Prohibition and Hypocrisy: Living Wet, Voting Dry

Do our public officials vote based on their conscience? Or do they bend with the tides, an eye on their next exposure to the electorate? Or maybe they are motivated by providing some ROI for their biggest donors.

It is hard to say when hypocrisy began to play a role in the American democracy but one suspects it was pretty early on. Clearly it is alive and well today. Consider the Western Pennsylvania congressman who campaigned as a pro-lifer until his former mistress went public with his entreaties to her to have an abortion.  

Prohibition drinkers

Prohibition was high time for hypocrisy, in Washington, in state houses and in city halls. There was, in the words of Last Call author Daniel Okrent “a large and liquid gulf between how people voted and how they drank.” It was a time for voting dry, but living wet.

Starting at the top, Warren Harding was President when Prohibition went into effect. The Harding Administration is renowned for rampant corruption. The President himself may have been more a victim of bad judgement rather than an outright crook. And that bad judgement applied to more than just filling his administration with scoundrels and shysters. This is a guy who brought his 20-year-old lover into the White House and made love to her in a broom closet. So it’s not surprising that he might have slipped a bottle or two of contraband into the Presidential home.

Warren Harding
Warren Harding

Harding was a drinker. Scotch and soda was his preferred inebriant and he reportedly had some stock in a beermaker. He campaigned for Prohibition when he ran for the Presidency because that’s where he thought to votes were. In his book Prohibition, Edward Samuel Behr describes what Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth found when she was invited to the White House for a social event.  “Run of the mill guests were kept downstairs, where they were served fruit juice. Harding’s cronies, and other privileged guests, were invited upstairs where liquor flowed like water.”

It was the Treasury Department that was initially responsible for enforcing Prohibition. Harding’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, had little use for the new law. Not only was Mellon a drinker but he was part owner of the Old Overholt Rye Distillery.

Herbert Hoover oversaw the last years of Prohibition. He had not been an advocate of the 18th Amendment, but captured the “dry” vote in 1928 when running against the “wet” and Catholic governor of New York Al Smith. Upon assuming the Presidency, he attempted to enforce it by upping the penalties for violations. This from a man who, in his previous job as Secretary of Commerce, was known to have ended each workday with a visit to the Belgian Embassy for cocktails.

1932 election posterFranklin Roosevelt swept into office in 1932 with a platform that included a call for repeal. But earlier in his career, a young FDR as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, supported banning alcohol in that branch of the armed forces. And in 1919, with the 18th Amendment approved but not yet in effect, FDR bought four cases of Old Reserve for his New York apartment.

Twenty-two members of the Senate held seats both in 1919 when the 18th Amendment banning alcohol was approved and in 1932 when the 21st Amendment, repeal, was approved. Seventeen of those 22 voted for both amendments. Did they see the light of day? Or did they see which way the wind was blowing?

One of the strongest voices for Prohibition in the House, Ohio’s Republican Congressman Everett Denison, got caught smuggling wine after a cruise to the West Indies. Pennsylvania Senator Philander K. Know voted for Prohibition. Then, in the time before it went into effect, scored 20 cases of Old Overholt rye whiskey.

Smugglers reported keeping the basements of the Capitol building well stocked. Okrent quotes one senator who claimed that of all the “drys” in the Senate he only knew of three who didn’t drink.

At the state and local level corruption and bribery were rampant. The large-scale bootlegging operations that were prevalent in cities all over America went about their business often with little impediment because they had local officials, police and judges “in their pocket.”

Here are just a few examples I found:

  • The State of Georgia tapped a lawyer named Thomas B. Felder to write its Prohibition law. Felder was an alcoholic who would go on to represent a number of smugglers. Eventually he was indicted for bribery.
  • Coast Guard Captain Frank J. Stuart set the fee at $2,000 for liquor boats looking to land at Montauk.
  • Colonel Ned M Green was the federal Prohibition czar for Northern California. That is until he was indicted for embezzling confiscated government liquor stores. While he was acquitted of those charges he was later quoted referring to the Volstead Act as ‘silly’ and ‘foolish.’
  • When the feds raided Mobile, Ala., in 1923 the resulting list of indictments included a state legislator, the Mobile County Sheriff, five deputy sheriffs, the police chief and a member of the county board of revenue.

Prohibition raid

But if there is one person who is held up as an example of someone who was diligent and dedicated to enforcing Prohibition it was Mabel Willebrandt. Known as the First Lady of Law, she was assistant attorney general from 1921 to 1929. During that time, her office prosecuted nearly 50,000 Prohibition cases and she is regarded as being personally responsible for bringing down the famed Cincinnati bootlegger George Remus. She resigned in 1929 after Hoover snubbed her in naming a new Attorney General and went on to represent a company that produced raisin cake, an ingredient used to make wine at home.



The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996

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Prohibition and America’s Outlaw Entrepreneurs

Being what many would consider the leaders of the capitalist world, Americans have always celebrated the accumulation of wealth, whether it was the robber barons of the 19th century or the tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. Some have made their name and their fortunes by living outside the law, not to mention the norms of polite society.

Prohibition brought forward a whole host of criminals who became part of the folklore of the times: George Remus and Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. But there were a host of others who came from all walks of life and who straddled the line between felon and successful entrepreneur. Some were clearly in violation of the ban on selling, transporting and making alcohol, others violated merely the spirit of the law.

Here are some of their stories:

Spanish Marie

Spanish MarieMarie Waite was by all accounts a beautiful woman. With mixed Swedish and Mexican heritage, she was six feet tall with black hair and blue eyes. And to top it off she had a ton of money. But she was, in the words of Rum War at Sea author Malcolm Willoughby “a fickle and dangerous person, with morals as free as the four winds.” Many a man was attracted to her charms. And some are believed to have gone from her bedroom to the bottom of the Florida Straits encased in concrete.

Marie took over her husband’s rumrunning business after Charlie Waite was killed in a shootout with the Coast Guard. She set up shop in Havana and through a combination of bribery and ruthlessness became a leading supplier for Florida’s east coast from West Palm to the Keys. One of her tactics was to send an armada of four boats toward Florida. Three were packed with liquor, one with guns. If they were intercepted by the Coast Guard, the gun boat would hold them at bay while the floating liquor stores sped away. She also set up radio communications on her boats. Coded advisories, consisting of common Spanish words, were sent out from a pirate radio station in the Keys.

The Coast Guard eventually caught up to Spanish Marie. She was arrested in 1928 while overseeing the unloading of more than 5,000 bottles of liquor at Coconut Grove. When brought before a judge, she pleaded to be allowed to return to her two young children. He set a relatively low bail of $500 which was posted. And that was the last anyone saw of Spanish Marie. But her legacy lives on. There is a Spanish Marie Brewing Company in Miami and in Key West, Chef Distilled offers a bottle of Bad Bitch Rum with Spanish Marie’s photo on the label.

Bill McCoy

Bill McCoy was the son of a New York state mason of the same name who had fought in the Civil War. The family moved to Florida when he was in his 20’s and he and his brother started a motorboat service. He also built luxury boats for customers like Andrew Carnegie and the Vanderbilts. By the 1920’s, new highways and new vehicles made the McCoys’ boat transport business obsolete but by then it was Prohibition and another opportunity opened up.

McCoy bought a schooner, registered it as a British vessel, and began bringing rye, Irish and Canadian whiskey from the Bahamas to New Jersey. When things got hot along  coast, McCoy would anchor his boat three miles offshore in international waters and sell to smaller boats that would head out for a liquor shopping expedition.  Eventually the Coast Guard caught up to McCoy, boarding his ship the Tomoka after a chase and hauling him in.

McCoy saw little wrong with what he was doing. He was not a drinker, but he was not a fan of Prohibition either. He was proud of his reputation for selling high quality, undiluted liquor. He is credited with inventing the “burlock” a burlap sack for carrying six bottles of liquor stacked pyramid style. After his capture he pleaded guilty, did a nine-month term in a New Jersey prison, then headed back to Florida. You can still come across the McCoy name in liquor stores where you may be able to find “The Real McCoy Rum.”

Roy Olmstead

Roy OlmsteadRoy Olmstead was born on a farm in Nebraska. He moved to Seattle when he was 18 and got a job working the shipyards. Olmstead later joined the Seattle Police Department and rose rapidly through the ranks until he became a lieutenant in 1919. Washington State had prohibition laws starting in 1916, before the national constitutional amendment. So one of his jobs was to stake out folks running liquor down from Canada, something that gave him an idea for a more lucrative occupation than police work.

Olmstead started bootlegging while still on the force. In 1920 he got caught in a roadblock set up by federal agents. He was fired from the police force and fined $500. Now he had the time to make some real money. He would eventually make more money in one week of bootlegging than he did in 20 years of police work. Olmstead became known as the “the King of Puget Sound Bootleggers.” He became a significant employer in the Seattle area, where most did not consider him a criminal. At the height of his operation he was bringing 200 cases of Canadian liquor into Seattle per day.

Olmstead and his wife Elise started a radio station KFQX. One of its most popular programs was “Aunt Vivian” which consisted of Mrs. Olmstead reading bedtimes stories to children. But the station and the stories went off the air when the Olmstead residence was raided and Roy was arrested.

Olmstead appealed his conviction for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act based on the fact that evidence was gathered from a wiretap that was set up without a warrant. His appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the prosecution. But the dissenting opinion, by Louis Brandeis, eventually would become the basis for anti-wiretapping laws. Olmstead did a four year jail term after which he returned to Seattle and became a fumigator and insecticide salesman. In 1935 he received a full Presidential  from FDR.

Jimmy McGhee

motor boat

(image by Skeeze)

Jimmy McGhee had nothing to do with moving or selling liquor, but he made a significant contribution to rumrunners as the maker of a boat that the Coast Guard simply couldn’t keep pace with. McGhee was a self-taught mechanic in Manorville, N.Y., and during Prohibition he figured out how to attach engines from World War I fighter planes to speedboats to produce a boat that could hit up to 65 mph. Coast Guard boats couldn’t. McGhee’s boats were used by the bootleggers who would go out to meet the larger boats anchored in international waters, fill up with liquor, then speed back to the Hamptons area outpacing the Coast Guard.

McGhee never did anything illegal and never took a cut of the money from the bootlegging his boats enabled. With the end of Prohibition, McGhee continued his mechanical work. He was involved for awhile with race cars and he was brought on as an adviser to a company that made fighter places during World War II.

Georges de Latour

The coming onset of Prohibition sent shock waves through the Napa Valley. But there was one winemaker who didn’t seem that concerned. Turns our Georges de Latour of Beaulieu Vineyard was buddies with the archbishop of San Francisco and with sacramental wine still being legal during Prohibition, his business was set to boom.

California vineyard

(Image by Tim Mossholder)

De Latour founded Beaulieu in 1900 when he purchased four acres of land near Rutherford, Calif. He made a name for himself by importing rootstock from France which was resistant to Pylloxera, a disease that was plaguing other California vineyards. During Prohibition, through his connection with the archbishop, he sold wine to all of the priests in the district. And some of those priests were buying at bootlegger volume. De Latour’s sales increased four times. He frequently hosted priests from all over the country at Beaulieu. A couple years into Prohibition he had distribution outlets in seven midwestern and eastern cities. Last Call author Daniel Okrent notes: “Beaulieu’s wines were put into circulation beyond the alter by the irreversible physics of the era, that form of gravity that deposited potable alcohol in the cupboards of people whose need was not particularly spiritual.”

By the time of repeal, de Latour had some of the best and oldest vineyards in the state. He brought over world class winemakers from France and produced some of the best wines to come out of Napa Valley. Beaulieu still exists, although like most of the liquor industry it went through multiple owners during the late 20th century corporate consolidation. It was purchased by Heublein, which was then acquired by Nabisco, which sold it to Grand Metropolitan, which merged with Guinness and became Diageo. Most recently, Diageo sold Beaulieu to Treasury Wine Estates in 2016.

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Resist! Prohibition Era

It is part of America’s legacy that we don’t have much interest in obeying laws we don’t like. That’s what the Boston Tea Party was about. And this national will to resist didn’t go away after independence.

Perhaps no law was as widely disrespected and disregarded as the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Commonly known as Prohibition, the amendment banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors. Even before it went into effect, there were protests in many cities, including one in Boston Commons that included 50,000 people One clue about how this law would be received could be found in the New York Daily News on the day Prohibition took effect in January of 1920. They published a citizen’s guide on how to keep drinking.

One of the ways that could be accomplished was to exploit loopholes in the Volstead Act, the legislation that was supposed to provide for enforcement of the Prohibition amendment. The legislation was passed a few months before it went into effect and distillers used that time to move their stock out of the country. One of the favorites destinations was the Bahamas. Then, when the law was in force, they loaded up floating liquor stores and anchored three miles offshore in international waters. Local fisherman would ferry customers out to the booze boats.

The law allowed for the sale of alcohol for medicinal purposes. (Sound familiar?) In Chicago alone, 15,000 doctors and 57,000 retail pharmacists applied for licenses to sell medicinal alcohol. Dentists and veterinarians got into the act as well. Thirty million gallons of “medicinal” liquor was consumed during the first five years of prohibition. Another way around the Volstead Act was by partaking in “sacramental wine.” Quite a lot of that passed through the hands of priests and rabbis during their 20’s as their Catholic and Jewish constituents where almost universally opposed to Prohibition. The 18th amendment also produced a boon in legal production of industrial alcohol which tripled in the first half of the decade.


(Image by Levi Saunders)

One other way around the law was to make your own. Breweries that were supposedly put out of business by the 18th amendment initially tried selling soda and something called near beer, but eventually found a more lucrative path to pursue – malt extract. With the addition of yeast and water you could home brew real beer. Malt shops opened up in many cities selling the malt, yeast and various paraphernalia like bottles, filters and bottle-stoppers. These were the predecessors of the head shops that would emerge later in the century.

In Last Call, Daniel Okrent tells the story of a product called the Vino Sano Grape Brick, produced by some California grape growers. The brick came with instructions to add water to produce grape juice. But it also came with a warning. Customers were cautioned not to “add yeast or sugar, or leave it in a dark place, or let it sit too long before drinking it because it might ferment and become wine.” He also tells the story of Bowdoin College students brewing their own beer in their science labs. Prohibition led to an increase in student drinking as drinking age laws meant little when alcohol was banned entirely.

Making your own and consuming it at home was within the law. But some, mostly working class families, went a step further and turned their apartments into “blind pigs,” offering up some of their production to their neighbors, for a price. Prior to Prohibition, in 1917, Americans consumed 70 million gallons of legal wine. In 1925, they were putting away 150 million gallons of the homemade stuff.

Prohibition hung in efficy

Prohibition hung in effigy. (From New York Public Library public domain collection)

Resistance to Prohibition was not confined to the moonshiners, rumrunners and bootleggers. In fact, it went all the way to city hall and the statehouse. Running for governor of the state of New Jersey Edward I. Edwards promised to keep his state “as wet as the Atlantic Ocean.” He was elected. In Chicago when Big Bill Thompson was running for re-election as mayor he promised “we will not only re-open places these people have closed, but we’ll open 10,000 new ones.” He won as well. New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia went one step further. He announced a plan to go to the drugstore and buy the ingredients to make beer and then make it, inviting Prohibition agents to come and arrest him. They didn’t show. In the courthouses, federal Prohibition agents found that local juries had no interest in convicting their peers of Volstead violations.

By 1924, the state of New York passed legislation rescinding its Prohibition regulations. There was essentially no local enforcement of Prohibition in New York, New Jersey, Montana, Nevada and Wisconsin. In cities there was a situation similar to the current day “sanctuary cities.” Federal Prohibition agents got little help from local police or officials much the way ICE agents today are shunned in their hunt for undocumented immigrants.

By the end of Prohibition, many, many Americans were drinking openly and very publicly. The mostly male working class saloons which were the target of the advocates of Prohibition were indeed closed. But they were replaced by speakeasies, patronized by men and women.  In New York City by 1927, there were 30,000 of them.

The resistance was ultimately successful, albeit 13 years later. The 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, was ratified on December 5, 1933, Repeal Day.



The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996

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Prohibition as Class Warfare

Prohibition, America’s 13-year experiment with banning liquor, has been called the “War on Alcohol.” It could just as well be called the war on America’s working class.

New York Public Library imageIn the first decades of the 20th century, America was experiencing a new flood of immigrants from Europe. Industrialization concentrated these new Americans in its cities. Labor unions were growing and making themselves heard. Socialist, Marxist and anarchist ideologies were finding followers among the immigrants and workers. The folks that filled the tenements in our cities and production floors of our factories were no longer all Protestant, no longer all white and no longer all English speakers. And for many of the more comfortable classes, this was a cause for alarm.

One of the primary forces behind the drive for Prohibition was the Women’s Christian Temperance Society. They were upper and middle-class women. Many of their leaders became known as heroes in the fight for women’s suffrage. But, as their name suggests, Prohibition was their primary goal and the saloon was their target. Their motives were indeed benign, improve family life, protect women from drunken husbands, children from inebriated fathers, free the workers from the evils of alcoholism, etc. But unmistakably this was a group of the privileged seeking to impose a way of life on the not so fortunate. They weren’t looking to cut off the flow of liquor in their husband’s posh clubs, just to shutdown the saloons.

They were joined by businessmen, industrialists, the hierarchy of the Protestant Churches and the descendants of the Southern landed gentry. The Anti-Saloon League, a Protestant church-based Ohio organization that became a driving force in bringing about Prohibition, didn’t get all their money by passing around the collection plate. John D. Rockefeller kicked in $350,000. Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie backed them as well.

There was no national referendum on banning alcohol and there is significant doubt as to whether any such referendum would have ever passed. But in terms of electing “dry” vs. “wet” public officials the odds were stacked against the largely disenfranchised immigrant and black populations. At the same time, women’s suffrage was viewed by some Prohibition backers, including the KKK, as a way to ring up more votes on the dry side.

Once the Prohibition amendment was ratified and became part of the Constitution it became even more apparent who this was aimed at. Congress passed the Volstead Act which established the rules and enforcement process for Prohibition (a piece of legislation substantially written by the Anti-Saloon League). If you were among the well-heeled, there was a pretty significant loophole right out of the gate. One of the provisions of the Act was that Americans could consume alcoholic beverages that they had purchased for personal consumption prior to Prohibition going into effect. Congress completed its override of President Woodrow Wilson’s veto in October of 1919, but the act didn’t go into effect until January of 1920. In his book Last Call, author David Okrent tells some stories of what happened in the interim. Charlotte Hennessy, a silent film actress and mother of the more celebrated actress Mary Pickford, bought up the entire inventory of a liquor store and had it transferred to her basement. In Arizona, department store magnate Baron M. Goldwater, the father of Barry Goldwater, bought the bar and the brass rail from his favorite saloon and installed it in his basement where his son made beer.

The experience for working class Americans, immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities was very different. In the words of War on Alcohol author Lisa McGirr, “An unprecedented campaign of selective enforcement lurked beneath the surface glamour of the roaring 20’s that left the urbane elite sipping cocktails in swank, protected nightclubs…while Mexicans, poor European immigrants, African-Americans, poor whites in the south and the unlucky experienced the full brunt of Prohibition enforcements deadly reality.”

Home distilling

moonshine still

With no regulation, with the legitimate alcohol producers driven out of business, and with prices for black market beer and alcohol soaring, working class Americans often turned to dubiously produced moonshine, wood alcohol or other forms of industrial alcohol. Poisonous alcohol resulted in deaths, paralysis and blindness. The government itself played a role in this (The Chemist’s War). Frustrated by their inability to stop Americans from drinking the U.S. Treasury department ordered an increased use of methyl alcohol in the denaturing process used in producing industrial alcohol. The idea was that the added toxicity and befouled taste would keep people from drinking it. The impact was immediate. Some 700 deaths were reported as a result of poisoned alcohol in New York City alone that year.

Working class neighborhoods became crime scenes and were the site of gang violence. But it wasn’t the celebrated gangsters of the era that were showing up on court dockets. It was more likely to be a working class housewife busted for selling some homemade wine to her neighbors.  In Illinois, Italian-American homes were raided by Ku Klux Klansmen who were deputized in one Illinois county to help with the enforcement effort. And on the Mexican border some prohibition agents acted more like wild west gunslingers.

police action

The Volstead Act created new categories of crime and as a result U.S. prisons were filled to overcapacity with the addition of people who committed these new crimes. During the course of Prohibition, the number of inmates in federal prisons increased more than 350 percent. Some federal prisons were housing twice as many inmates as their maximum capacity. This foreshadows what would happen later in the century as American prisons were filled with non-violent drug violators, many of whom are held without being convicted of any crime because they are two poor to afford bail. And, as was the case in the 1920’s, it is minority groups that are vastly over-represented in the incarceration state. The NAACP reported that African-Americans and Hispanics made up 56 percent of the inmates in the U.S. in 2015, but only 32 percent of the overall population.

But there is one thing that both the rich and the poor had in common. They drank their way through the 13 years of Prohibition. In next week’s post I’ll look at how Americans resisted the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act.



The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996.



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Prohibition: A Nation of Immigrants, a Nation of Xenophobes

Statue of LibertyThe United States is a nation of immigrants. We have the largest immigrant population of any country in the world. One of the most iconic symbols of the American democracy is the Statue of Liberty with its inscription “give us your tired, your poor….” In 2015, 13% of our population was foreign born. According the Census Bureau, one out of every four children under 18 in the U.S. has at least one foreign born parent.

And yet time and again we have proven ourselves to also be a nation of immigrant haters. One need only watch the campaign of any present day right wing politician to see how he or she tries to scare up votes by fanning the flames of xenophobia. That is led by the president. His campaign promises emphasized things like building a wall on the Mexican border and banning Muslins from entering the country.

This type of immigrant hatred has at times been a significant influence on government policy in the United States. Prohibition was one of those times. In my previous post I noted that there were a lot of reasons why Americans in different walks of life supported Prohibition, but the final thrust that brought the constitutional amendment into being was based on the anti-immigrant sentiment that was fueled by the First World War.

The U.S. entered WWI in 1917. That same year, Woodrow Wilson submitted the 18th Amendment, banning alcohol, to the states for approval. It was ratified by the necessary three-fourths of states within a year and in early 1919, Prohibition was enacted by Congress. The campaign leading up to that moment had started in the 19th century and had always been tinged by reactionary attitudes toward immigrants. Edward Samuel Bahr, author of Prohibition , describes it this way: “Prohibition was the rearguard action of a still dominant overwhelmingly rural, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment, aware that its privileges and natural right to rule were increasingly threatened by the massive arrival of the largely despised (and feared) beer swilling, wine drinking, new American immigrants.”

Twenty million people immigrated to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. By 1910, almost 15% of the population was foreign born. In cities, that percentage was higher. Forty-one percent of New York City residents were foreign born. For many of these new Americans, Irish, German, Italian, Mexican, Slavs and Eastern European Jews, alcohol was a part of their culture. It was how they socialized, how they wound down after work. It was a part of their family gatherings and their religious services. They became the target of a broad range of Prohibition backers, ranging from moralistic reformers to vile bigots.


One of the primary focuses of Prohibition was the saloon, the largely male dominated local drinking hole.  It is estimated that there were about 300,000 saloons in the U.S. in the early 20th century and that 80% of them were owned by first-generation Americans. Their clientele likely reflected that percentage. The saloon was not just a place to go have a beer. For many new immigrants is was where they got their mail, where they looked for a job and where they found people who spoke their language. It was also a hub of political activity, a place where political machines set up shop. The primarily female progressive reform movement of the time, in its typically patronizing manner, saw the eradication of the saloon as a way to improve the lives of immigrant families. The name of the nation’s most powerful Prohibition lobbying group, the Protestant fundamentalist Anti-Saloon League, speaks for itself.

Those Prohibition advocates were high-minded compared to the outright bigots who saw immigration as a threat to both religious and racial purity. Last Call author Daniel Okrent notes, “Like the Catholics, the Jews peered behind the Prohibition banner and saw the white-hooded hatred of the Ku Klux Klan and foaming xenophobia of the nativist pastors who dominated the Methodist and Baptist churches.” And this despite the fact that in many Southern states there were hardly any immigrants.

Although Americans had been drinking somewhat heartily since the Mayflower arrived equipped with kegs of beer, Prohibition advocates saw the alcohol industry in the U.S. as an immigrant business. Germans had dominated the beer brewing industry since the second half of the 19th century and the distilleries were often owned by Jews. Henry Ford, an anti-Semite, decried the distilling industry as 95% Jewish controlled.

It was the German-ness of the brewing industry that finally pushed the battle to ban alcohol over the starting line. World War I gave rise to a wave of anti-German hysteria in the U.S. In Iowa it was illegal to speak German. Wisconsin burned German books. And in Boston you couldn’t play Beethoven, The Anti-Saloon League seized on this sentiment and put its considerable propaganda machine in motion associating alcohol with the enemy and positioning Prohibition as a patriotic act that would help win the war.

Once Prohibition was enacted it was immigrants that often bore the brunt of enforcement. Williamson County, Illinois, actually brought in the KKK to help with enforcement. They raided the homes of Italian-Americans and if they found wine, carted the men of the family off to jail. One noted Prohibition agent, Izzy Einstein, made a name for himself in New York by busting rabbis. And along the border, a government commission empaneled to study the failure of enforcement of Prohibition, concluded that treatment of Mexican-Americans was “unconstitutional, tyrannic and repressive.” Congress passed an Immigration Act in 1924 that limited the number of Europeans who could immigrate and outright banned Arabs and Asians.

One result of the way Prohibition was imposed on immigrant communities was a fundamental change in voting patterns in the U.S. that persists to this day. Urban, immigrant populations began voting in droves for the Democrats, starting in 1928 with the candidacy of New York’s Catholic and anti-Prohibition Governor Al Smith. While Smith was defeated, immigrants were a key block of the voters who elected Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and while the nationalities of immigration has changed, new Americans continue to support the Democratic Party to this day.



The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996.

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Prohibition: The Left and the Right Collaborate, Produce a Fiasco

One is tempted to think of Prohibition as the last stand of a Puritanical, moralistic 19th century ethic imposing its rigid behavioral standards on the whole country. And surely there were lots of folks of that sort pushing the issue. The Anti-Saloon League, a key influencer in both enacting and trying to enforce Prohibition, was built up through Protestant church communities.  But the story of Prohibition is more complicated than that. The issue spurred a division in American society similar in intensity to what we are experiencing today. It was urban vs. rural, Protestant vs. Catholic and Jew, black vs. white, woman vs. man. native born vs. foreign born. But it was not simply left vs. right.  Consider the fact that the women’s suffrage movement and the Ku Klux Klan were allies in this fight.

 Lisa McGirr, author of The War on Alcohol, describes the coalition that led the fight against drinking as “a mighty alliance of moralists, progressives, suffragists and xenophobes.” Preachers of what today we would call the religious right railed about how just a drop of alcohol would lead the drinker down the road to destruction. And the pseudo-scientific community chimed in with such gems as the claim that drinking made the body susceptible to spontaneous combustion.

To be fair, late 19th and early 20th century Americans drank. A lot. And apparently they have since the first Europeans hit these shores. In his book Prohibition , Edward Samuel Behr, traces the roots of American drunkenness to the very beginning. He adds “Eighteenth century Americans, whether rich or poor, slaves or free men and women, appear to have gone through life in a semiperpetual alcoholic haze.”

suffragettesMany of those who supported Prohibition were the progressives and reformers of their day.  One such group was the Women’s Christian Temperance Society, a key influencer in the “dry” movement. Their agenda was not just about turning off the taps. They also campaigned for women’s suffrage, prison reform, child welfare, free kindergarten, an 8-hour work week and an end to prostitution. For the most part they were upper and middle class white women who genuinely thought of themselves as working to improve the lot of their less advantaged countrymen (and women).

KKKTheir allies on the right had some very different reasons for supporting the cause. Today we think of the KKK mainly in terms of their despicable racism. But these spooks hated everybody. They hated the Irish and Italian immigrants because they were Catholic, they hated the Mexicans because they were Mexicans and they of course hated blacks. Since alcohol and the saloons where it was consumed were so much a part of the lives of these minority groups, racists and xenophobes were strong advocates of Prohibition even though many probably had no intention of giving up alcohol themselves.

What is especially curious is the link between women’s suffrage and Prohibition. The KKK wasn’t backing women’s suffrage based on their passion for equal rights. Instead they assumed that giving women the right to vote would swing the scales to electing pro-dry officials. Conversely, the brewing and distilling interests campaigned hard against women’s suffrage for the same reason.

Frances Willard

Frances Willard

Considering that from our perspective Prohibition was pretty misguided, it is astounding to read the list of names of prominent early 20th century Americans who supported it. That list includes Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, muckraking authors Upton Sinclair and George Kibbe Turner, women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone and Amelia Bloomer, social welfare pioneers Jane Addams and Lillian Wald, suffragist Frances Williard, civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, former heavyweight champion boxer and drinker John L. Sullivan, Orville Wright, Coca-Cola founder Asa Chandler, Broadway theater owner Lee Shubert, education reformer Horace Mann and novelists Jack London and Booth Tarkington.

There were many reasons behind their support of Prohibition. Ford thought it would increase productivity in his plants. Chandler figured he could sell more soda with beer off the market. Shubert envisioned the guys who spent all their time in saloons heading for the theater instead. But one issue above all else carried the day. Hatred of immigrants. And specifically, those immigrants who taught us most of what we know about beer, the Germans. In next week’s post I’ll look at how xenophobia led to this 13-year long fiasco.



The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr, 2017.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent, 2010

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America, Edward Samuel Behr, 1996.

(Photos from New York Public Library Public Domain Digital Collection.)

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Tess McIntyre Foundation: Abandoned, Mistreated Dogs Get a Second Chance

They came from Korea and from Turkey. From South Carolina and Southern California. One lost an eye. One lost a leg. Another lost most of his coat.

What all these dogs have in common is they have all become happy, healthy animals living in safe, loving homes. And they have one more thing in common. Each benefitted from the donations made to the Tess McIntyre Foundation (TMF) as we used those funds to support their medical needs and recovery.

Working with our partners Home for Good Dog Rescue in Berkeley Heights, N.J., and Southern California Golden Retriever Rescue (SCGRR) in Los Angeles, here are a few of the dogs we have assisted:


Adami was saved from the meat market. Literally. He was rescued from a cage in the back of a butcher shop by a South Korean animal rights activist who got in touch with SCGRR and arranged to get him transported to Los Angeles. Adami had a severe case of heartworm and his treatment lasted for several months. TMF’s donation helped offset some of the cost of Adami’s extensive medical bills. During this time, he stayed with one of SCGRR’s foster families. It’s safe to say he graced their home with his presence, because with his health recovered he was put up for adoption and it was the foster family who decided to take him in permanently.



None had a tougher start in life than Aiden. A mixed breed who was found alone in the woods in southern Georgia, Aiden was starving, suffering from heartworm and mange, and had wounds that suggested physical abuse. TMF made a donation to Home for Good to sponsor Aiden as he was taken to their Aiken. S.C., facility, nursed back to health and socialized with other dogs. A volunteer pilot brought Aiden with a group of other dogs to New Jersey where he was adopted. A short while later his new owners reported that this guy, who had to struggle to survive on his own in Georgia, was the hit of his new neighborhood and that their teenage children’s friends were coming over to play with him regularly.


We don’t know how Carolina ended up as a stray. But at 12-weeks old she was found in Edgefield, S.C., malnourished, with severe mange and with a leg damaged from being hit by a car. Home for Good moved her to the care facility in Aiken, S.C., where she recovered from her mange but her leg had to be amputated. TMF pledged to match $1,000 in donations in order to cover the $2,000 in medical bills for this dog. By the time Home for Good brought her up north, Carolina was an energetic, playful and happy puppy. She was adopted by a New Jersey man as a 1-year anniversary present for his wife.


Darius was four years old when he was found abandoned in Turkey. Blind in both eyes, his right eye was painfully swollen when he was flown to Southern California and turned over to SCGRR. TMF also set up a matching fund to help pay for the surgery to remove Darius’ right eye and relieve the pressure. Following the surgery, he was lovingly cared for by one of SCGRR’s foster families and when fully recovered adopted by a Southern California couple that had previously owned a blind dog and knew what to expect and how to take care of him.

In getting to know these brave dogs we have been amazed at their resilience. Some were abandoned by people they trusted, others were subjected to outright cruelty. But that never stopped them from welcoming their caregivers, their foster families and their new owners into their hearts. Nor did they hesitate to offer companionship and warmth to people who took them in.

In addition to working with these dogs, TMF pitched in to help during hurricane season. We purchased a generator for HFG’s medical care facility in South Carolina and donated to the Red Cross in Houston after the hurricane there.

About 1.4 million dogs are adopted in the U.S. each year. Another 1.2 million are euthanized in shelters. The number that we are able to reach is less than a drop in a bucket. But each one represents a happy, and in some cases an inspiring story, and with the help of our donors, we hope to be able to be a part of more and more stories like these in the future.

The Tess McIntyre Foundation is a 501(c)3 charity located in La Quinta, Calif. The foundation has no employees and we cover all administrative costs ourselves. One hundred percent of the donations we receive go toward helping these animals. Donations can be made at the foundation web site.



(The author, Ken Dowell, is a trustee of the Tess McIntyre Foundation.)



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Work in America: Why is Full Employment So Unfulfilling?

Steel mill

Photo by Jean Beaufort

Economists in the U.S. describe full employment as an unemployment rate that is between 4 and 6.4%. In October the unemployment rate was 4.1%. It had hovered around 5% throughout 2016. Depending on which economist’s definition of full employment you subscribe to, we have been at full employment for 2 or 3 years. In fact the unemployment rate has dropped every year since 2010 when it was nearly 10%.

And yet there is an underlying feeling amongst many Americans that the economy isn’t working for them and that the job outlook is something other than what these stats suggest. We are just a year removed from a presidential election that was in large part decided on economic pessimism. That was fueled by Trump’s demonizing of immigrants as taking American jobs, raging about American companies (like his daughter’s) that outsource manufacturing oversees and refuting the very idea of climate change so as to remove all restrictions on polluting and contaminating business operations.. And enough voters bought into this to elect Trump even if he was on the short end of the popular vote.


Photo by veeterzy

Why is full employment so unfulfilling?  There are some real reasons that go beyond campaign rhetoric. Here are six of them.

1.       The gig economy. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that a whopping 40% of American workers are contingent workers. That means they are temps, freelancers, independent contractors, part-timers or consultants. What they don’t have is the safety net of benefits and regulations that was built up around the concept of full-time employment. They likely have to buy their own healthcare insurance and set up their own retirement plan and for most there’s no guarantee their job will be around this time next year.

2.       All the folks who don’t count. The unemployment rate is based on individuals who have worked or who have looked for work in the past 12 months. There are 95 million Americans who are not considered to be part of the labor force. Ten years ago that number was 79 million, so more than 15 million Americans have dropped out of the work force over that time period.  Most of these people are retired, disabled or are students of some type. But an estimated 5% of them have given up looking for a job because they can’t find one that matches their skills or they just don’t have employable skills. We have also flooded our jails with non-violent offenders. A large portion have not been convicted of any crime but can’t come up with the bail money. Others are sitting in jail for crimes like possessing marijuana for recreational use. What all of them can’t do is get a job.

Wall Street
Photo by Alex Van

3.      Wall Street’s narrowvision. Wall Street analysts are, with few exceptions, evaluating companies based on their short-term profitability. That means public companies are being managed for short-term profitability not growth. One of the fastest ways to achieve greater profitability is to cut staff. That not only means outright layoffs but also the replacement of older more experienced workers for younger inexperienced ones who will work for less. It also means that technology will be viewed in terms of automation that can reduce staffing costs rather than as a way to enhance businesses. Venture capital companies often do a similar thing. Some are looking to flip companies much the way real estate investors flip houses. Buy a firm, cut its operating expenses to improve profitability and turn it around on the market. Another common tactic of VC firms is to put together compatible or competitive businesses and take advantage of “synergies.” Those synergies are usually people, the goal being to run the two concerns with the staff of one, thus boosting profitability, and unemployment.

4.       Working for next to nothing. According to the Pew Research Center there are 20.6 million people who are “near-minimum wage” workers. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour  No cause for optimism there. In addition, a survey by found that 46% of Americans consider themselves to be underemployed. That would equate to 22 million workers. Underemployment may mean doing a job that doesn’t reflect a worker’s skills and abilities, working part-time instead of full-time and/or being underpaid.

5.       The retail sector is failing. Credit Suisse has put out a report predicting that one in four or five malls will be closing down in the next five years. This year alone they expect 8,600 stores to close. Nearly a half million retail jobs have been lost in the last 15 years. And the online retail sector that is largely responsible for the disruption of physical stores only adds about one job for each four lost in brick and mortar stores. And even those jobs, such as the warehouse order pickers at Amazon, are threatened by the biggest employment issue of all, automation and technology.


Photo by Alex Knight

6.       The invasion of the robots. None of the candidates in either of the dominant political parties in the U.S. address what is likely the most impactful issue on the future of work in America.  Technology. Robots replacing humans. AI replacing HI (human intelligence). Likely they have no clue what to say. This is nothing new. For years now we’ve been talking to voice recognition auto-attendants whenever we call the banks, utilities, insurance companies and just about any other sort of business of scale. Most experts expect the future of manufacturing to be done almost exclusively by robots. So we might well be bringing manufacturing back within our shores, but not the jobs that left with it. There’s a company making robots that replace room service staff in hotels. Driverless cars may well make one of the biggest employment opportunities of the gig economy obsolete. And there are self-driving trucks in development that will eliminate those jobs.

While the numbers continue to tell us we are at full employment, add the numbers of the labor pool dropouts, the underemployed, the people in dying industries and the folks who are looking over their shoulders at robots and it’s not hard to understand why we are so insecure about our future of work.

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On the 50th Anniversary of a Summer of Urban Warfare in America

Fifty years ago, 1967, urban warfare broke out in cities throughout America. It happened in Milwaukee and Chicago and Buffalo. It happened in Cincinnati and Atlanta and Boston. And most notably, it happened in Detroit and Newark. Depending on your perspective these were either riots or rebellions. Either way it was street warfare between black inner city residents and white police and troops. Invariably it was over-aggressive policing that set the fire and usually it was over-aggressive policing that ended it.

Harlem stores damagedI was a teenager at the time growing up in an all-white middle-class town not too far from Newark, living with my blatantly racist father.  He and people like him processed this as blacks looting stores and burning buildings until the National Guard came in and restored peace. That narrative conveniently leaves out the cause, both the short-term cause and the long-term cause. To acknowledge either would have skewed his oversimplified vision of the world.

Movie poster for DetroitOn this 50th anniversary I saw two movies about the urban chaos of that summer. One, Detroit, is a fictional account of an individual act of police brutality, although police brutality may be an understatement. It was really murder, two unarmed black men killed by police for no crime other than being black in Detroit in the neighborhood where the disturbances were taking place. And, oh yeah, for being with white women.

The other, Revolution ’67, is about Newark before, during and after the riot/rebellion. Made by lifelong Newark residents this movie is 10 years old and has been shown on public TV, but was screened locally on this anniversary year. It covers police brutality as well but focuses on much broader issues like poverty, housing, education and jobs.

I think of the urban chaos of 1967 as a turning point. It represents the end of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the an angrier, more militant and more demanding era of black activism: Black Power, Black Muslims and Black Panthers. It wasn’t going to be enough to be able to sit in any seat on the bus, not if you didn’t have any money to get on the bus or any job to take the bus to.

The question these movies raise is are we really better off now than we were 50 years ago? In Detroit, the movie ends with an all-white jury finding the sadistic cop not guilty in a courtroom half-filled with other cops, showing their support though surely some of them know what happened. That of course is the same verdict delivered in the case of the Baltimore cops who killed Freddie Grey in the back of a police van. It is the same verdict delivered in the case of the Cleveland cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice whose crime was to play with a toy gun in a public park. And it is the same verdict delivered to the cop who strangled Eric Garner to death in Staten Island after he was caught selling loose cigarettes. One of the many disconcerting scenes in Detroit is when a Michigan state trooper comes upon the scene where the Detroit cops are holding and terrorizing a group of black men. He sees that something very wrong is going on and tells his men to get the hell out of there so they have no part in it

Many attribute Newark’s continuing problems to the events of 1967. But the city was suffering from a loss of people and jobs even before that. Some 400,000+ lived in Newark in 1960. The population was down to 277,000 in 2010. The migration to the suburbs started after World War II. The unrest of 1967 exacerbated an already existing trend. Those who could afford to and who were not restricted by discriminatory lending policies headed out. The city became progressively poorer and blacker. We didn’t have legal segregation in New Jersey, but when it comes to housing we have been and continue to be a substantially segregated state.


One of the commenters in Revolution ’67 points out that in the mid 60’s there were no black faces in city hall, no black police chiefs, you couldn’t even find a black store clerk downtown or a black bank teller. Well now the city has had black mayors since 1970, there is a black police chief and lots of black faces behind the registers in downtown stores. Yet some 30% of Newarkers are living in poverty, a rate that is up from 25% in 2007 when the movie was made.

Newark is seen by some as enjoying something of a renaissance. That is happening downtown where a Whole Foods just opened in an old abandoned retail building. It joins a Starbucks and a Nike Store on Broad Street. Prudential has a new downtown headquarters building and Audible and Panasonic have moved operations there. The city boasts a performing arts center and an NHL hockey arena. New housing is being built downtown and a hotel opened for the first time in decades. It has provided some jobs and it is bringing more people into downtown Newark thus opening up some opportunities for small businesses.  But many residents will point out that all of this downtown development is doing nothing for the neighborhoods. Nothing to address the substandard housing, under-achieving public schools and the crime and drugs associated with poverty.

There is a larger trend in America of cities growing and of younger people who prefer an urban environment to the suburbs. That’s really easy to see if you watch people pouring into cities like Denver and Nashville. It’s maybe not as clear that cities like Detroit and Newark will benefit as well.

Finally there is the issue of our federal government. In 1967 Lyndon Johnson was president. LBJ was a foreign policy disaster and the commander in chief who sent tens of thousands of Americans to their death in southeast Asia, including an overrepresentation of poor, city kids. But on the domestic front, he was a champion of civil rights, of voting rights and a staunch opponent of segregation and discrimination. By all accounts he truly believed in this. Who knows what our current president truly believes in, aside from maybe accumulating wealth. But it has become pretty clear that we have a racist attorney general and that white supremacists have been welcome in the White House. And the ruling Republican party is actively trying, in several states, to restrict voting rights.

So as I think back to 1967 and watch these both fictional and documentary stories of that time, I’d like to think it was a different era and that we’ve moved past that summer of urban warfare. But when you take a long look at the underlying problems that triggered it, it’s hard to make that case.

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Sunday in the (Sculpture) Park

Seward Johnson sculpture

God Bless America, Seward Johnson

Peacock Cafe

Grounds for Sculpture

Hamilton, N.J.

Seward Johnson

Seward Johnson’s sculpted self portrait. Part of the larger work, Were You Invited

Seward Johnson sculpture

Chamber of Internal Dialogue, Seward Johnson

Shewmaker sculpture

Vita, Michael Shewmaker

Rat's Restaurant

Rat’s Restaurant for Sunday brunch

Joyce Scott sculpture

Araminta with Rifle and Veve, Joyce C. Scott

Hatcher sculpture

Time Reversing, Brower Hatcher

Seward Johnson sculpture

King Lear, Seward Johnson

Sculpture garden grounds

Newman sculpture

Skyhook, John Newman

Johnson Sculpture

Mystical Treasure Trip, Seward Johnson


Seward Johnson scupture

My Sixteen Year Old Jazz Dreams, Seward Johnson

Seward Johnson sculpture

Redon’s Fantasy of Venus, Seward Johnson

Seward Johnson sculpture

Double Check: Makeshift Memorial, Seward Johnson



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