Today we think of soda, or as we say in these parts pop, as coming in a few standard sizes: 12 oz cans, 20 ounce bottles and 2-liter’s to name a few. But as I’m sure you’re aware, sizes have changed substantially over the last…
Continuing with my theme of alcohol bottles found on campus, I’ll be discussing one particular bottle that was discovered during excavations of the Brody/Emmons area. The bottle is a clear, rectangular-based bottle, no doubt a liquor bottle given this shape. If there was any doubt…
The artifacts recovered from the Brody Complex/Emmons Amphitheater excavations are providing many research avenues.. As Mari mentioned in her previous blog, this area was originally used as the East Lansing City Dump for about three decades – from the 1920s to 1950s. One cultural and constitutional phenomenon that this period encapsulates is the enacting and later redacting of the 18th Amendment, also known as Prohibition. This amendment made it illegal to produce, buy, sell, or transport alcohol although private ownership and consumption was not illegal (Tyrell 2015).
Various liquor bottles from many types of spirits were recovered during the excavations at Emmons Amphitheater including gin, whisky (and whiskey), beer, and wine bottles, as well as a few yet-to-be identified alcohol bottles. For this post, I will not go too specifically into the history of any one liquor bottle (that will be in my next post), but will dig more into what these bottles tell us about student life during the Prohibition and how a few variations of these laws made a surprising resurgence in East Lansing in the 1990s.
First, a quick history of prohibition in Michigan. Although the 18th Amendment received the required number of states to pass in 1919 and was enacted in 1920, Michigan was actually the first state in the nation to go dry. The state enacted its own alcohol prohibition starting on May 1st, 1918. Due to its easy access to Windsor, Canada, Detroit became the biggest pipeline in the nation for liquor smuggling (Tyrell 2015). Some researchers estimate that up to 75% of liquor smuggled into the United States during this time came through Michigan via what was called the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. During this time, people tried to get alcohol any way they could. Speakeasies (also known as blind pigs or blind tigers) popped up all over the country. Organized crime soared in Detroit (ever hear of the Purple Gang?) and the illicit liquor trade became the city’s second largest industry. However, when the 21st Amendment was passed which repealed Prohibition, Michigan was the first state in the nation to ratify the amendment, mostly due to the rise in organized crime in the Detroit area during the period (Tyrell 2015). On December 5, 1933, a ¾ majority was reached in Congress, thereby officially repealing the 18th Amendment. This day became known as Repeal Day and is still celebrated by pubs and bars everywhere with great drink specials.
So generally, what do these bottles tell us? Primarily, that people (and presumably students since the dump abutted the school and students lived off campus in East Lansing) drank alcohol. Drinking on campus has been prohibited ever since the school’s foundation, yet that hasn’t stopped students from breaking the rules. Students have always engaged in breaking rules, and it’s probable that they were still purchasing alcohol during Prohibition. One of the driving factors for breaking a school rule is just to break it – an act of revolt against “The Man” or the administration. It gives a sense of both agency and community with other students who can feel weighed down by rules and regulations.
Although these liquor bottles date to the post-Prohibition era, it still gives us insight as to the nature of student life and activities. The year of 1920, the first year of national Prohibition, was reported to be a particularly rebellious year. The Age of Jazz was in its early years with many people around the nation considering this new form of music to be immoral. Kuhn notes that due to the strict regulations of the college at this time, students revolted by hosting unscheduled and impromptu dances with lots of jazz music, much to the chagrin of the professors who were said to have been “quite dejected at all the goings on” (p. 321). Most likely a culmination of the desire to break school rules, rebel against the administration, and put the devastation from WWI behind them, students at M.S.C. regularly engaged in activities of this sort which led some people to refer to this period or student revolt as the “Bolshevik Days” at the college (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321). Further, the academic year of 1919-1920 earned its own nickname as the year of Jazz and Bolshevism.
The desire to socialize further from school-sanctioned activities also led to an increase in parties where alcohol flowed freely. Planning and throwing one of these liquor-laden parties would have been a difficult process for a few reasons. First, when the charter for the City of East Lansing was issued in 1907, it was incorporated as a dry city so local vendors and establishments would not have had alcohol. Second, state prohibition in 1918 and National Prohibition in 1920 would have meant that the procurement of liquor would have been difficult and both a state and federal crime. However, the convenient geographic distance to Detroit would have meant that students at the school most likely obtained their illicit alcohol from connections with the rum-running capital of the nation. One account on campus during this time states that a briefcase with no less than 12 bottles of fine whiskey was found in a bush with a note inside saying “This is a sample of what you won’t get if the State goes dry” (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321).
Even in recent decades there have been Prohibition-esque crack-downs on liquor and parties at MSU. In 1980, the City of East Lansing amended its definition of what constitutes a ‘blind pig’ which up to that point was an establishment that sold liquor without a liquor license. The amendment expanded that definition to include parties where there is a cover charge, required donations, or a purchase of a cup for unlimited alcohol – common house or student party practices. In 1989 and 1990, East Lansing felt that parties of this nature were getting out of control and decided to revive the Prohibition-era law and began shutting down these MSU student parties which, under the new city amendments, were considered blind pigs – a possible felony. Arrests and charges were brought up on students, particularly at Cedar Village, as reported by a September 20, 1990 edition of the uR-I (the university Reporter-Intelligencer – a student-run newspaper).
The past is not as far back as we think, be it an old law that has risen from the dead or just the attitudes of students towards the rules and regulations of the day. Students rebel and revolt in any way they can. There is something satisfying about going against the establishment, whether that means holding unscheduled dances, stashing briefcases or liquor in shrubs across campus, or hosting blind pigs. So next time you’re strolling around the Brody Complex near the Emmons Amphitheater, remember that you’re not just standing above an old city dump site, you’re standing above the material memory of student acts of rebellion as they tried (and will always try) to assert their own agency and independence.
Kuhn M. 1955 Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, 1855-1955. MSU University Press, East Lansing, Michigan.
Tyrell P. 2015 Utilizing a Border as a Local Economic Resource: The Example of the Prohibition-Era Detroit-Windsor Borderland (1920–33). Comparative American Studies an International Journal, 13 (1-2): 16-30.
university Reporter-Intelligencer, Vol. 2, No.1. 20 September, 1990. (http://spartanhistory.kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/1/4/1-4-1636-54-A006374.pdf)
Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market…
In my previous blog, I discussed the history of the Philip Kling Brewing Company of Detroit, inspired by fragments of two Kling beer bottles found in the Gunson house debris last summer. While the story of the Detroit brewing industry was interesting, it was all…
This past week, Lisa, the Campus Archaeologist, discovered fragment of two different beer bottles in the assemblage excavated from the remains of Professor Thomas Gunson’s household. The embossed words “PH Kling” appear on both fragments, although in different fonts, and an internet search quickly brought up references to the Philip Kling Brewing Company in Detroit. Fortunately for me, Peter Blum wrote a lovely book about the history of brewing in Detroit, in which the Kling company features prominently. I summarize that information here, but I would encourage those of you interested in the topic to give it a read (citation below).
Brewing began in the city of Detroit around 1830, where the industry was run by mostly British entrepreneurs making ale. Beginning around 1848, a large influx of Germans into the area brought with it a new era of brewing in the Detroit—one dominated by German lager brewers. Among these German brewers was Philip Kling, a cooper, who along with Michael Martz and Henry Weber, invested in the Peninsular Brewing Company in 1856, which was located on Jefferson Avenue, near the future site of the Belle Isle bridge. Kling gradually took greater control of the company, which was renamed Philip Kling and Company in 1868. Kling became the first president of the Detroit Brewer’s Association and by the end of the 1870s, PH Kling was one of the city’s most successful and prominent breweries. Their offerings included Pilsener, Gold Seal Export, Extra Pale Ale, and Porter.
After reverting to the name Peninsular Brewing from 1879 to 1890, the name Philip Kling Brewing Company was formally adopted. This year also marked the beginning of the great brewing dynasties, which in Detroit included the Strohs, Klings, Martzes, and Darmstaetters. However, Kling was but a middling competitor amongst the giants. The brewery was severely damaged in a fire in 1893, and a new 6-story brewhouse with increased barrel storage was constructed. After Philip’s death in 1910, his son Kurt took over operations, but business was interrupted by Prohibition in Michigan, which began in 1917. Like other breweries, the company replaced the word “brewing” in their corporate name, becoming Kling Products Company. In the attempt to keep the company running and generate income, Kurt Kling built Luna Park next to the brewery, and amusement park that included a roller coaster. However, the company was forced to close in 1921 and the building was torn down.
Following the end of Prohibition in 1933, Kling purchased Daily Brewery in Flint and resumed brewing by 1936. However, former bootleggers in Detroit still controlled distribution in Detroit, and Kling found it difficult to make his way back into the Detroit market. While the other major breweries were quick to make post-Prohibition recoveries, Kling’s Flint venture floundered and was out of business by 1942.
Back in East Lansing, we believe that the material from CAP excavations this summer is from Professor Gunson’s house, where he lived from 1891 until his death in 1940. A majority of the examples of Kling bottles online have the large, clear block lettering present on the second bottle fragment, while the first has serif lettering, for which I could find no online equivalent. It is possible that these bottles were from two different time periods, meaning Gunson could have been a long-term devotee of the brand throughout the span of its popularity. I could find no information concerning the distribution of Kling beer to other Michigan markets so it is unclear if Gunson purchased the beer locally or in Detroit. In any case, these small pieces of bottle glass tie MSU into the bigger picture of the Michigan brewing industry, which is a legacy in which the state prides itself today. I will hop into a more in-depth discussion of the social role of beer at MSU, in Michigan, and throughout world history in my next blog. In the meantime, relax and throw back a few cold ones—it will make the wait less brewtal.
Blum, Peter H.
1999 Brewed in Detroit: Breweries and Beers since 1830. Wayne State University
Press, Detroit, MI.