No trace of beer was ever seen.
Henry Storck took daring chances during Prohibition. The beer aged in the tanks stored among the ice cream manufacturing equipment. Raymond Storck cautiously ran beer to Hartford on a weekly basis. He would remove the back seat from his car and place two half-barrels of beer inside the seat, cover the barrels with a plaid blanket while making deliveries.
Storck brewers relax with the family brew
Some time in 1922, Chicago mobsters paid Henry Storck a visit. The mobsters, with the help of one Chicago Prohibition Officer, turned the Storck's business into a distillery and made hard liquor for the Milwaukee and Chicago markets. They told Henry to keep his family and workers away from the brewery for three weeks. After the three weeks were over, the mobsters removed their distillery equipment and informed Henry that the building was ready to manufacture ice cream again. Henry and Ray returned to the brewery to find that everything was undisturbed and no trace of the distilling operation was evident.
Henry Storck continued to brew real beer throughout most of Prohibition. Storck was Milwaukee's chief source of real beer for seven years. Several times, Prohibition Officers paid Storck a visit hoping to catch them, but were unsuccessful. It wasn't until 1926 when Storck's illegal operation became too well known and finally caught up with them.
An assortment of Storck brewerriana from my collection
Henry Storck had applied for a brewery license several times during the early 1920s. He was refused each time. When he applied for a license in 1926, he was refused again, based on alleged delinquencies in 1922. A Prohibition agent visited the plant on a regular basis, interrupting Storck's production of ice cream. Henry asked the federal courts for an injunction restraining the Prohibition agent from interrupting Storck's legitimate activities. A temporary injunction was granted and a hearing was pending on March 6, 1926, but was postponed to allow the District Attorney to gather more evidence.
On Sunday, March 7, 1926, Storck Products Company was finally raided by two Chicago special Prohibition agents. The agents had been on lookout the entire night for beer trucks moving between Milwaukee and Slinger. Shortly after five o'clock, three trucks loaded with empty beer barrels proceeded by a scout car drove to the loading platform at the brewery. The Prohibition agents, in a touring car, swooped down upon the scene and placed the drivers and Henry Storck under arrest. The Prohibition agents confiscated 2,348 gallons of 3.35 percent alcohol beer contained in 20 full barrels, 98 half barrels, 16 one-quarter barrels, and two pony barrels. The brewery was immediately padlocked and Henry was released the following day after posting a $500 bond. The confiscated beer was dumped down the sewer on Tuesday, March 9, 1926.
--- excerpted from Slinger's Very Own - Storck Brewing Company American Breweriana Journal, July-August 1995 by Otto Tiegs
While Storck Brewery reopened after repeal took effect on December 5, 1933, it never truly recovered from the blow dealt by prohibition, and was further hindered by ingredient shortages during World War 2. It eventually folded in the 1950's, another piece of a once rich immigrant culture gone.
As Cannabis Prohibition suppresses the cannabis culture, alcohol prohibition was a suppression of immigrant culture and a product of the same anti-German sentiment during the first World War that persuaded civic leaders to rename the town with the more American sounding name of Slinger.
America's failed attempt at alcohol prohibition was mercifully short. It only took a few years for many even ardent prohibitionists to change sides.
Today, cannabis prohibition, in its 71st year, seems intractable. But, cracks have been appearing in its once impenetrable facade for many years, and like alcohol prohibition in 1933, the tipping point may be near. Prohibition as an idea is at odds with not only human nature but also the American spirit. We all had ancestors who defied alcohol prohibition just like the mass disregard for the foolish and racist laws prohibiting marijuana today.
There is no defense for maintaining the monster of cannabis prohibition. America cannot truly be America as long as it persists, and President-elect Obama and Congress should seize this moment to put an end to this counterproductive wasteful injustice. It's time to end the sanctimony and face reality.
Posted by Gary at December 5, 2008 10:35 AM
Posted by: Ben Masel at December 5, 2008 12:34 PM
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