Prohibition in Racine

* Destruction of family breweries, most of them German

* “Blind pig” — former Greyhound station

* Capone robbery of the American Bank, and taking a female teller hostage.  She was Ursula Patzke.

From Todd:

My dad heard a story about a still that was run on the north side of the river near St. Patrick’s church. The owners of the still were having problems with the odors it produced, and so plumbed the still into the sewer system. The unintended result of this was that people walking around downtown could smell the still, but nobody could find it.

From Vyto:

My dad had a butcher shop on the  west side of Washington Ave., where Racine St. joined Washington near 11th St.  He used to tell that he’d deliver bags of sugar to homes and instructed to pour it into the bathtubs probably to make bathtub gin.  Prohibition was over by the time I was born in 1937.  Earliest recollection of Racine saloons was the opening of the Dreamland Bar on 12th and Herrick, operated by a guy named Djinjeleta…or something like that [ed: Dzindzeleta, 1521 12th Street].  I remember that because someone flicked cigarette ashes into my eyes.  Must have been 2 year old.  The operator later went on to run a tavern on 6th that catered to the gay population.

From Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County

Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County

p. 82: By the 1920s the City abounded with New Immigrant grocery and fruit stores, bakeries, meat markets, restaurants, ice cream and confectionery shops, barber shops, shoe repair stores, dressmakers, tailors, laundries, dry goods, and notions stores. To provide money for prospective homeowners, a group of Poles founded the White Eagle Savings and Loan in the 1920s. Perhaps the most numerous and popular ethnic neighborhood business was the corner saloon, where the immigrant laborer could go for a cheering drink, good fellowship, and conversation in his native tongue. Saloons were “poor men’s country clubs”; they often provided free lunches and sleeping quarters to the poor and destitute, lent money, helped find jobs, supplied meeting rooms for national organizations or unions, and served as clubhouses for local politicians. During Prohibition most of these ethnic saloons became “soft drink parlors,” but they reopened in triumph in 1933, with the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.

p. 95: The family usually worked together, played together, and stuck together against outsiders. Its members tended gardens for vegetables, cured their own meat, and kept a variety of animals. The Irish and Germans in the Fourth Ward once had so many animals running wild that the City Council passed an ordinance against the practice. A Racine woman of Hungarian descent remembered that her family kept cows, chickens, geese, and pigs on their Lakeside property, and that she fed the geese on the land where the giant Case plant now stands. Most families also made beer or wine in their home, a practice continued with great difficulty even during the days of prohibition.

p. 114: The two most explosive ethnocultural issues revolved around the use of alcoholic beverages and the instruction of foreign language in parochial schools. The native American churches and those immigrants whose religions were derived from Calvinism generally  opposed the use of alcohol and felt justified in suppressing its use.  Catholics, most Lutherans and Episcopalians, Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Bohemian Freethinkers, on the other hand, regarded alcoholic beverages as beneficial, if used wisely, and relied upon personal temperance under the guidance of the church. Some Scandinavian Lutherans, more influenced by Calvinism, leaned toward legal prohibition, but German Lutherans were unalterably opposed. The Calvinist religions also practiced the Puritan Sabbath, forbidding all forms of worldly pleasure, while most European immigrants believed in a Continental Sunday, a judicious mixture of worship and recreation. The reformers’ main target was the saloon, the working man’s social club and the base of operations for ethnic politicians.

In the late nineteenth century,  prohibition and the Sunday closing of saloons were strongly pushed by a combination of Protestant ministers and industrialists of British-American, Calvinist ancestry, who hoped to replace the saloons with coffee and reading salons. In the 1860s the German and Bohemian press led a successful effort to defeat Mayor George C. Northrup because of his strict enforcement of the liquor law. Prohibition Party candidates regularly received almost no support on the north side. In 1882 a petition to force Sunday closing of saloons was presented to the City Council, signed by Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist ministers, mostly of Yankee, British, or Scandinavian derivation. It was also backed by 450 of the City’s industrialists, mostly from similar backgrounds. The German, Irish, and Bohemian aldermen, however, succeeded in squelching most such attempts. One German saloon keeper, arrested for being open on Sunday at the complaint of a prominent Yankee socialite, screamed at her husband: “Your voman! Your voman! Vhy you not hold her, hold her mit a string?”

Probably the most famous and ardent foe of prohibition in any form was Martin Secor, the bombastic Bohemian Freethinker, in­dustrialist, and politician. Early in the century, Secor issued two strongly-worded broadsides entitled, “Warning to the Tax Payer” and “Grier Not Here, But His Ghost Is.” In the first, he warned that closing saloons would cost the City $115,000 in lost license fees, while in the second he attacked Racine’s chief advocate of prohibition, Reverend Albert Grier of the Good Shepherd Methodist Church. An avowed foe of religions that tried to impose their moral views on others, Secor contrasted their outlook with that of many immigrant churches: “If these gentlemen only knew enough to keep still as the German Catholics and the German Lutherans and take care of their own affairs and stay in their own churches and not stick their noses into public affairs, they would be more appreciated.”

Most southern and eastern Europeans also opposed prohibition at the time of its enactment; they and the Germans, Bohemians, and Irish suffered through the outwardly “dry” 1920s, finding solace in home­made beer and wine, stills, speak-easys, and “soft drink parlors.” In 1933 these ethnic groups voted overwhelmingly in favor of repealing the odious affront to their personal liberty. Although Racine County voted a staggering five to one in favor of repeal, there were some significant ethnic trends. The Irish and German Fourth Ward and the German and Bohemian Fifteenth voted nearly twenty to one in favor of repeal, while the heavily Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, and Italian Fourteenth supported it nearly ten to one. The only wards below the City-wide average were areas with substantial Yankee, British, or Scandinavian populations. In the Towns, repeal fared best in Burlington, Waterford, and Caledonia, with their predominantly German, Bohemian, and Irish populations. It failed to carry English Settlement in Rochester and barely passed in Union Grove and Yorkville, sites of other British populations. In largely Scandinavian Norway and Raymond, the repeal vote was significantly below the County average.

p. 175: The emergence of wheat as an important crop in Racine County did not result in the complete dis­appearance of barley production, just as wheat continued to be culti­vated in the County in the 1880s when barley production was more profitable. Barley was produced initially for animal feed, but its production began to increase during the early part of the century when it was increasingly used for malting. The repeal of the prohibition law gave a tremendous boost to its cultivation. The acreage under barley more than doubled from 6,230 to 15,470 during the period 1930-1938 (see Appendix I-L), then declined in the 1930s because the County was not able to supply the quality required by the malting industry.

p. 243: The mayors of the City of Racine, like those of other Wisconsin cities, were elected for one year until 1891, when the term was ex­panded to two years. With few exceptions the mayors were local in­dustrialists who ran either as Republicans or as members of inde­pendent parties with various labels. The issues raised in some of the campaigns reflected wider concerns, such as prohibition and nativism, but for the most part the mayor’s role was conceived to be that of a manager, and residents chose candidates such as J. I. Case and Massena Erskine on the basis of their qualifications for that role.

p. 325: Retail Trade. Table 16 reports the number of establishments in various trade and service fields for selected years from 1862 Saloons, later classified as taverns, played an important social role in I community. Their number more than doubled between 1878 and 1886 possibly reflecting the early industrialization of the City, as well as a more complete city directory. The number remained relatively constant until 1920 and the onset of prohibition.   Post-prohibi­tion saw a significant increase in the number of saloons, but 1939 the number has gradually declined.

p. 464:  The usual postwar shift towards indulgence after sacrifice colored all the wartime changes, and the collapse of Woodrow Wilson’s peace greatly increased the tendency toward cynicism. But the main monument to the war’s idealism and austerity remained, demanding continued veneration: Prohibition had sprung from the joining of anti-liquor and anti-German sentiment, strengthened by the wartime need for the grain used in distilling. The generation which had fought the war later reflected its own discredited idealism by mocking Prohibition as the embodiment of outdated values.

p. 498: The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 must have received a mixed re­action from Racine’s churches, or at least from the clergy. Presby­terian, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist ministers had been prominent among signers of an 1882 petition for closing saloons on Sundays, and their successors of the 1930s probably shared their views. Catholics and most Lutherans, however, felt otherwise, as evidenced by the overwhelming vote for repeal in areas of the City inhabited by Irish, Germans, and Bohemians. Many Scandinavian Lutherans, how­ever, supported Prohibition. This was probably because their more pietistic approach to religion tended to discourage such activities as smoking and drinking, matters classed by other Lutherans as adiaphora, that is, things neither required nor forbidden by the New Testament, so that the Christian was at liberty to choose.

History of Timers, from

Coming to America from Hungary in 1897, Joseph Timer found a new home in Racine, Wisconsin. Serving his new country in World War I, Joe returned to Racine, and in 1926 opened a small store.

Despite being in the midst of Prohibition, Joe found a demand for selling hops, malt and barley, for home brewers. Also, church wine and medicinal alcohol could be sold to those who held proper permits. On occasion a few barrels of beer would arrive from Chicago. Canada was a source for whiskey, and four or five cases would arrive periodically to help satisfy the illicit thirst for liquor.

As time progressed, a tiny store on a busy corner led way to a new store built in 1955, and a new generation of the Timer family came on board. The business continued to grow and in 1995 a new 12,000 square foot facility was built on the edge of Racine’s west side.
Today the business remains family owned, with Ed Fahnrich Jr., a great grand son of Joe Timer, along with Shawn Voss co-owner. Both being responsible for daily operations.

Believing in the community, superior customer service, along with the largest selection of beer, wine and spirits, with everyday low prices. That simple formula has been the driving force, making Timer’s a market leader for over 80 years.

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