Roosevelt Wins and the Beer Battle Begins

As the 1932 presidential election neared, Benjamin Roth, a stalwart Republican and devoted diarist, was deeply discouraged.

"Business is at a complete stand-still and it looks like a tough winter," he wrote. “The national election campaign grows intense and people are very partisan."

Roth was also concerned about his livelihood. “The month just closed has been the poorest in my entire law practice. Everybody is waiting for the November election. Betting of 2-1/2 to 1 favors the Democrats.”

With a poor economy and overwhelming discontent for President Herbert Hoover's policies, the Nov. 8 election result was no surprise: New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate, defeated Hoover "in one of the greatest landslides in all history," Roth wrote. "He captured the electoral votes in 42 states and his opponent Hoover got only 6."

In the corporate world, "Wall Street is already warming to Governor Roosevelt,” the New York Times reported. "He is no longer a radical or a visionary but 'a statesman from whom business has nothing to fear.' "

Indeed, "the general tenor of opinions from representative bankers and industrialists was optimistic," the Wall Street Journal reported. Bankers were confident that the leadership change "will not halt the upward trend in economic conditions."

On Main Street, Roosevelt’s victory was accepted as an indication that Prohibition would soon be repealed. Supporters of repeal considered beer to be a "business tonic" that would "release the purse strings of the people," the New York Times wrote.

It would also provide much needed revenue to the federal government. In the last year before Prohibition, the liquor levy brought in $250,000.

In Europe, Germans received the election results with "genuine regret for the passing of the Hoover administration," which had sent food supplies to Germany and engineered the war-debt moratorium that saved the country from economic collapse in 1931. Roosevelt was still an unknown to anxious Germans.

The French and Italians, however, celebrated his victory. In France, "Mr. Hoover, with his sudden moratoriums and his sudden disarmament plans, had become somewhat of a nightmare," the Times reported.

The French and Italians also anticipated that the repeal of Prohibition would benefit their wine industries. Shares of the company that sold Mumm champagne had leapt to 226 francs, almost triple their value just before the election. After the vote, the company promptly announced that it had earmarked 20 million bottles for early shipment to New York.

Washington Post humorist H. L. Phillips summarized the election:

It was the battle of the Forgotten Issues. The voters didn’t care about what was at stake. They just wanted a new face at the White House window. That’s the traditional American way. We always blame the engineer for the railroad wreck, no matter who tore up the rails. Now for the beer battle. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

(Philip Scranton is a Board of Governors professor of the history of industry and technology at Rutgers University, Camden, and the editor-in-chief of Enterprise and Society. He writes "This Week in the Great Depression" for the Echoes blog. The opinions expressed are his own.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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