Andrew Volstead

Andrew Volstead

Andrew Volstead, the son of Norwegian immigrants, was born in Kenyon, Minnesota, on 31st October, 1860. Educated at the Decorah Institute in Iowa, he was admitted to the bar in 1883 and opened an office in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

In 1886 Volstead moved to Granite Falls where he served as city attorney and mayor (1886-1902). A member of the Republican Party, Volstead was elected to Congress in 1903. Volstead was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and in Congress was one of the few politicians willing to argue for federal legislation against lynching.

Volstead was concerned about the growing consumption of alcohol and in 1919 his National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act) that was passed by Congress. The law prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of beverages containing more than 0.5 per cent alcohol. The act was condemned by a large number of the American population who considered it a violation of their constitutional rights. Volstead was defeated in the 1922 election and returned to Minnesota where he worked as a lawyer.

In the 1932 Presidential Election, the Democratic Party candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, promised an early end to prohibition. In February 1933, Congress voted to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment. While the Twenty-first Amendment was making its way through the states, Roosevelt requested quick action to amend the Volstead Act by legalizing beer of 3.2 per cent alcoholic content by weight. Within a week both houses passed the beer bill, and added wine for good measure. On 22nd March 1933, Roosevelt signed the bill.

William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), commented: "On April 7, 1933, beer was sold legally in America for the first time since the advent of prohibition, and the wets made the most of it. In New York, six stout brewery horses drew a bright red Busch stake wagon to the Empire State Building, where a case of beer was presented to Al Smith (the defeated Democratic candidate who opposed prohibition in 1928). In the beer town of St. Louis, steam whistles and sirens sounded by midnight, while Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee was blocked by mobs of celebrants standing atop cars and singing Sweet Adeline."

Andrew Volstead died in Granite Falls, Minnesota, on 20th January, 1947.

Primary Sources

(1) Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday (1931)

The Government provided a force of prohibition agents which in 1920 numbered only 1,520 men and as late as 1930 numbered over 2,836. The agents' salaries in 1920 mostly ranged between $1,200 and $2,000; by 1930 they had been munificently raised to range between $2,300 and $2,800. Anybody who believed that men employable at 35 to 40 or 50 dollars a week would surely have the expert technical knowledge and the diligence to supervise successfully the complicated chemical operations of industrial-alcohol plants or to outwit the craftiest devices of smugglers to resist corruption by men whose pockets were bulging with money, would be ready to believe also in Santa Claus, perpetual motion and pixies.