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ID 25517
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The Rise and Fall of the American Workingman's Saloon, 1870-1920
creator
NDC
General history of North America
abstract
There have been a lot of studies on the prohibition movements in the United States by many pro-prohibition (dry) historians. In these writings the places where liquor was sold —mostly saloons— tend to be treated negatively as "a den of vice," because they were linked to gambling, smoking, and prostitution as well as binge drinking. Moreover, they were also thought to be evil because they had become bases for machine politics. Many saloon owners were elected to be aldermen by ethnic voters, and some of them became "precinct bosses" who assisted opponents of prohibition aspiring to higher public office by gathering votes at their saloons. If such a candidate won an election, he would then distribute many public jobs such as those in police and fire departments through "precinct bosses." This activity was regarded as political favoritism and corruption by contemporary prohibition advocates. "Saloons must go" they concluded.

Actually, after the turn to the 20th century, saloons got more involved in various kinds of social evil to survive under excessive competition, which inflamed many people. Consequently, the prohibition movement led by the Anti-Saloon League focused its attack on saloons. Prohibitionists finally suceeded in persuading many middle-class Americans of the necessity of a national prohibition law, which destroyed legal saloons in 1920.

However, the contribution of saloons in big cities to the people living on adjacent streets has not been discussed thoroughly. The scarcity of historical materials on the workingman's saloons explains this partially. Working-class bargoers seldom recorded their thoughts and experiences for posterity. As a result, while "dry" historians have produced many fine studies of the prohibition movement, "wet" counterparts tend to avoid such controversial places as saloons. Instead, they refer to such "side effects" of the prohibition law as waves of crime, the general tendency to disregard laws, and the illegal production and importation of liquors.

Until the late in the 19th century, however, most saloons were in fact much more wholesome than those in the early 20th century. These "poorman's clubs," as they were often called at the turn of the century, were frequented mainly by laborers, many of whom were newcomers from the same ethnic background as the owners of the saloons. Light diversion was not the only reason that customers frequented saloons after a long day of hard work. Saloons were indispensable for them in many other ways.

The newcomers gathered there to seek someone to help find places to stay and jobs to make money, while speaking to other patrons in their own languages. They provided laborers with "free" lunch at a very low price. They also provided "back rooms" for labor union's meetings, and other social events like wedding receptions. Furthermore, they also acted as bank, post office, and so on for the convenience of the customers. In this paper I discuss the functon of the neighborhood saloons like these, revealing the other side of the story, the working-class drinkers' side. And also I explain why such saloons became a fading industry early in the 20th century.
journal title
Memoirs of the Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences, Hiroshima University. I, Studies in area culture
volume
Volume 27
start page
63
end page
90
date of issued
2001-12-31
publisher
広島大学総合科学部
issn
0385-1451
ncid
SelfDOI
language
jpn
nii type
Departmental Bulletin Paper
HU type
Departmental Bulletin Papers
DCMI type
text
format
application/pdf
text version
publisher
department
Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences
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