Seventy-Five Years Ago: New Beer Eve

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

April 6, 1933: By mid-afternoon, thousands of people surrounded the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis. A string of 1,500 trucks crawled along Arsenal Street, entering the brewery on 7th Street, where workers loaded each with kegs and crates, and then rolling back out on to Broadway to await the midnight signal.

Up in Wisconsin, the general manager of Fox Head-Waukesha Brewing, who had once worked for Barnum and Bailey Circus, knew something about organizing parades of large objects. Instead of acrobats, he had 40,000 cases of beer; instead of elephants he had dozens of trucks that would haul the beer. The drivers would spend the evening napping in their cabs. At 12:01 a.m. on the 7th, a hired bugler would sound reveille to waken them. (There was no chance the drivers would take off early: they'd turn their ignition keys over to federal inspectors, who would hand them back at midnight.)

And so it went around the country in the towns and cities lucky enough to have functioning breweries. Huge crowds gathering to watch (and hoping for free samples). Trucks lining the streets for a mile or more. Tavern patrons sipping coffee, chatting, and dancing to radio or live music while they waited.

New Beer Eve, some people called it. An adult's version of Christmas, with the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve thrown in for good measure. The moment wouldn't last forever, of course. In another day, maybe two, bartenders would sweep up the confetti and stack the empty bottles. They'd swab down the bar and wheel away drained kegs. Party goers would crawl home to nurse their hangovers and sleep before returning to the grind of daily life: worrying about bills, fixing dinner, changing kids' diapers.

But on April 6th, Americans reveled in the moment -- one sweetened by the knowledge that brewers were hiring workers and paying millions in tax revenues into federal, state, and municipal treasuries. On April 6, help -- and hope -- were on the way.