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Growlers Go: The Irony of Banning Growlers in 1905 Washington, DC

In 1905, District authorities were fighting to ban growlers in the city, claiming access to cheap beer was damaging to society. Read about the irony of the argument and how it still rings true today.
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Washington Times headline - October 15th, 1905
Washington Times headline – October 15th, 1905

Ha! How’s this for irony?

Back in 1905, District authorities were fighting to ban growlers in the city, claiming that access to excessively cheap beer was damaging to society as a whole. Three interest groups, the District government, brewers and the Anti-Saloon League, not exactly seeing eye-to-eye, decided to compromise on reform and work for the collective good of the city (at the time – today we need growlers again).

The Washington Post published an article on October 21st, 1905 outlining the issue at hand.

Hereafter, if the District officials, the Anti-Saloon League, and the brewers, for once in history working harmony, are successful, the father of the family, returning from his daily labors, instead of sending little Jimmy out to the corner inn, will have to dig down for a beer opener and pop corks at so much per case, instead of getting the stuff over the counter at a nickel. This, devotees of the growler claim, will be a hardship upon those to whom the economy of the side door has long been a delight.

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The charge is made openly by the Anti-Saloon League, by the police department and by many private citizens, including one United States Senator, that in some parts of the city, notably the northeast section, South Washington, parts of North Washington and Georgetown, the retail places invite this class of trade, and that it is growing to enormous proportions, with consequent disorder, multiplications of Police Court cases, and increase of vice.

Dumb people drinking too much beer do stupid things. True story then and still rings true every weekend in Adams Morgan and Georgetown.

Quarrels are said to be frequent in private houses, fighting and assaults which lead to arrests, all because a family with a caller of two sends out and buys one or more “buckets of beer” and drinks to intoxication. The Police Court docket is said to present much evidence to this effect, and one of the causes leading to the action taken by the excise board was the laying of facts before it taken from the records of arrests and fines attributable directly to the practice of “rushing the growler.”

But the brawling and disorder more often leads to the general disturbance of the peace in certain resident sections than to open arrest and punishment. The excise board has before it many cases wherein it is set forth that houses of certain families are the rendezvous of people who go in, send for beer, drink to excess, and indulge in general carousal often late at night. They do not go to the technical violation of the law, or else the apparent respectability of the family makes the police hesitate to interfere, but the neighborhood is disturbed and complaint made to the excise board, to the police, and sometimes to the District Commissioners.

The chief incentive to this mode of drinking is the cheapness of it. For the past three years a beer war has been in progress in the District of Columbia and the wholesale price on some products has been reduce to $3.60 a barrel. This enables the saloon keepers to sell by the pint and quart at exceedingly low figures.

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Today, a $10 growler is more affordable than the ridiculous $12 we are paying for the delicious six-packs of beer available across the city, but that is far from cheap. But who the hell wants to drink Miller or Bud? Frankly, PBR sucks. I want my beer to taste good and I would love to be able to have fresh growlers in my fridge.

It is asserted by the Anti-Saloon League that in its investigations women have been found who congregate, three or four in one house, send out for their beer and spend a whole morning or afternoon drinking, to the neglect of their own homes. Some of them have been seen in a hopeless state of intoxication. The Anti-Saloon League representatives say the children of these women roam the streets, are shamefully neglected, and grow up into vicious boys and girls.

Well okay, I wouldn’t want my city streets full of vicious boys or girls either. That sounds like Swampoodle.

Washington Times cartoon - October 15th, 1905
Washington Times cartoon – October 15th, 1905

Evidently this was quite a societal problem back then as men would often send kids out to the corner store to purchase a growler (or two) of beer for them each afternoon … not exactly something you’d like to see happening in your neighborhood.

The excise board pushed to restrict the sale of beer and other liquors to the original package so as to mitigate the “tin-can trade” of putting beer into growlers for distribution. Some dealers were actually in favor of this, as it cut down on what they saw as the sale of cheap and poor quality beers.

Cries to ban the sale of growlers continues for years. Ultimately all alcohol was banned by Prohibition in 1917, ending the argument in favor of the Anti-Saloon League and the Temperance movement.

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Ghosts of DC stories.