Dec 2010

Gansett During Prohibition, The Repeal And The Turn-Around

The 1920s were a sobering time for everyone who had grown to love Narragansett since its inception in 1890—literally. Prohibition settled in and took a toll on a number of American breweries including the Narragansett Brewing Company. Like many others, Narragansett turned to the production & sale of dry ice and soda pop as a means for survival.

However, unlike all but a small handful of breweries across the country, ‘Gansett was granted permission by the IRS to brew, bottle and sell beer for medicinal purposes, which made the prospects for the proud company slightly less grim. Folks from all over New England could get Narragansett Porter with a doctor’s prescription, especially those with anemia and other blood related illnesses, because it was high in iron. Even pregnant or nursing women would often be prescribed the Narragansett Porter…not something that would ever be recommended today.
By the end of Prohibition, however, the Narragansett Brewing Company’s financial condition was not what it used to be. After all, for the past 13 years the brewery had not been able to sell its flagship ales and lagers to the general public. That’s where the Haffenreffers came into play. Rudolph Haffenreffer had built one of Boston’s first brewery complexes, and when he passed away in 1929, the New England Brewing Company was turned over to his sons Rudolf, Jr. and Theodore. In 1931, the repeal of Prohibition appeared likely and Narragansett Brewing Company approached Rudolf, Jr. for help financing and managing the modernization of the ‘Gansett brewery in Cranston. Fortunately, he agreed.
It was by sheer luck that Rudolf, Jr. turned out to be a savvy marketer with a keen interest in cigar-store Indians. In an even luckier turn, Theodore Geisel (who’d soon be known as Dr. Seuss) just so happened to be the college roommate of Rudolph, Jr.’s son at Dartmouth. Stay with us here, as the two would come together when the young artist was hired to design an icon for the company. Geisel designed Chief Gansett, and while the beloved icon may not have been the sole reason for the financial turnaround, he sure would become a favorite of the faithful.

Just a short decade later in the 1940’s, Narragansett Beer became the official radio host of the Boston Red Sox. With the rallying cry of “Hi Neighbor, Have a ‘Gansett” booming from Curt Gowdy’s legendary pipes, Narragansett took over the mantle as New England’s #1 selling beer, and the turn-around was complete.