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With the recent growth of the craft brewery industry, it’s easy to forget that alcohol was actually prohibited for part of America’s history. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933 and during that time many breweries went out of business. But thanks to the power of the pinback, promotional beer buttons from pre- and post-prohibition provide us with a visual history of those breweries. Here’s our digital tour of the history of pre- and post-prohibition beer buttons, as presented by the Button Museum.
The Bunker Hill Brewery was founded in 1821 by John Cooper and Thomas Gould in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. In 1860 after the company was acquired by William Van Nostrand he began to expand the brewery’s production and distribution capabilities. Later, William’s son, Alonzo G. Van Nostrand, originated one or Bunker Hill’s most recognized brews the “P.B. Ale”—which stands for “Purest and Best.” Along with the P.B. Ale, the brewery also manufactured Boston Club Lager, Bunker Hills Lager, Old Musty Ale, Owl Musty Ale, and the Van Nostrand’s Porter.
This Philly Brewery founded in 1865 gained more fame for the building that housed the brewery than the beer itself. Poth Brewery was established by Frederick August Poth and was later renamed F.A. Poth & Sons. The facility gained press for the architectural details in the structure of the building and is still a notable Philadelphia landmark today. The F.A. Poth & Sons Brewery itself barely made it to the time of prohibition and called it quits in 1920.
Check out another, modern Philly Brewery we included in our Tour de Philadelphia round up.Crockery City
George W. Meredith and Joseph Turnbull founded Crockery City Brewing and Ice Company in 1899. The East Liverpool, Ohio brewery faced challenges when the first wave of prohibition hit in 1907-1911. Crockery City stayed afloat by shipping their American beers to nearby towns and counties until 1919 when the entire state of Ohio came under the law of prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol. The company was able to reinvent themselves as an ice plant and continued to profit making soda-pop drinks. When Prohibition fell in 1933, Crockery City Brewing began brewing beer once again.
Another Ohio brewery on our list of the history of beer pins was the Western Brewery, which was founded in 1857 by Peter Weyand and Daniel Jung. After the death of both partners in 1885, it was decided to rename the Cincinnati brewery to Jung Brewing Company. The brewery operated under that name for five years.
The brewery’s motto, “Sustains Life”, added to the brewery’s claim of being a healthy and nutritious addition to a person’s diet. This was a common promotion breweries would use to counter the legislation and the Anti Saloon League that alcohol was actually harmful to the body.
Old Dutch Brewery began under the name Brilliant City Brewery in 1891 and survived Prohibition by a long shot– the brewery remained open for a total of 75 years. In the early years of the prohibition laws, Old Dutch produced prohibition drinks like root beer, birch beer, and ginger ale. In 1923 the brewery took a ten year hiatus throughout the hardest times of Prohibition. Reopening in 1933, with another name change in 1936 to Krantz Brewing Corporation, the company eventually merged with International Breweries Inc. of Detroit in 1957.
Originally the Manhattan Brewing company run by Charles Schaffner, the brewery was sold in 1919 to Johnny Torrio and Al Capone. The name was changed to Canadian Ace in 1947, to dissolve any post-war image of the brewery and refocus their marketing onto the well-established Canadian Ace brand. The brewery was still linked back to being involved in organized crime, as Lou Greenberg was a principal owner of this brewing industry. In 1968 Canadian Ace Brewery was closed down.
In 1890 Monarch Brewing was founded by Josef Hladovec and soon merged with the United Breweries Company in 1898. The brewery stayed in operation throughout the Prohibition Era by brewing soda and near-beer (a low-alcohol brew), but was suspected of making alcoholic beer for the underground market. After Prohibition was repealed, they struggled to keep up with big name breweries and other American beer companies during the time of The Great Depression. In 1958, the brewery was sold to Al Capone and Lieutenant Joseph Fusco and was renamed to Van Merritt Brewing to only be shut down a few years later in 1967.
Edelweiss, the very same Chicago Brewery to have created Green River Soda during the Prohibition, was started by a Prussian immigrant named Peter Schoenhofen. The company went through many hands before and after Prohibition, before finally returning to the Schoenhofen family in the early 1900s. When Prohibition laws were lifted a couple decades later, the company focused on their best-selling brew the “Edelweiss” and the brewery was renamed again to Schoenhofen-Edelweiss Co.
Started under the name Los Angeles Brewery, they had their trucks loaded with beer ready to distribute at 12:01 the day Prohibition was repealed. Originally opened in 1897, the company boasted about using the water from the LA River (near where the factory was located) as an ingredient in their beer. In the height of Prohibition, the brewery was sold and renamed Eastside Brewery and grew to be one of the largest breweries in the country at the time. Eastside paid their bills by producing near-beer and soft drinks during the alcohol ban. In 1948 Eastside was purchased by Pabst, where they continued using the LA based plant until 1979.
Prohibition became law under the notion that it would clean up America’s obsession with alcohol and political corruption. It’s made clear by reexamining these historic beer buttons that even when the laws were in place, the breweries were still operating by producing near-beer, sodas, and malts. Most breweries were able to stay in business as they waited for legislation to change, however knowing the effects of prohibition, many breweries took to secretly selling beer in the underground market. This makes these buttons that survived prohibition that much more special and valuable as a part of America’s diverse and complicated past.
Click here for more history lessons from the Button Museum.
Just like buttons, streaking holds a special place in the heart of Americans. Which makes sense why streaking is the subject to so many wonderful (and slightly ironic) buttons in the Button Museum. Our Director of Operations, Joel Carter, is a bit of a streaking aficionado and is always on the look out for buttons to add to the collection. Not that he’s ever partaken in the “sport” (to our knowledge), but he is our foremost expert on the subject around the Beaver Dam.
The act of streaking has been popular since the mid-1960s in the aftermath of the free love youth movements in the 1960s. The term streaking was first used in 1973 during a mass nude run at the University of Maryland. A common misconception is that streaking is a form of nudism, however the two are differentiated because the streaker intends to be noticed by an audience. This intent can be spawned for a variety of political, social, or enthusiastic reasons with the main goal of streaking to be to disrupt.
The years between 1972-1974 were difficult for US President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) Adversely, 1972-1974 we’re some of the best years for streaking culture. After 1973, when the truth about the tape recorders in the Oval Office came to light during Nixon’s testimonies in front of Congress Nixon resigned his presidency in 1974, amidst impeachment proceeding in the House of Representatives. Streaking became a part of American protest with this button shows Nixon partaking in the fad, his hands in the V-sign.
Though streakers are still in the news here and there, the heyday of the phenomena was relatively short-lived from 1973-1974. Looking at the Button Museum’s collection does beg one major question, though: Where exactly does a streaker wear a button?
Along with campaign buttons, the badge pinned to a lapel in promotion of a cause is among the most iconic of all button types. Social justice buttons have been popular since the pin-back button was first invented at the turn of the century, and are increasingly popular today. (Maybe you’re even wearing one on your lapel right now!) In the Busy Beaver Button Museum’s collection, activist buttons championing various positions have been combined into the cause button category. Here’s our brief history of American cause buttons:
Thanks to the increased mobility of the automobile age, citizens across the United States began to enjoy an increased ability to connect and to assemble. Americans used this new freedom to assemble behind the causes in which they believed. Around the turn of the century, tiny button pins were used to rally support for causes like raising funds for World War I, safe roads to travel on, and voting rights for women.1920’s
It’s hard to believe that less than 100 years ago the U.S. congress ratified the 18th amendment, which prohibited the manufacturing and sale of alcohol. Prohibition was meant to increase American health and help align the country’s efforts to reduce crime, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses. (Cato Institute). The political activist buttons that were made during this time advocated both sides of this issue.1930’s
Pro-business campaign pins were pressed after the Stock Market crash in 1929. The public was saving instead of spending, which greatly effected the purchasing and production of goods.1940’s
“Halt Hitler” custom-made buttons—in reference to the anti-Nazi movement against Adolf Hitler during the second World War—were popular during the 1940s. Due to wartime metal rationing, however, WWII-era metal buttons are hard to come by.1950’s
In the middle of the century, scientists began to confirm that Earth’s climate was changing. In fact, experts even changed their language to identify this increasing problem. Instead of “bad weather”, we were beginning to call severe weather occurrences “climate disruption,” or “climate change.” This button is thought to be one of the first times that the term pollution was used to reference the environment.1960’s
While U.S. soldiers were in the midst of a war on Vietnamese soil, U.S. citizens were engaging in their own domestic war of protests. In the 60s and 70s, the pinback button found use as Vietnam war protest buttons and peace pins. These buttons were vital to the visual identity of movements to end the Vietnam War, gain equal rights for all citizens, champion labor unions, and support presidential candidates.1970’s
While the fight for equal rights continues, the 1970’s focused on the issue of women’s rights in the workplace. This particular button,”Hire Him, He’s Got Great Legs”, was a 1973 ad slogan highlighting women’s unequal rights in the workplace. It became part of a 1970s advertising campaign by Legal Momentum: the oldest non-profit legal organization dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls through law and public policy.1980’s-1990’s
In the 80s and 90s, buttons became a popular tool in public health advocacy. The public health program D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) which formed in 1983, used buttons to warn of the dangers of smoking and drug use.
In 1981, HIV and AIDS was finally accepted as the worldwide epidemic it had become. Many buttons of the era championed the fight against the infection and its disease, and defended those who had fallen victim.2000’s
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President George W. Bush’s declaration of “War on Terror,” the United States entered an era of extreme polarization. The open-ended military campaign was not met with complete nationwide support. As a result, anti-war and anti-Bush buttons became a popular form of visual protest.Today
Though American society has enjoyed steady progress in the past hundred years, many historically championed causes are still being fought for today. The past decade has also seen a groundswell of new causes and newly amplified voices that have utilized the power of the button. The Black Lives Matter movement’s powerful message graces many a jacket and backpack. Organizations like Planned Parenthood have gained increasing recognition as important and valuable organizations for women’s health.
America has hosted one of the most volatile political campaign seasons in recent history. This year alone, hundreds of millions of campaign buttons and political buttons, either promoting or dismissing candidates, were produced.
Now more than ever before, people all across the country (and the world!) are using buttons as a way to show their disdain and their support. Though contemporary Americans have more platforms on which to be vocal, it’s clear that buttons have remained a vital and relevant form of self-expression.
Our infographic on the history of cause buttons over the past century—