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Beer on DVD  no39


From Ken Burns, one of the masters of the documentary, come this compelling three parter. We tend to forget how long that ban on liquor in the USA went on. It was shown over here on the PBS America Channel in December 2012. There are over 6 hours of footage in 3 discs, showing how the temperance movement in white Protestant mainly small town America had had enough of the nation's menfolk throwing away their lives and wrecking their family life through the demon drink. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution barring manufacture, sale and distribution of intoxicating beverages was put into place at the end of 1919, and with it came a host of unintended consequences. As well as joblosses across the amusement, entertainment and restaurant sector, the tax revenue to city halls from legitimate sales immediately dried up and before long small time crooks became big time ones. Nobody that wanted a drink had to go without one. 32,000 speakeasies (where almost for the first time men and women drank together) materialised in the basements of New York and Brooklyn and by 1926 the US was the world's biggest importer of cocktail shakers. Californian grapegrowers started canning  (or packaging as "winebricks" grape pulp with the warning that if left in the warm it could start to ferment! US breweries like Anheuser Busch started producing "malt extract". Canadian brewers and distillers did pretty well. Drugstores enjoyed booming liquor sales for "medicinal purposes". The number of registered pharmacists in New York State tripled during Prohibition! The king of the illicit distribution networks in Chicago was that folk hero Al Capone. A law that was meant to foster temperance instead encouraged intemperance and excess. No law had been so imperfectly applied or widely ignored and probably the worst consequence was the corruption it led to among public officials. The Roaring Twenties were a boomtime for bootleg liquor but then the Wall Street Crash and the collapse of the economy under Republican Herbert Hoover led to a Democrat landslide in 1933 and prohibition started being dismantled straight away with the return of badly needed jobs. Last state to repeal Prohibition was Kansas in 1948 and even there a few small towns hang on with it. See clips here: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/prohibition-nationwide

printed in O-to-K  in 2013 text RKW 2012