Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prohibition circa 1909

The cartoon points to a huge problem for beer in the years between 1904 and 1917. You might have noticed the headline in the Salem Brewery Association ad: When you are dry, why not buy. Of course it suggests that when you are thirsty you should have a beer! But the word "dry" must also suggest the dichotomy of wet and dry states, counties, and cities. I think the slogan must also be a suggestion for residents of dry towns, where there were no bars or saloons, to buy beer in a wet town and store it at home.

Before 1919, when the entire nation voted to go dry, in the years between 1904 and 1916, Oregon had a patchwork of laws and a jumble of wet and dry territories. In 1904, the second statewide general election in which there were ballot measures, Oregon voters passed the local option liquor law. I believe this operated at the county level, though W.S. U'Ren notes in an 1907 article on Initiative & Referendum that some "precincts" had gone dry as well.* According to the 1911 Britannica, by 1908 nineteen of the thirty-three Oregon counties were dry.

There is conflicting information on when Salem went dry. One source says 1913, another says 1909.** If Salem was dry in 1909, this would certainly sharpen the ad's headline. In any event, the Salem Brewery Association, the successor to the Capital Brewery, produced beer, though it could not sell it in Salem, until 1914.

Prohibition, of course, wiped out the hops trade. The cartoon is from the Oregonian in 1906. It suggests there were hop growers who might also have advocated for prohibition. There were certainly bills introduced into the legislature that separated beer and whiskey for separate treatment, making one legal the other illegal.

During this Sesquicentennial week, tip a pint and remember that one of Oregon's great legacies is making brewpubs legal again in 1983.

*[update - the measure was confusing, and did count the votes in each precinct by themselves; in some instances precincts voted to go dry even when the whole county did not]

**[update - it was 1913]

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