Political cartoon by Rollin Kirby : “Now Then, All Together, ‘My Country ’tis of Thee’,” January 17, 1920
Andrew J. Volstead, Minn. – Library of Congress Catalog: http://lccn.loc.gov/2016822506
In the 1880s, a movement was underway in the United States driven by religious and ideological groups that denounced liquor as the evil or plague of modern society. In 1851, Maine passed a statewide prohibition on selling alcohol. Between 1851 and 1919, additional states began enacting and enforcing their own “Maine Laws.” Kansas enacted a statewide constitutional prohibition on alcohol that prohibited all manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, effective January 1, 1881.

During a decade-long struggle between 1910-1920, the United States debated the banning of alcoholic beverages, branding one side the “Drys” and the other the “Wets.” The Drys believed America would be better off without alcohol and saw alcohol as the Devil’s work. The Wets believed their personal liberties were being infringed upon and opposed the ban that the government wanted to place on their choice of having a drink.

The Eighteenth Amendment, passed by Congress on December 18, 1917, and ratified January 16, 1919, stated the following: After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Two-thirds of the states were required to ratify the amendment for it to become law, a process that would take more than a year. The first state to ratify, Mississippi, did so on January 7, 1918. Nebraska, the thirty-sixth and final state required, ratified the Eighteenth Amendment on January 16, 1919. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island failed to confirm it.

Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920, one year and a day after ratification. The National Prohibition Act, eventually known as the Volstead Act, was introduced by the House of Representatives (66th Congress, 1919-1921) to implement the Eighteenth Amendment by defining the process and procedures for banning alcoholic beverages. The law passed with a Republican majority in the House on July 22, 1919, with a vote 287 to 100. While the Eighteenth Amendment had only 106 words, the Volstead Act contained more than 25 pages. A key provision defined “intoxicating liquor” as anything containing more than 0.5 percent alcohol. The Act did not prohibit the use or purchase of the intoxicating liquor, only the manufacture, sale, or transportation. Senator Andrew Volstead (1859-1947) was a Republican member of the United States Congress from Minnesota between 1902-1922. The Volstead Act is named after him.

Prohibition lasted for thirteen years between January 1920 and December 1933. The Twenty-first Amendment passed by Congress on February 20, 1933, and ratified December 5, 1933, declared the eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States repealed. This was the first time a constitutional amendment had been repealed in the history of the United States. Prohibition was the only amendment to the Constitution that limited human rights rather than expanded them.

Corkscrews and bar tools were designed throughout the Prohibition era. Many seemed to resemble Senator Volstead, who is sometimes called the “Father of Prohibition.” The Wine History Project Collection contains several rare Prohibition and Post-Prohibition Era tools.

Syroco’s Old Codger Figural Corkscrew

Date: 1940 to 1950

Origin: United States

Size: 8½ inches tall

Materials: resin

Object ID: Left: WHP-CR981

Object ID: Right: WHP-CR980

Syroco’s Old Codger Figural Corkscrew

An Austrian woodcarver named Adolph Holstein founded the Syracuse Ornamental Company in New York during the 1890s. Holstein produced ornamental carvings for interiors of fashionable homes, furniture, and coffins. Later after becoming known as Syroco, the company was able to create perfect replicas of their original carvings using a compression molding technique, which used a combination of a thermoset resin, wood powder, and wax as the recipe. The replicas were an inexpensive way of achieving this hand-carved look. The product combined wood pulp from the Adirondacks with the wood powder as a binder. The finished models could be smoothed and varnished to look like wood, or painted.

Syroco began producing novelty items in the 1940s and focused on barware and housewares. A popular item was the figural corkscrew/wine bottle opener known as the Old Codger and often referenced to as the Senator Volstead. Produced between 1940 and 1950, it was available in both a stained walnut finish and a painted version. The painted version came in variations of colors; blue, light gray, or dark gray paints, with a hat to match. The body has a removable head that exposes the corkscrew. The steel corkscrew and bell attached to the head portion of the figure were supplied by the Williamson Company of Newark, New Jersey.

The Wine History Project Collection contains both the stained walnut finish (WHP-CR980) and the dark gray painted version (WHP-CR981). They measure 8½ inches tall.


Demley’s Old Snifter Figural Corkscew

Date: 1930s

Origin: United States

Size:6¾ inches tall

Materials: pewter

Object ID: WHP-CR982

Demley’s Old Snifter Figural Corkscrew

Rollin Kirby (1875-1952) was an artist and illustrator. In 1920, he was working at the New York World as a political cartoonist. When the saloons closed, bars were shuttered, and many in the business were left unemployed, Rollin Kirby illustrated his disapproval. He invented a character who became the symbol of Prohibition. In a cartoon that was published January 17, 1920, coincidentally the first day of Prohibition, “Mr. Dry” appeared in an editorial cartoon. Kirby’s character was a tall, lean, foreboding figure wearing a frock coat, stovepipe hat, and black gloves, carrying a black umbrella. “Mr. Dry” was very popular and became the icon for anti-Prohibition. Kirby won three Pulitzer Prizes (1922, 1925, 1929), including the first Pulitzer Prize ever given to a political cartoonist. The image of “Mr. Dry” was adopted by many and used in marketing products during and after Prohibition for their own sarcastic purposes.

One of these products inspired by “Mr. Dry” was a corkscrew designed in the 1930s called the Old Snifter. The bottle opener is created by the figure’s nose and collar. The corkscrew is hidden in the figure’s coat and folds up to open corked bottles then folds down to hide when not in use. His hat is painted in black and sits atop his head. It is removable, and there is a small opening that possibly held toothpicks. A congressional ribbon decorates his lapel. The Demley version was manufactured by Heller of Chicago. The Wine History Project version (WHP-CR982) has a marking of Germany etched on the bottom of the figure. It is made of pewter and the figure stands 6¾ inches tall.


Schuchardt’s “Mr. Dry” Figural Corkscrew

Date: 1935

Origin: United States

Size: 5¾ inches tall

Materials: metal

Object ID: WHP-CR983

Schuchardt’s “Mr. Dry” Figural Corkscrew

The “Novelty Bottle Opener,” patent number 2,010,326, was issued in 1935 to John R. Schuchardt of New York two years after Prohibition was repealed. This figural corkscrew looks more like Kirby’s “Mr. Dry” than any other corkscrew released either during Prohibition or after the era ended. It was sold in a box which had a drawing of the Old Snifter and included statements including, “He’ll lift a cap or pull a cork,” claiming that, “the head would turn to open a corkscrew, … the hand would remove a bottle cap”, and finally “the base would crack ice.” “Negbaur, N.Y.” is etched on the underside of the umbrella. Harry Negbaur was a tool and die maker for the Dollin Die Casting Company of Irvington, New Jersey which cast the figures.

The Wine History Project’s version of this corkscrew (WHP-CR983) has an extra “e” in Negbauer under the umbrella which is incorrect. This corkscrew does not have a name on the base and is known as the third version of this corkscrew. The corkscrew stands 5¾ inches tall.


Flauter’s Bar Tool

Date: 1932

Origin: United States

Size: 9¾ inches long

Materials: silver plated

Object ID: WHP-CR984

Flauter’s Bar Tool

This bar tool, resembling Senator Volstead, weighs ten ounces and seems to be nickel with silver-plating. The bar tool was made in 1932, commemorating the end of Prohibition. It combines a jigger, bottle opener, corkscrew and cocktail spoon. This tool was produced by the Weidlich Brothers in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The design patent was issued August 1932 as U.S. Design Patent No. 87,567 as a “Design for a Bottle Opener” issued to Alfred J. Flauter.

It was marketed as a “Jolly Good Mixer” and has a scowl and prudish stance on one side holding a finger up in a sign of abstinence. On the opposite side the character has a half-smile with a cocktail being held in his hand. If you pull the top hat off which is actually a two-ounce jigger, there is a Williamson corkscrew attached.

The character’s head is cast on to the bottle opener giving the appearance of a big mouth. On the inside of the mouth are markings. On one side there is W.B. Mfg. Co. and on the other side is the date 8-16-32. On the back of the spoon handle is 905. The Wine History Project’s bar tool (WHP-CR984) measures 9¾ inches long.

These objects will be featured in a series of Prohibition Exhibits throughout San Luis Obispo County presented by the Wine History Project starting in January 2020 in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Prohibition.