Transcript: American Spirits – 1930 Gubernatorial Race [VIDEO]

Leslie Przybylek, senior curator, Heinz History Center:

Sometimes small objects tell a really important story. We’re looking now at a case of political memorabilia from the Elaine and Carl Krasik Collection of Pennsylvania political artifacts, and they’re materials that relate to the governor’s election of 1930. By 1930 Prohibition had become a hot bed issue both here and nationally.

The two challengers were former Governor Gifford Pinchot, an ardent Prohibition supporter, even his friends like Theodore Roosevelt called him a fanatic on the issue, and challenger John M. Hemphill. Pinchot was a Republican and Hemphill was a Democrat, although if you look at some of the ribbons in the case you’ll see its listed as the liberal party, and this was a party that was very specifically created to advocate for the repeal of Prohibition.

Now the election itself was close, and in fact Gifford Pinchot won. A lot of rural counties and areas of Pennsylvania really saw Hemphill as the candidate who stood largely for Philadelphia interests, so Hemphill only won eight counties, but he also won 48% of the vote to Gifford Pinchot’s 51%. And while Pinchot won the election, Hemphill conceded defeat, but then he warned, “This fight is not over.” He had even run on the slogan “Help Hemphill take the distillery out of the kitchen and the flask out of the boy’s pocket” and he wasn’t ready to give up that battle, and as we now know, in effect, the loser of that election was correct.

By 1933, Prohibition was repealed. Of course, Gifford Pinchot remained the governor of Pennsylvania and he set out with the repeal of Prohibition to make Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws one of the strictest sets in the nation and if you have ever purchased a bottle of wine or a bottle of spirits in the Pennsylvania state store today, you’re participating in part of Gifford Pinchot’s legacy related to Prohibition.