Sunday, April 6, 2008

Happy Days Are Here Again

Anheuser-Busch hopes that beer drinkers across the nation will raise a glass on April 7 to toast a significant milestone in the history of American brewing – the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition for beer in the United States. But is April 7 really a date for celebration?
Bob Skilnik, author of "Beer & Food: An American History", argues that industry embellishments and poor research have distorted the true date of Repeal on December 5, 1933, which signified the revocation of the 18th Amendment and the enactment of the 21st Amendment and brought back the manufacture and sale of all alcoholic beverages.

"Congressional events leading up to April 7, 1933 allowed only the resumption of sales for legal beer with an alcoholic strength of no more than 3.2% alcohol by volume (abv), weak by today's standards. Congress had earlier passed the so-called Cullen-Harrison Bill which redefined what constituted a legally 'intoxicating' beverage. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill on March 23, 1933. The bill's passage took the teeth out of the bite of the Volstead Act of 1919 and raised the Prohibition-era legal limit of alcoholic drinks from .05% abv to 3.2% abv."

Regardless of what Skilnik says the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis, the nation’s largest brewer will celebrate the anniversary with a gathering commemorating the events of April 7, 1933, including the introduction of the Budweiser Clydesdales and the re-broadcast of August A. Busch, Jr.’s national radio address from the steps of the Budweiser brewery’s Bevo bottling plant.

On the night of April 6, 1933, more than 25,000 St. Louisans, , gathered with eager hearts and tin cups in hand to once again sip Budweiser, a sensation legally unknown to them for 14 years.

As the clock atop the brewhouse showed one minute past midnight on April 7, 1933, sirens and steam whistles sounded, the large wooden doors of the brewery’s bottling plant opened to the cheers of the thirsty, and 55 trucks laden with America’s favorite brew rolled out into the night, delivering the first cases of post-Prohibition Budweiser to the masses.

The airwaves echoed with the voice of August A. Busch, Jr., who spoke to the nation through a radio broadcast welcoming the return of beer saying “Beer is back!” and restoring confidence in American industry during the Depression. “April the 7th is here and it is a real occasion for thankfulness marking a newfound freedom for the American people made possible by the wisdom, foresight, and courage of a great President and the cooperation of an understanding Congress,” Busch proclaimed.

Simultaneously, the Budweiser neon-lit clock in New York’s Times Square rang out with the tune, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

On December 5, 1933, the true end of National Prohibition became a reality when Utah signed on to the Repeal amendment, satisfying the requirement of needing at least 36 states for the enactment of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It is clear that Anheuser-Busch is trying to follow the Hallmark model of establishing a holiday around an existing product in order to boost sales. They would certainly receive less flak from historians if they used December 5 as the day that they commemorated the repeal of prohibition. Looking at it from a marketing standpoint it would be difficult to sell the nation on going out on a blistery December night to celebrate a non-holiday. So taking a queue from Cinco De Mayo they are taking advantage of the spring weather, and the added bonus of the NCAA tournament. So go out and celebrate on the 7th the repeal of prohibition is as good of a reason to drink as any—as if you needed one.

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