Prohibition, Beer and Baltimore


Figure 1. Beer bottle dated c. 1910 from the
Monumental Brewing Company of Baltimore, Maryland.

As I perused social media and news feeds early in January, I kept coming across stories about the benefits of a dry January. An alcohol-free month was not in my cards, however, because an early January archaeological conference meant lots of social beers with colleagues. 

One hundred years ago this month, in January of 1920, citizens of the United States began to experience a long, dry period as Prohibition got underway. Congress passed the 18th Amendment in October of 1919, following it on January 16, 1920 with the passage of the Volstead Act, designed to enforce Prohibition.  The amendment made it illegal to produce, transport and sell alcohol in the United States. With the exception of Maryland, every U.S. state passed state-level versions of the Volstead Act (Walsh 2017).

Resistance to Prohibition was strong in Maryland, which had elected “wet” governor Albert Ritchie in 1920 (Ciammachilli 2019). This resistance even earned Maryland its nickname of the “Free State” in 1922 (Walsh 2017). Lawmakers in Baltimore especially opposed Prohibition.  Despite opposition within the city, however, the effects of the ban on alcohol were almost immediate, with the closing of bars, saloons and breweries (Levy 2016).  Of Baltimore, the American newspaper wrote that “gloom fell over the wet trade” (cited in Walsh 2017).

Baltimore has always been a city of breweries. The city’s first breweries were established in the first half of the 18th century and produced British-style ales. The bird’s eye view of the city shown on the 1869 Sasche Map illustrates at least 15 breweries, some of them with beer gardens. This preponderance of breweries can be traced back to the increasing German immigration, beginning in the 1840s. Germans brought with them a love of lighter lager beers, whose production began to predominate in the city’s beer manufacturing.  

Figure 2. Illustration of George Bauernschmidt’s brewery as shown on the 1869 Sasche Map of Baltimore. Baurenschmidt opened his brewery in 1864 and remained in operation until 1898, when he and a number of other breweries consolidated into the American Brewery Company. Digital version of the map available at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3844b.pm002540/?r=0.093,0.004,0.101,0.062,0.

Beer bottles are a common find at archaeological sites, beginning in the second half of the 19th century.  The Monumental Brewing Company bottle shown in Figure 1 was found in a privy sealed around 1910 at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27) in the Otterbein neighborhood of Baltimore.  The Monumental Brewing Company opened in 1900, but went out of business in 1920, at the start of Prohibition.  

Baltimore’s breweries reacted in one of two ways during Prohibition.  Some manufacturers, including the National Brewing Company and the American Brewery, went out of business (Levy 2016).  Others, like Gunther and Globe, managed to keep their doors open by manufacturing “near” beers—beverages that contained less than one half of one percent of alcohol by volume (Levy 2016).

General opinion holds that Prohibition was a failure (Buck 2013). Alcohol consumption was only moderately reduced by the legal restrictions, while organized crime centered on the illegal production and sale of alcohol soared.  Opposed to the 18th Amendment, Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken famously wrote, “there is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more”. The U.S. ban against the production, transportation and sale of alcohol was ultimately to last for 13 years. In 1933, the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition, making the 18th Amendment the only constitutional amendment ever repealed in our country.  Baltimore’s breweries rebounded and are still successful today.

References

Buck, Betty. 2013. The Failed Experiment of Prohibition.  Baltimore Sun.  Website accessed January 27, 2020 at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-beer-20131204-story.html.

Ciammachilli, Esther.  2019.  Booze!  Causing Political Fights in Maryland for 100 Years.  WAMU 88.5 American University Radio, March 4, 2019.  Website accessed January 27, 2020 at https://wamu.org/story/19/03/04/booze-causing-political-fights-in-maryland-for-100-years/.

Levy, Sidney.  2016. Lost City:  Local Taverns and Big Breweries. Underbelly. Maryland Historical Society.  February 18, 2016.  Website accessed January 27, 2020 at http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2016/02/18/lost-city-local-taverns-and-big-breweries/.

Walsh, Michael T. 2017. Baltimore Prohibition:  Wet and Dry in the Free State. American Palate; A Division of the History Press, Charleston, S.C.

First Central Bank of the United States


Figure 1.  Front of a cast iron bank from the Nathan Mansfield privy (c. 1850-1870) at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27) in Baltimore.

This flat piece of cast iron (Figure 1) was once part of a coin bank produced around 1872 by J. & E. Stevens of Cromwell, Connecticut. Known as a still bank (to distinguish them from mechanical banks, which had moving parts), this little repository was a bank shaped like a bank building (Figure 2).  To make matters even more interesting, this artifact was recovered from an archaeological excavation in Baltimore at the future site of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, on Sharp Street.


Figure 2.  Complete J. & E. Stevens bank from a private collection.

This archaeological artifact thus seems like a good entry into an exploration of our nation’s early central banking history.  Today’s Federal Reserve Bank is the country’s third central banking system.  The first—the First Bank of the United States—operated from 1791 to 1811 and was the brainchild of our nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton (Figure 3).

The newly-formed United States was left facing a sizable public debt at the end of the Revolutionary War.  Hamilton’s voracious reading habits, coupled with his experience as a clerk for a Caribbean merchant, left him with a sound understanding of economic systems.  Prior to proposing a national bank, he helped found the Bank of New York in 1784 (PBS 2019). He envisioned the formation of a central bank that would stimulate the economy and provide much-needed credit for building the new nation.  Hamilton’s 1790 proposal to Congress for a national bank was passed into law in early 1791. Hamilton’s other fiscal achievements included establishment of the U. S. Mint, consolidating the states’ debts into a national debt handled by the US Treasury and creating taxes on domestic production to help fund the military (Federal Reserve 2019).


Figure 3.  Alexander Hamilton, circa 1790. By Charles Shirreff – Magnet, Myron (2013) The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735–1817, W. W. Norton & Company, p. 492 ISBN: 978-0393241884., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61422753.

The First Bank of the United States, located in Philadelphia (Figure 4), was chartered for twenty years.  The Federal Government held twenty percent ownership in its ten million dollars of capital. The bank fulfilled numerous financial/fiscal roles:  tax collection, credit extension, issuing standard currency, making commercial loans, handling foreign exchange and serving as a depository for government funds. In addition to rapidly stabilizing the national economy, the bank helped position the United States on equal financial footing with European nations.

Figure 4. Bank of the United States, in Third Street Philadelphia [graphic] / Drawn, Engraved & Published by W. Birch & Son.; Philadelphia: W. Birch & Son, 1799.

From its beginning, centralized banking met with opposition.  The agrarian southern states, as represented by politicians like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were against the bank, while the more industrialized northern states were in favor.  The split eventually helped lead to the formation of our nation’s first two political parties – the pro-bank Federalist party and the anti-bank Democratic-Republicans.  Opponents saw the central bank as an overreach of executive branch power—similar to the opposition by state-chartered banks, who felt central financial control was an insult to state’s rights and unwanted competition.  

Republican control of the executive branch, beginning at the turn of the 19th century, led to the bank’s charter not being renewed at the end of its initial twenty-year term. Due to the dissolution of the First Central Bank in 1811, the United States was faced with economic difficulty during the War of 1812, when there was no central bank to fund the military (PBS 2019). James Madison, initially an opponent to centralized banking, supported the creation of the second centralized banking system in 1817.  Andrew Jackson did not renew the charter for the Second Bank of the United States in 1836 and it was not until 1913 that the third iteration of central banking – the Federal Reserve—was created (Britannica 2019).

References

Britannica Online Encyclopedia.  2019  Bank of the United States.  Encyclopaedia Britannica. Website accessed December 17, 2019 at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bank-of-the-United-States.

Federal Reserve.  2019  Alexander Hamilton.  Federal Reserve History.  Website accessed December 17, 2019 at https://www.federalreservehistory.org/people/alexander_hamilton.

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).  2019  Alexander Hamilton; Establishing a National Bank.  American Experience.  Website accessed December 17, 2019 at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/establishing-national-bank/.

What the Baltimore Orioles and Babe Ruth Have in Common (Besides the Obvious, That Is!)


Orioles_new

Baltimore Orioles logo.

Because it is summer and the height of baseball season, I have decided this week’s blog will focus on the Baltimore Orioles, Maryland’s only major league baseball team. The connection with archaeology and artifacts from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory collections may not be immediately apparent, but stick with me—we will get there! Continue reading

SS Columbus Paddle Wheel – Steamboat Transportation and Trade along the Chesapeake Bay


paddlewheel

The SS Columbus paddle wheel underwent conservation treatment in Louisiana and arrived at the MAC Lab for curation when the lab opened in 1998.

By far the largest artifact in the MAC Lab collections, weighing in at a whopping 15,000 pounds (give or take), is the paddle wheel shaft from the SS Columbus (International Artifact Conservation 1998).  Built in Baltimore and launched in 1828, the Columbus plied the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, transporting cargo and passengers between Baltimore and Norfolk (Holly 1994).  On November 28, 1850, a fire broke out onboard the steamship, resulting in nine fatalities and the sinking of the vessel near Smith Point, Virginia.  Although the location of the wreck had been known since the 1970s, a decision was made to bring up the 22 ft. long paddle wheel shaft, as well a number of other pieces of the vessel, after the Army Corp of Engineers dredged adjacent to the shipwreck in 1990 in order to deepen the shipping channel (Irion and Beard 1995). Continue reading

Rockingham Hunt Pitcher and the Baltimore Pottery Industry


18BC27 (side 1)

Skillful application of the mottled Rockingham glaze serves to highlight the stag hunt motif on this Bennett pitcher.

During the 1980 excavation done prior to the construction of Baltimore’s Federal Reserve Bank, archaeologists removed the contents of numerous mid- to late nineteenth-century wells and privies from a neighborhood that served as home to first and second generation European immigrants. One of these privies had become the final resting place for a magnificent example of Baltimore’s nineteenth-century pottery industry. This Rockingham pitcher, molded in a detailed hunting scene depicting hounds attacking a stag and a boar, was manufactured around 1855 by E. and W. Bennett of Baltimore (Claney 2004). The Bennett firm, in production between 1846 and 1936, was one of the best known North American manufacturers of Rockingham glazed wares (Ketchum 1987:21). This firm’s wares are prized by collectors today for their finely detailed molded patterns, as well as quality of their mottled glazing (Brooks 2005). Continue reading

The Rosenstock Pot and the Development of Agriculture in Maryland


This week’s blog post features a spectacular pre-Columbian pottery vessel known at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab as the Rosenstock Pot. I have chosen this vessel to frame an essay about the development of agriculture by Maryland’s indigenous population and the consequences of agriculture on native life during a time archaeologists call the Late Woodland period (AD900 to AD1650).

The Rosenstock Site (18FR18) is a Late Woodland period village on the Monocacy River in Frederick County. Excavations there by the Archeological Society of Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust revealed remains of trash-filled pits, hearths, human burials and two buildings believed to have functioned as sweat lodges. Radiocarbon dating of charred plant remains from hearth features showed the site was occupied from AD1335 to around AD1400 (Curry and Kavanagh 2004). Continue reading

The Birely Tannery Fleshing Knife-An Artifact of Frederick County’s Industrial Past


Most people are aware of the roles tobacco and other agricultural crops played in Maryland’s history. But I would wager that not nearly as many Marylanders know that the tanning of leather was second only to agriculture in economic importance in some parts of the state during the 18th and 19th centuries. In honor of that key role, I have chosen a tool used in the tanning industry as the starting point for this week’s blog on a trade that has all but disappeared from Maryland’s economy.

fleshing knife2

Wooden handled fleshing knife found during excavations at Birely Tannery.

Continue reading