National Beer Day is a holiday celebrated annually on April 7—a day which commemorates the enactment of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which ultimately led to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting alcohol in the United States.
During the 19th century, “dry crusaders”—including organizations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League, began agitating for a ban on alcohol. These organizations—comprised largely of women—believed that alcohol abuse was at the root of domestic abuse, and that teaching temperance to their children would soothe a multitude of societal ills.
Bolstered by the formation of the Prohibition Party—a socially conservative U.S. political party—”dry crusaders” gained enough traction to get the Volstead Act, more commonly known as the National Prohibition Act, passed over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
Beginning in 1920, a constitutional ban prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.
Although prohibitionists claimed a few early victories, like declining rates of liver cirrhosis and fewer arrests for public drunkenness, there was backlash. Organized crime, which gained control of the black market for beer and liquor, went on the rise. At the same time crime rates were increasing, local revenues were sinking—cities no longer were collecting the tax revenue from the sale of alcohol.
Prohibition didn’t mean, however, that people weren’t drinking. They just weren’t drinking in the open. Within a week of Prohibition’s enactment, portable stills were being sold nationwide. People who saw Prohibition on the horizon had been stockpiling alcohol for personal use. By 1925, New York City was famous for its thousands of speakeasies—underground saloons where alcohol was sold illegally. Sales of grape juice—a primary ingredient in bootleg wine—quadrupled during the Prohibition era. President Warren G. Harding even smuggled a cache of booze into the White House after inauguration, just as his predecessor, President Woodrow Wilson, was moving his own personal supply back to his private residence.
Prohibition continued to lose support, and was dealt a major blow when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Cullen-Harrison Act, effective April 7, 1933. The Act legalized the sale of low alcohol beer and wine (3.2%), which was considered too weak to be intoxicating. President Roosevelt purportedly proclaimed upon its signing, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”
We concur. Whether you’re a fan of pilsners or porters, lagers or lambics, ales or dunkels, raise a glass to National Beer Day on April 7!
National Beer Day is typically celebrated