Brooklyn Army Terminal: Fortress of Prohibition

On May 15, 1918, ground was broken for the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a colossal warehouse and transportation hub designed to deliver American troops and supplies to the fields of Flanders.  World War I would end before the complex was completed, but it would soon find a different use, fighting a different foe: alcohol.

Prohibition came into effect on January 17, 1920, and the war was an important catalyst for it.  Prohibitionists had been condemning alcohol for decades, but the war gave them the perfect instrument to marshal political support for their cause.  They portrayed alcohol as a vice that sapped American strength and wasted American food, and they associated it with America’s mortal foreign enemies.  The country’s beer industry was dominated by first- and second-generation German immigrants, all of whom were now suspect.  New “dry” laws came into being as soon as America entered the war in April 1917.  That same month, New York City enacted a 1 a.m. closing time (unthinkable today), and by December, Congress had enacted the 18th Amendment.  So-called Wartime Prohibition (it did not take effect until long after the war ended, in May 1919) prevented food crops from being used to make alcohol (for more on World War I, Prohibition, and its impacts on the German-American community, read my blog series).>> Continue reading

Merchant Marines, Unsung Heroes of World War II

While developing our new tour about the World War II history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we encountered a fascinating – and largely untold – history of the oft-forgotten service branch, the Merchant Marines. While the wartime exploits of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Army Air Corps are often celebrated, merchant seamen have received short shrift, both in the history books and in real life.

When we first offered the tour as a sneak preview for veterans and their families in early November, we were privileged to be joined by a veteran of the Merchant Marines who served in the Atlantic theater during the war, a gentleman by the name of Paul Mager. I do not use the word “veteran” lightly – while it may seem an obvious moniker to apply to someone who provided essential wartime service in the middle of a combat zone, that status had been denied to Mr. Mager and his compatriots for decades, so it holds particular meaning for them.>> Continue reading