A much anticipated documentary on the prohibition era will air Sunday night on WXXI. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tell the story of “the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” which outlawed alcohol and tossed everything we thought we knew about America upside down.
The following is an excerpt from a 1992 edition of Rochester History magazine, edited by Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, City Historian…
The following year the first public meeting was held at the Monroe County Court House. Dr. Ioseph Penney of the First Presbyterian Church urged fellow clergymen to ban social drinking from church groups. Total abstinence was called for at the first National Temperance Convention in 1830.
Years of Prohibition
Rochester City Health Officer George Goler believed prohibition would end death by intoxication, but in fact deaths increased because people drank poisoned home brew. Many people were arrested for running stills in their homes or garages. Prohibition created a business for illegal trade in alcohol from Canada too. Smugglers crossed Lake Ontario and made drops at isolated points along the beach or along lrondequoit Bay.
In a dramatic incident in 1927, a fifty-foot Coast Guard picket was patrolling the east shore of Lake Ontario at 4 a.m. when a crewman noticed a light among the trees on shore. A lantern could be seen as the Guard neared the beach. The Guards spotted a boat and commanded it to stop when the engines started. The men on the small boat ignored the command and sped away as the Coast Guard followed in pursuit. The Guards fired as many as 650 shots from the machine gun mounted on the boat’s deck. Gunfire from revolvers and rifles was returned and the Guards took cover. When ammunition and fuel began to run low, the Guards returned to port without having captured the smugglers.
The End of Prohibition
Five breweries opened when Prohibition ended; American Brewing Co., Cataract Brewing Co., Rochester Brewing Co., Standard Brewing Co. and Genesee Brewing Co.
Gambling on the repeal of the 18th Amendment, Louis Wehle purchased the old Genesee Brewing Company buildings and its recipes in 1932. He was then vice president and general manager of Wehle Baking Company on Clarissa Street. He hired as many of the old Genesee Brewing Company employees as he could find.
He brewed the famous “Liebotschaner” and on April 29, 1933 sold their first brew. A victory party was held at the Powers Hotel to celebrate the repeal.
The production of the old brewery began in 1878 and ended with Prohibition. The new brewery was deliberately modeled on the first, but increased its capacity. A thousand people were 20 employed by 1934. Another hundred men and horses harvested ice. The bottling industry flourished as more and more people had beer delivered to their homes by horse-drawn wagon. Wagon makers, blacksmiths, ferries, farmers all benefited. Thousands of dollars in taxes were paid by the industry.
Was a lesson learned during Prohibition? The Genesee Brewing Company declared in 1933, “Don’t look back on Prohibition. Look to the future. What will it be? No one can say, of course, but one may fervently hope that they will be days of sanity and temperance-in habits, in actions and in words. Good beer—such as Liebotschaner—is an ideal beverage for such an era, for it is both refreshing and nourishing …. May the good taste which made and which makes it Rochester`s favorite, last forever. May the fountain never run dry!” Today only the Genesee Brewing Company brews in Rochester.
The Cataract Brewing Company went out of business in 1940, the American Brewing Company followed in 1950. Rochester Brewing Company and Standard Brewing Company ended separate production in 1956 when they joined together. When Standard Rochester Brewing Company closed in 1958, Genesee Brewing Company was the sole brewer. However, its production was nearly twenty times that of all the brewers combined in the late 19th century.
Tags: American Brewing Company, Bartholomay Brewery Co., Cataract Brewing Company, Clarissa Street, Doud Saloon, Frankfort Tavern, Front Street, Genesee Brewing Company, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, prohibition, Rochester, Rochester Brewing Company, Rochester history, Rochester NY, Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, speakeasy, Standard Brewing Company, temperance movement, Wehle Baking Company
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