Prohibition was an interesting time in American history. In 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act which prohibited the production of alcohol, determined what an “intoxicating” beverage was and set penalties for anyone who broke the law.
The law was originally vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson but was overridden with a two-thirds vote by Congress. The law took effect in January of 1920.
It did not stop production completely, but required those who produced alcohol for medical, religious and personal use to apply for a license to do so.
Businesses and individuals would apply for a permit by completing a form filed with the federal government (it could be filed locally but many Madison County residents filed in Syracuse).
The county was notified by letter when the license was approved by the federal government. In Madison County the licenses were called “Fruit Juice Permits.”
If a permit holder was found in violation of the law they could be arrested and charged with a felony.
A number of private residents, pharmacies and Colgate University received permits during the early part of prohibition.
Private residences were allowed to make 200 gallons of the fruit juice for personal use. In the case of pharmacies, they produced alcohol for medicinal purposes.
Most of these permits restricted the pharmacists to one-pint containers. They were only allowed to sell the liquor to people who had subscriptions (prescriptions) from a doctor.
Colgate’s permit was slightly different than the pharmacists’. It stated: “Permit to hospital or scientific institution to procure alcohol free of tax.”
The university was not allowed to sell the alcohol they produced, and because of that they were not charged a tax for the production. Colgate could only use it for research (medicinal or otherwise). In our records, they were the only entity in the county that carried a permit with this restriction.