Today In History: FDR Legalizes Beer

March 22, 1933

All That Is Interesting

Today in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of beer and alcohol (with an alcohol content of 3.2% or less) in the United States. “I think this would be a good time for a beer,” FDR drolly remarked after signing the paper.

The Cullen-Harrison Act mandated that states pass their own legislation to legalize low-alcohol beverages. It was the first time alcoholic beverages of any strength had been legal for sale since the onset of Prohibition in 1920, following the Volstead Act’s passage in 1919.

It was, obviously, good news to a Depression-battered American people. There had been a booming illicit trade of alcohol, driven mostly by organized crime, but it was a welcome change to be able to openly drink without breaking the law. Bars started serving alcohol on April 7, 1933, when the Cullen-Harrison Act became law, drawing huge crowds. The day is still celebrated as National Beer Day.

Common Sense with Paul Jacob

FDR was motivated to sign the act both by a personal taste for alcohol and by the carrot of a major influx of tax revenue that could fund his New Deal programs.

Prohibition officially ended in December of 1933, when the 21st Amendment was passed.

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