Few cities roared in the 1920s and early 1930s like Philadelphia under Prohibition.
It was a era of gangland executions, widespread corruption among police and judges, and rampant alcoholism - the opposite of Prohibition's intentions when the 18th Amendment barring the sale, manufacture and transport of alcohol was ratified in 1920.
At bars today, a few may raise a toast to mark the 75th anniversary of the repeal and consider that for but a few hours and two time zones, Pennsylvania might warrant Utah's place in history as the state whose ratification of the 21st Amendment officially killed Prohibition. Ohio also ratified Dec. 5, 1933.
Prohibition was a product of the times. The temperance movement had begun in earnest around the turn of the 20th century, and the "noble experiment" was intended to cut crime and corruption and boost health.
"Prohibition started with great intentions but turned out to be ineffective and counterproductive," said David J. Hanson, a longtime researcher of alcohol consumption and professor emeritus at the State University of New York in Potsdam.
"It created undesirable drinking patterns. Before, people tended to have a leisurely drink with their dinner. Once that became drinking in a speakeasy, they'd drink less often but more heavily. You didn't go there for a drink. You went there to get drunk."
Hanson said that in one year in Philadelphia, there were 875 alcohol-related deaths, due mainly to illegally made hooch.
Almost from the start, lawlessness reigned. In late 1923, President Calvin Coolidge asked Brig. Gen. Smedley Darlington ("Gimlet Eye") Butler - the most decorated U.S. soldier of his time - to take a leave from the Marine Corps to become the city's director of public safety. Accounts say that he terrorized the gangsters, hookers and gamblers who had moved with impunity through such bastions of high society as the Union League and Ritz-Carlton. Butler pushed too hard, and Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick fired him in 1925. It is said that after Butler left, police officers began bribing their way onto the once-feared enforcement unit so they in turn could accept bribes from the rum runners and speakeasy operators.
The thuggery quickly returned. In 1928, Time magazine reported that "in addition to being the upkeeper of its own 13,000 saloons and speakeasies, Philadelphia appeared as a spigot from which alcohol poured out to all parts of the country with a source of supply dwarfing even Chicago's."
Al Capone, the Chicago gangster and bootlegger, sought safety in Philadelphia in 1929. Under heat back home, he arranged to be incarcerated for tax evasion at Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount, where he spent eight months in a cell outfitted with a lamp, a radio, and an Oriental rug.
As the 1930s rolled in, cries for repeal grew louder. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president supporting it.
Pennsylvania's temperance movement, though, had an ally in Gov. Gifford Pinchot, who was elected to his second term in 1931. Best known as head of the Forest Service under President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinchot had studied in Germany.
"He came home disgusted by the drinking among Germans," said David A. Schell, an adjunct professor of history at several colleges, who wrote his doctoral dissertation at Temple University on Pinchot.
"He firmly believed that consumption of alcohol was bad for the health," Schell said. But Pinchot knew that Prohibition was doomed, and put it upon himself to restrict alcohol sales.
In a Nov. 7, 1933, referendum, 76 percent of Pennsylvania voters called for repeal. Pinchot was ready. He quietly drafted the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Act, Schell said.
"He attempted to come up with something as limiting as he could," Schell said. "He waited until the last moment to spring a proposal so the legislators couldn't write their own from scratch."
Six days later, Pinchot called a special session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Among his dictums: the "saloon" must not return; liquor must not be sold without restraint; private profit for liquor must be reduced to the minimum; the price of liquor must be kept low enough to discourage bootlegging; and liquor must be taxed heavily enough to yield large revenue to the state but not heavily enough to encourage bootlegging.
Most of his plan was approved on Nov. 29, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was organized two days later, on Dec. 1. When the repeal took effect at 5:32 p.m. Dec. 5, bars could be licensed. On Jan. 2, 1934, the first State Stores opened. The first month's sales were nearly $1.8 million.
The LCB, now the largest purchaser of wine and liquor in the United States, has resisted attempts to go to a free-market system. It sold $1.77 billion in alcohol last fiscal year, generating more than $428 million in taxes and profits for the state.