No Beer, No Work

Today, of course, is Labor Day in the U.S. and Canada, celebrated each year on the first Monday in September since 1894, at least federally. Most countries, more than 80, celebrate something similar on May 1, and a few others on different days. In the Bahamas, for example, it’s the first Friday in June and in New Zealand, it’s celebrated the fourth Monday in October, while in Australia it’s different for every territory there. But the genesis is the same, to “honor the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.”

According to Wikipedia, “Labor Day was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, who organized the first parade in New York City. After the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago on May 4, 1886, U.S. President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the affair. Therefore, in 1887, the United States holiday was established in September to support the Labor Day that the Knights favored.” And you can read more about it at the Department of Labor.

Unlike today, when labor movements, and particularly unions, are demonized in the press and by the right-wing political machine, most people supported labor in some fashion for the very simply reason that a majority of people were part of the labor force. Today, thanks to effective propaganda, many people vote against their own interests. But that was not yet the case when Prohibition took effect in 1920. So many people in the labor force who were very unhappy about not being able to drink a beer after eight hours of back-breaking work started agitating for a repeal of prohibition, in some cases right from the start, since it became abundantly clear very quickly that a working life without the reward of a cold beer was going to suck.

Even before the 18th Amendment was to take effect on January 17, 1920, a previous measure passed by Congress, the Wartime Prohibition Act banned “the sale of alcoholic beverages having an alcohol content of greater than 2.75%” beginning on June 30, 1919.” The measure supposedly was “intended to save grain for the war effort,” but it actually “was passed after the armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918.” Since July 1st was the first day after alcohol was banned under the Wartime Prohibition Act, that day became known as the “Thirsty-First.”

So labor organizations in New York City began making plans to oppose and protest Prohibition, creating pins bearing their slogan “No Beer, No Work.”


In addition, they planned a walk-out for July 1 of 1919, which was reported in the New York Times on February 8, 1919.


The next day, February 9, 1919, the story was picked up in Chicago and ran on the front page of The Evening World.


The news even made it as far as Australia’s Northern Territory Times and Gazette of Darwin, which ran the story on April 19, 1919 (reporting on events of February 8th and 9th):


A “No beer, no work” movement has been started in New York and New Jersey. Its sponsors expect to give it a national impetus. Last night “no beer, no work” buttons were worn by all the delegates to the meeting of the Central Federation Union, one of the largest trade unions in the country. Mr. Ernest Bohn, secretary of the union, declared that labour as a whole is opposed to prohibition, and predicted for July 1st, when the nation goes “dry,” a nation-wide walk out of workmen who want beer. Asked how the amendment of the Constitution could be rendered inoperative by a ” walk-out,” Mr Bohn replied. “We can make such a protest that the Supreme Court wilt declare the amendment unconstitutional.”

But not everyone in labor agreed, as evidenced by this article in New Jersey’s Poverty Bay Herald on May 3, 1919, where 400 union delegates in the Garden State came out against the strike, although they agreed that Prohibition was a bad idea.


But there’s not much more about these efforts in New York that I could find. I did find this paragraph, by a Columbia history student, who in his junior year received a research grant, the Edwin Robbins Prize, and used it to do his senior thesis:

“New York Organized Labor and Prohibition Resistance: The ‘No Beer, No Work’ Movement of 1919.” A forgotten moment in labor history, it was a fascinating intersection of culture, gender, and class, examining the untidy boundary between “economic” and “social” life. Some local trade-unionists co-opted a catchy slogan, “No Beer, No Work,” with the intent of fomenting a national general strike, attempting to save the saloon, galvanize class consciousness, and lead workers into a labor party. The strike more than failed; it never occurred.

Perhaps more curiously, and what started this, is I discovered that more than one person took the great slogan “No Beer, No Work,” and wrote a song about it, using it as the title. The first I found was written in 1919, by Sammy Edwards.


And here are the lyrics to NO BEER, NO WORK, by Sammy Edwards, 1919:

1. Johnny Hymer was a miner, always on the job.
Johnny loved his lager like a sailor loves his grog.
One day, his foreman told him that this country would go dry.
John threw his tools upon the ground. You should have heard him cry:

CHORUS: “No beer, no work” will be my battle cry.
“No beer, no work” when I am feeling dry.
I never could like lemonade or bevo, for beer is all I’ll buy.
I’ll hide my self away
Until some brighter day
When I can sip the lager from a stein.
“No beer, no work” will be my battle cry
After the first of July.

2. Johnny’s steady, ever ready to give good advice,
Said, “Go back to work or there’ll be no old shoes or rice.
Be like Kipling’s hero. Bear your troubles with a grin.”
John said, “I’ll be your hero, but I’ll be no Gunga Din.”

3. “When I was a baby,” said our Johnny with a smile,
“They raised me on a bottle. Now they want to change the style.
John Barleycorn’s a friend of mine. My daddy knew him well.
He’d bring John home with him at night and ma would give him —.

Then the very same year, another song was published by Martin Ballmann, with lyrics by Anna Ballmann and Theodore Philipp, also with the title “No Beer, No Work.” Ballman’s version was published in Chicago, and is completely different than Edwards’, apart from the title, of course.


And lastly, music-wise at least, again in early 1919 (February 26 the paper is stamped), “singing character comedian” Sam Marley created original novelty lyrics for a song he called … wait for it … “No Beer, No Work.” His typed lyrics can be found in the collection of the Library of Congress.


Here’s a political cartoon originally from “The American Issue” of Westerville, Ohio, published August 19, 1919, drawn by an artist named Henderson.


And finally, American author and poet Ellis Parker Butler, wrote a poem in 1919 also using labor’s slogan as the title, which was published in the magazine “Snappy Stories.” Butler’s poem was a parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Excelsior.

No Beer, No Work

The shades of night was fallin’ slow
As through New York a guy did go
And nail on ev’ry barroom door
A card that this here motter bore:
‘No beer, no work.’

His brow was sad, his mouth was dry;
It was the first day of July,
And where, all parched and scorched it hung,
These words was stenciled on his tongue:
‘No beer, no work.’

‘Oh, stay,’ the maiden said, ‘and sup
This malted milk from this here cup.’
A shudder passed through that there guy,
But with a moan he made reply:
‘No beer, no work.’

At break of day, as through the town
The milkman put milk bottles down,
Onto one stoop a sort of snore
Was heard, and then was heard no more—
‘No beer, no work.’

The poor old guy plumb dead was found
And planted in the buryin’ ground,
Still graspin’ in his hand of ice
Them placards with this sad device:
‘No beer, no work.’


To which I can only add. Happy Labor Day!

The Beer Barrel Polka

76 years ago today one of the most well-known polkas, and songs about beer, The Beer Barrel Polka, reached #1 on the Billboard Pop Music Chart in 1939. It was actually written in 1927, by Czech composer Jaromír Vejvoda. It was originally an instrumental known as the Modřanská polka (“Polka of Modřany”), but in 1939, German accordionist Will Glahé renamed it “The Beer Barrel Polka” and it was his 1939 version that made it the memorable song that is still played today. After World War II, Glahé was known in America as the “Polka King.” The English lyrics were later written by Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm, both Tin Pan Alley lyricists. The song was subsequently recorded by many other bands and singers. Musicians such as the Andrews Sisters, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Liberace, the Marx Brothers, Bobby Vinton and Frankie Yankovic did their own versions, too, making it a mainstay at dances and weddings to this day.


I was unaware of this local connection, but according to Wikipedia:

At San Jose Giants home games, a batter from the opposing team is designated the “beer batter.” If the San Jose pitcher strikes out that batter, beer is half price in the beer only lines for the 15 minutes immediately following the strike out. The beer batter promotion is in effect only for the first six innings of the game. The PA system plays Beer Barrel Polka whenever the beer batter comes to the plate and after every strike during the beer batter’s at-bat (through the first six innings). After the sixth inning, the beer batter becomes the apple juice batter and if he strikes out, fans get half-priced Martinelli’s apple juice.

So here is the original version that made it a hit, as performed by Will Glahé:

Will Glahe and his orchestra in 1935, before the Beer Barrel Polka made him famous.

Beer Birthday: Sam Calagione

Today is Sam Calagione’s 46th birthday. Sam is the owner and marketing genius behind Delaware’s successful Dogfish Head Brewing. Sam’s also a great guy, and a (former?) rap singer of sorts, with his duo (along with his former head brewer Bryan Selders) the Pain Relievaz. See the bottom of this post for a couple videos of him singing after hours at Pike Brewery during the Craft Brewers Conference when it was held in Seattle. Join me in wishing Sam a very happy birthday.

Sam gives the thumbs up behind his booth at the Great American Beer Festival a few years ago.

Hosts Ken Grossman & Sam Calagione
With Ken Grossman at a Life & Limb collaboration beer dinner.

Kite & Key co-owner Jim Kirk and me with Sam Calagione, Bill Covaleski & Greg Koch
Kite & Key co-owner Jim Kirk and me with Sam, Bill Covaleski & Greg Koch.

Sam Calagione @ Rare Beer Tasting
Sam at the Rare Beer Tasting at Wynkoop during GABF 2009.

Rapping at Pike Place in Seattle in 2006.

This first video is “I Got Busy with an A-B Salesgirl,” the Pain Relievaz’ first hit single.

The second video is “West Coast Poseurs,” a smackdown to the hoppy West Coast beer and brewers.

Beer In Ads #1495: Most Of The Things I Like Best Begin With ‘B’

Sunday’s ad is for Rheingold Beer, from 1952. “‘Most of the Things I Like Best Begin with ‘B’ — beagles, bands, beer,’ says TV star Harry James. ‘Here’s my favorite beagle — Bugle. My favorite band instrument? You guessed it — the trumpet. As for beer …'” It seems odd they describe James as a “TV star,” when I always think of him as a trumpet player and a bandleader. Harry James’ birthday is today, born in Albany, Georgia in 1916. When I was younger, and a musician, I was a freak for big band music, and Harry James was one of the best of his time.


Beer In Ads #1467: After The Show, Wherever I Go, I Meet This Old Friend Of Mine

Sunday’s ad is for Rheingold Beer, from 1960. “After The Show, Wherever I Go, I Meet This Old Friend Of Mine — Rheingold Extra Dry, says the great authority on scat, Cab Calloway.” I’m not sure who the other guy looking in the mirror is, although he is sharing a beer with Cab Calloway, so he’s probably a friend or colleague. I guess the show went well?


Happy Burns Night

Tonight, many fans of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, will celebrate Burns Night with a meal of Haggis, Scotch Whisky and a night of poetry reading. Though Burns was apparently a whisky drinker, I feel confident saying he probably also drank beer and there are plenty of ways you could incorporate beer and whisky into your evening. I nominate for your poetry recitation, Burns’ version of the popular folksong John Barleycorn, which is believed to have originated sometime in the 16th century. Burns wrote his in 1782, and because of his fame, is one the most oft quoted versions. Here’s how I summarized it in a post about John Barleycorn a few years ago:

Primarily an allegorical story of death, resurrection and drinking, the main character—the eponymous John Barleycorn—is the personification of barley who is attacked and made to suffer indignities and eventually death. These correspond roughly to the stages of barley growing and cultivation, like reaping and malting. Some scholars see the story as pagan, representing the ideology of the cycles of nature, spirits and the pagan harvest, and possibly even human sacrifice. After John Barleycorn’s death, he is resurrected as beer, bread and whisky. Some have also compared it to the Christian transubstantiation, since his body is eaten as bread and drank as beer.


John Barleycorn

There were three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
An’ they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and ploughed him down,
Put clods upon his head;
An’ they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerfu’ spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surprised them all.

The sultry suns of summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel armed wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober autumn entered mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Showed he began to fail.

His colour sickened more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve ta’en a weapon long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgelled him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim;
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.

They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe,
And still, as signs of life appeared,
They tossed him to and fro.

They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller used him worst of all,
For he crushed him ‘tween two stones.

And they hae ta’en his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise;

‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy:
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

Here’s an analysis of the poem, and below is a video of the Scottish St. Andrews Society of Greater St. Louis‘ Burns Night in 2011 and the recitation of John Barleycorn by an Allan Stewart.

And although it has little to do with Burns Night, I still love the version sung by the band Traffic, with frontman Steve Winwood, which appeared on their 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die.

Golden Road’s Area Codes

Ah, the numerical beers. First there was Goose Island’s 312. After being acquired by ABI, they proceeded to file trademark applications for many other metropolitan area codes, leaving many to speculate that they’d start doing locally themed area code beers. When the overlooked the San Luis Obispo / Paso Robles area code, Firestone Walker snapped up, almost as a joke, and started producing 805. It may have started out as a humorous idea, but it’s become one of their best-selling beers in their home market. Golden Road, who’s down the road in Los Angeles, named one of their beers 329, not for an area code, but for the average number of days that L.A. gets sunshine each year.

So they threw down about the area code beers in a musical parody entitled (Beers with) Area Codes, a spoof of Ludacris’ Area Codes (feat. Nate Dogg). The video features co-founder Meg Gill, and some of her brewery team, as they call out Matt Brynildson by name, and humorously dis his 805. Golden Road’s brewer Jesse Houck (who used to brew at Drake’s and 21st Amendment) can also seen briefly in a cameo. At the end, they give a shout out to other area codes, which at first sound made up, but they do mention my 707, so maybe not. All in all, a pretty funny music video.

Beer In Film #81: People Under The Stairs’ “Beer”

Today’s beer film is a 2009 music video by the band People Under the Stairs, a hip hop duo from L.A. As an old white suburban dude, it’s not a style of music in heavy rotation on my iPod, but give it a listen and watch the video. Part of it was shot at the Odell brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The song is pretty catchy, and while it starts out with the typical stuff about getting drunk and malt liquor, keep listening. They drop quite a few references to better beer. While they do name drop such hipster brands as OE and PBR, I heard several mentions of craft beer and Belgian imports. See if you can pick them out? I counted nine. Did I miss any?

Beer In Film #80: The Muppets Share A Beer With Sylvester Stallone

I’m off to see the new Muppets movie which opens today. I’ve been a huge fan of the Muppets since I was a kid, so today’s beer video is an odd one, from the original Muppet Show, which was a pun-filled variety extravaganza that ran for five seasons between 1976-1981. Each show featured a celebrity guest star, and this one come from Season 3, Episode 20, which aired in February of 1979. The guest star was none other than Sylvester Stallone, just a few months before the release of Rocky II. In one of the segments he sings (yes, sings, and his musical abilities are every bit the equal of his thespian prowess!) a rendition of “A Bird in a Gilded Cage,” while holding a mug of beer. Accompanied by Rowlf on piano, with Fozzie, Gonzo and some additional Muppets singing along, at least a couple of them also have mugs of beer. Sadly, no one takes a drink during the sad song, but I’m amazed they were even allowed to show beer at all on television in the late 1970s.

Beer In Film #66: Beer The Musical

Today’s beer video is the trailer for Beer: The Musical, which is apparently a 30-minute animated musical that was created by Marshall Slayton in 2008. Here’s the description from YouTube. “Two friends locked in an epic struggle to fight the evil powers that seek to over tax their sole source of solace…beer. Oh yeah… there are songs too…” ANother sourcs says it’s “about two friends who are fighting against a corporate slum-bag’s attempt to overtax alcohol and bring their favorite pastime (drinking) to an end.” Ever heard of it? Me neither.