Title: The Saloon Question in Chicago by John E. George
Location: Google Books Date: 1897
At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago was well-known as a hard drinking town. While saloons were often hives of crime they were also an important revenue source for the growing city and a centuries old aspect of the working class and immigrant culture. To his credit, the author of this early study investigates all sides of the issue, even the influence of Chicago’s weather…
Chicago, like every other large city, has its saloon problem. There is, no doubt, much misapprehension as to what the problem really is. To many, and especially to those who do not live in a large city, the saloon seems to be an unmitigated evil, the sole aim and purpose of which is to ruin men and to corrupt society. Temperance literature, too, and temperance speakers often decry the saloon unqualifiedly, as the chief cause of crime and poverty in our civilization. Annihilate the saloon, it is said, and crime and poverty will almost entirely disappear. On the other hand, the saloon-keeper maintains that his business is as justifiable as any other business ; that the saloon exists because the public demands what it supplies ; and that his is the most abused business there is, since he must pay an exorbitantly high license fee and constantly be harassed by laws and ordinances which regulate, govern, and sometimes entirely prohibit, his business.
The saloon in Chicago is the logical result of certain conditions, as it doubtless is everywhere ; and it would be a wild conjecture, at best, to say that the annihilation of the saloon would ameliorate those conditions to any great extent. Nor would crime and pauperism necessarily cease or largely decrease at once. Change the conditions, and the results will be changed. It may be said that the saloon is a condition, but also a cause. That is true to some extent. But it is effect as well as cause. It is the effect of pre-existing conditions, and it is directly a cause in so far as it exceeds normal demands and creates abnormal demands. The fundamental conditions exist in the human appetite for intoxicating beverages. Dr. H. I. Bowditch, in treating of ” Intemperance in the Light of Cosmic Laws,” says: “The first deduction we can make from this correspondence [letters from all parts of the world] is that this appetite for stimulants is one of the strongest of human instincts. It is seen in every nation, in all quarters of the globe. Savage or civilized man alike, purchases or makes his appropriate stimulant.”
When Mr. William T. Stead was in Chicago, he said in a public address in Central Music Hall, that the saloon supplied more human wants than the churches. This seemed at first a wild and unwarranted statement, and he was assailed from all sides. But when we consider that there are nearly seven thousand saloons in Chicago that make every provision allowed by the law, and many prohibited by it, to make their places attractive and comfortable, and that they are open every day and every night, even on Sunday, we must admit that his statement has some force. And when we further consider that to counteract the influence of this large number of saloons there are but five hundred and forty eight churches in the entire city, his statement has added force. The saloon does supply wants that are not at present supplied in any other way to any great extent, and it supplies them at all hours to suit the customer. Bishop Fallows at his “Home Salon”, at 155 Washington street, recently said: ” We of the better classes have allowed men of low character to provide for wants in the institution of the saloon that we ought to have provided, minus the evils of the saloon.” Miss Jane Addams, of the Hull House Settlement, Chicago, in a recent address before the students of Northwestern University, said that the worst places, such as the saloon and places of iniquity in general, were made the most attractive, while the places that ought to be counted the best were usually the most unattractive.
It is said that the man still lives who with his rude wagon and ox team hauled the logs to build Fort Dearborn. From a small city of 4,170 inhabitants and an area of 10.5 square miles in 1837, Chicago has grown to a great metropolis, second only in population to New York city, and more than three times as large as that city in territorial extent. All this in less than sixty years. To Chicago have come people from all parts of the earth, bringing with them a mixture of good and bad influence. Dr. Bowditch says: ” The American republic, though broadly British in its origin, and therefore inheriting British tastes for strong liquors, has become by immigration truly cosmopolitan. For more than a century men from every country have taken refuge here and have brought their national habits with them.” This last statement is certainly true of Chicago. The rapid growth of the city, its territorial extent and geographical position, its climate, and its mixed population, all these facts are very pertinent to the subject under consideration ; and a careful examination of them will bring to clearer light some of the reasons why the saloon is so strongly rooted in Chicago. In territorial extent Chicago is the largest city in the world. London covers an area of 122 square miles, Paris 30 square miles, New York 40.22 square miles, while Chicago has an area of 186.5 square miles. In 1893 Chicago had 1,007 miles of improved and 1,460 miles of unimproved streets, a total of 2,467 miles of roadway, including more miles of paved streets than there are in New York and Boston combined. Halsted street, running north and south from Little Calumet river to Lake Michigan, is 21.5 miles long, said to be the longest street in the world. From the lake front at Jackson Park or Lincoln Park, to the western boundary is nine miles. This great territorial extent of the city probably renders police supervision more difficult than it would be if the city were compact. And yet this can hardly apply to the police supervision of saloons, since they are most numerous in the down-town and compactly built portions of the city.
The climate of Chicago has undoubtedly not a little to do with the drinking habits of its people. Situated on the lake shore, it is subject to frequent and great changes of temperature. It has been maintained that an even temperature is conducive to temperance, while a constantly changing temperature is a fruitful cause of excessive consumption of intoxicating beverages. Dr. Bowditch also says : “In further proof of the influences of climate, and at the same time to warn our people in regard to the use of liquors in America, I may add the well-known fact, that Englishmen on arriving in this country find themselves unable to bear the same amount of liquor of any kind that they have always used with impunity in Europe. Similar but exactly opposite results have been noticed by Americans when visiting Europe.”
If it be true anywhere that sudden fall and sudden rise of temperature influence the amount of liquor consumed and its reaction upon the consumer, it certainly is true in Chicago.