Seventy-Five Years Ago: Roosevelt Signs the Beer Revenue Bill

Counting Down to April 7, the Anniversary of the Return of Legal Beer

March 22, 1933: Seventy-five years ago today, Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation designed to "provide revenue by the taxation of certain non-intoxicating liquor." The bill modified the old Volstead Act to define a "non-intoxicating" beverage as one that contained to 3.2 percent alcohol. (The old version of Volstead defined "non-intoxicating" as beverages of a half percent alcohol.)

In simple language, even though Prohibition remained in effect, Americans could now manufacture and sell fermented beverages of 3.2 percent alcohol content. After thirteen dry years, "real" beer would go on sale at 12:01 a.m. on April 7.

President Roosevelt and Congress expected the "revenue" bill to stimulate employment in brewing and related industries, and, more important, thanks to a tax levy of five dollars per barrel, funnel revenue into the federal treasury.

An impromptu celebration erupted in downtown Milwaukee, where traffic came to a halt and people danced in the streets. Thousands of people lined up at breweries in that city and in St. Louis and New York, hoping to get one of the jobs that were now available. A third of adults were out of work. Millions were homeless and hungry. But now, after a long winter and several years of despair, hope was on the way.