1919 Prohibition and Suffrage

January 7

The Joseph Kavanagh Company starts another year. The business now employs six descendants of the original Joseph. His nephews, Joe(52) and James(42) own the Shop now. Joe’s two sons Leo(26) and Eddie(25) both are coppersmiths. Joe is married to Johanna(46) and they also have a daughter Anna(12). James’ son, Guy(16) assists in the office during the summers. James’ wife is Honora and they have another son, James Jr.(10) Another coppersmith, James Woods(25) is the son of the first Joseph’s sister Sally Woods(47). The original Joseph has two more nephews who worked for the Shop in the past. Martin(56) who lead the business into near ruin. He eventually declared bankruptcy, spent six months in jail for shooting a bartender then moved to Chicago. Finally, there is Frank Kavanagh(35) who several years ago retired from the Shop. He moved to the Panama Canal where he works as a coppersmith. He is employed by the army, but as a civilian. The Kavanaghs have persevered through ups and downs, The one constant being the Shop for over 50 years. It’s a source of support and pride. The two remaining brothers continue on the tradition started by their uncle. They do so now with an eye to the future. They put themselves in his place now. Preparing for the passage of the business to the next generation. Today is a cold windy day in Baltimore. The heat of the torches and their labor gives the Shop’s crew some respite from the cold. They are building some ice cream and candy jacket kettles. The kettles are used for preparing the sweet treats. They have remained busy through the holidays. One thing that is on the minds of the Kavanaghs is the Temperance movement has gained a lot of steam. The U. S. could be heading towards banning strong liquor. The distilleries are the backbone of their work. The breweries would be second in importance followed by cooking kettles and vessels. The still work is clearly a large piece of what they do. Joe and his crew try not to think about it and do their jobs. Today Joe reads of the passing of Teddy Roosevelt in the Baltimore Sun. He is shocked as is his crew. Roosevelt was only 60 and seemed a healthy man. As a matter of fact, some were hoping that he might seek the presidency again. You can count the Kavanaghs in this group. Teddy was widely popular and a very charismatic figure. The Kavanaghs held him in high regard and lament his passing.

January 16

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution passes. Nebraska become the 36th state to ratify it. No strong liquor can be produced or sold in the U. S. There is no established means of enforcing it as yet. That will come later as Congress must pass laws accordingly. None of this sits well with Joe and his family. They rely heavily on the distilling industry for regular repairs, replacements and still construction. The crew is still occupied with kettles today, but the long term effects could be devastating for the Shop. There will be some distilling allowed, but only for medicinal purposes. Joe and James, the owners, worry for their future. They can focus on brewery work, but even that shall be impacted. The law covers beer also not just wine and whiskey. Though lower alcohol beer or “near beer” will be allowed. They will be able to service those breweries, but at a considerably lower volume. The Kavanaghs decide to try to push for more of their other kettles for cooking and food service. Also, they will try to broaden the scope of the brass fabrication they do. They make a variety of items from copper, but they will try to draw some additional jobs from the ornamental brass industry.

February 15

Leo, Eddie and most of the Shop’s coppersmiths attend a meeting of Local # 80 on this Saturday evening. It is a contentious meeting as all involved are concerned about the newly ratified Prohibition Amendment. Much of the coppersmith work out there, not just the Shop’s work, is distillery work. There are plans from some distillers to convert to soda or other beverages. It will not compare to the work they receive now, but it will be something. Eddie warns the rank and file that jobs will almost assuredly be lost. The volume of work will go down substantially. The union brothers are solidly supportive of each other. Efforts will be made to find work for all members. It will be a challenge, but they are committed to finding a solution.

March 22

The Shop is closed this Saturday as they have cut back their hours to five days. They do not want to work themselves out of the jobs they have. This does make it easier for Johanna to attend her monthly meeting of the Just Government League, a suffrage organization. Jo has been involved for several years. Strong efforts are being made to pass an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women’s suffrage. The group has a letter-writing campaign under way and pursues many avenues to get support for their cause. Johanna and her fellow members are very confident they will finally receive the right to vote. They will not waiver. They are determined to have their voices heard and to have a say in our nation’s government.

April 15

The Shop has slowed down certainly, but thanks to Joe’s many contacts, they are able to continue with their full crew for now. Joe makes calls every day. They find any work they can, but this can not go on forever. Their workload is buoyed by a large boiler job for E. J. Codd, one of their older customers. Brass bearings are made. Valves and fittings are sold. Some custom copper parts are fabricated for the boiler. This job helps to keep them busy despite the concerns over Prohibition.

June 4

The 19th Amendment passes. Johanna and women throughout the U. S. are jubilant. Jo is anxious to cast her first vote, but will have to wait until next year. Strangely, Maryland does not ratify this amendment until 1941. Still, women in the state can and will vote. The Shop has gotten a little busier. Joe has visited the docks to push for some steamship work. He offers lower prices and they receive some jobs. They still are skilled at making the copper ballast pump chambers. Also, Joe has been in touch with the Navy to procure some of their work for their ships. It adds up to enough to carry them through the summer. They still are not working Saturdays, but at least they have a backlog of things to do. Guy Kavanagh has returned to work in the office this summer. It affords Joe the opportunity to dig for ship work and press any customers he can for jobs.

June 28

The Treaty of Versailles is signed. The peace agreement after the War to End All Wars is finalized. A relief and a day of celebration for the world.

July 19

On another free summer Saturday, several of the Kavanaghs attend an International League Baltimore Orioles game. Joe and his two sons, Leo and Eddie take in the game on a hot afternoon. The Orioles, now a minor league team, are doing well. The three of them talk baseball. They are all fans though of slightly different generations. The Kavanaghs enjoy a win and the team will go on to win its first International League Championship this year.

September 4

Eddie and his wife Anna welcome a baby boy, Edward Patrick. The Kavanaghs celebrate the new addition. Joe and Johanna are grandparents for the second time. He was my uncle and I worked with him for several years before he retired. He was a jitterbug champion dancer, a jokester and an all around entertaining character. His birth is a welcome distraction to the worries about the Shop. The summer is over and the ship work is gone. Joe, James and all the Kavanaghs have begun to be concerned for the winter. The winter was always a problem in past years. They felt they were passed all of that, but now with Prohibition they return to worries about lack of winter work.

October 3

Another work week ends. The crew are fabricating an ornamental railing from brass moldings. Eddie, James Woods and several helpers are at Gunther’s Brewery. Several vats to be re-soldered and valves and fittings to be replaced. Joe reads a story in the paper about President Wilson suffering a stroke the day before. He is left partially paralyzed. Congress passes the Volstead Act to legislate enforcement of the 18th Amendment. It has been vetoed by the president. Efforts are now underway to gather enough votes to override the veto. Joe is concerned. How could anyone want to ban whiskey much less Joe’s beloved rye? But temperance has gained a lot of support in the country. It seems that Prohibition will be here to stay. It is just a matter of time.

October 10

The Shop’s crew still stands at 32 men. Joe scrounges for work. Cold-calling seems to be working for now. They have some cooking kettles to make and some brass and copper work for boilers. They do not have the backlog they want, but are happy to have work. The Kavanaghs and crew discuss baseball today like so many days. The chat that often helps the day pass. The Cincinnati Reds win the World Series by defeating the Chicago White Sox, five games to three in a best of nine. The Sox were heavy favorites to win the championship. The season was played with a new type of ball. Better materials and consistency of baseballs bring an end to the so-called “dead ball” era. Eddie’s favorite player, Babe Ruth homers 29 times setting a new single season record while batting .322. He also compiles a 9-5 record as a pitcher. Joe’s man, Ty Cobb, wins another batting title with a crisp batting average of .384. Eddie brings up the large number of home runs by Ruth. His father, Joe, merely shrugs the homers off as he believes batting average is the telling statistic in baseball. He’s quite sure Cobb is and always will be the better player. Eddie still expects bigger and better things from Ruth.

October 28

Congress overrides Wilson’s veto of the Volstead Act and rules of enforcement are established. The Shop will certainly be impacted. Any way for distilleries to slip by the 18th Amendment are gone. Most will try to stay open by making other beverages or simply close. Joe and James discuss their options over lunch. They do not have many. It seems very likely that they will have to cut back the size of the crew. More to the point, they may not be able to generate enough revenue to make a profit. Joe will continue to track down leads on any copper work he can find. Today they are working on bending and shaping some perforated tubes into a fountain. It is a 15 ft. diameter circular fountain. Because of this job along with making some pots, pans and odd ends, they do have some work. The doubts about the winter keep returning to Joe and James.

November 6

Martin Kavanagh dies in Chicago. He is hit in the head by a falling brick at a construction site. Joe is visited by Martin’s daughter, Kitty. She received word via telegram earlier today. Joe and James are saddened to hear of their brother’s passing. They have not been in touch with him directly since he moved in 1912. After all the water under the bridge, Martin’s slipshod running of the Shop and the shooting of Clarence Keen, there was no desire on either side to communicate. The Kavanaghs do mourn Martin’s death. Thinking of him reminds them of the young man he was and the mistakes he made. The crowd he began to run with and the illegal activity he was privy to. He sold illegal liquor and squandered the Shop’s money. His brothers, Joe, James and Frank staged a walkout and moved on about 13 years ago. They did what they had to do. The brothers have no regrets. Joe considers all this as he thinks of Martin.

November 27

Thanksgiving dinner is celebrated at Collington Avenue, Joe and Johanna’s house. Their sons and their sons’ families are there and, of course, Anna their daughter. After a feast of turkey and all the fixings including parsnips, a family favorite, the men hold a meeting about what to do about the Shop. They adjourn to the front parlor. They smoke and have a glass of what is left of Joe’s favorite, Monticello Rye. He has stocked up a bit knowing that Prohibition was coming. Joe asks for ideas from his boys, Leo and Eddie. He needs their thoughts as he and his brother, James must come up with a solution to this Prohibition problem. Eddie mentions the still at the Shop. He is hesitant to bring it up to his father, Joe. The idea of making their own whiskey is so very similar to what led to Martin’s downfall. Joe listens as Eddie discusses the possibility while Leo chimes in occasionally in support of Eddie. Joe is not crazy about the idea, but he has considered it himself already. Leo and Eddie are young newly married men each with a young son. They both will need money. Joe knows this. He is worried about the legalities of the whiskey trade. Martin made many mistakes not the least of which was the men he was involved with. Plus, he enjoyed the product he was selling far too much. It’s the nature of bootlegging. Joe thinks to himself that maybe Martin was just sloppy. If they embark on this road, they will be breaking federal laws. Since the Volstead Act passed, states have lined up to pass their own “mini” Volstead acts in their General Assemblies. Maryland has not. This could help them. If there are no local laws being broken, it will make it easier to do this and not draw too much attention to themselves. They do lack contacts in the world of illegal booze. Eddie believes he may know someone. He mentions Kitty’s husband, James Connolly. She has confided in him that James has a prison record. She did not go into details, but he has one. Eddie passes on to his brother and father that he is fairly certain that Connolly has some experience in the whiskey business. Joe decides to table the discussion for now. He will talk to his brother then they will decide. In the meantime, he tells Eddie to make sure James and Kitty Conolly are at the Shop’s Christmas Eve party.

December 16

Frank Kavanagh returns once again to Baltimore. He takes a train from New York after sailing from the Panama Canal. His brothers and the rest of the family are very pleased. He will be here through the holidays and at least until the spring. He is working hard at the canal and making good money. He misses his son and the Kavanaghs, but the money is too good to pass up. The Shop is full of chatter between Frank and his family. Catching up and filling in details. He asks about the Shop and the new Prohibition law. No one answers at first then Joe says they are dealing with it and will figure something out. He prefers to keep their concerns and plans close to the vest.

List of American citizens including Frank Kavanagh returning to U. S. from the Canal Zone. December 1919.

December 24

The annual Christmas Eve party at the Shop. A bit of a muted affair this year but still festive. They have managed to stay busy enough to keep their crew through this year. The volume of work is down and looking to get worse over the cold months. Joe has spoken to James about the possibility of doing some bootlegging. The illegal whiskey trade could be a source of income. James is less concerned than Joe. He is very much in favor. He needs the Shop to stay viable. He also has two sons who are still in school including Guy who has worked in the Shop’s office for the last two summers. Joe, James, Leo and Eddie are all in agreement. They eat and drink(more of Joe’s stash of rye) at Pratt Street & Central Avenue. Welcoming family, friends, customers and vendors. Among the family who attend are James and Kitty Connolly. Eddie speaks to James privately while Joe and Kitty lead the party in singing some Christmas songs. He broaches the subject of illegal whiskey. James smiles and informs Eddie that he wanted to discuss the same thing with the Kavanaghs. He assures Eddie they can all make a lot of money. It will be safe. He is smart and he has many contacts both local and not so local. They stand in front of the Shop’s still and James lets Eddie know that they are looking at a gold mine. The market for illegal booze will only get bigger as stocks and supplies become diminished. They drink a toast and listen quietly to the holiday music around them. James Connolly will set something up for them. They will sort out the details in the new year. Leave it all to me he tells Eddie.




Woodrow Wilson is the President of the United States. The Boston Molasses Disaster occurs. A wave of molasses bursts from a tank and rolls through the streets killing 21 and injuring 150. Oregon becomes the first state to tax gasoline. The Grand Canyon National Park, the American Legion and UCLA are established. Curly Lambeau forms the Green Bay Packers football team. Several major strikes in the U. S. break out including telephone workers, coal miners and steel workers. Felix the Cat becomes the first animated character in film. J. D. Salinger, Jackie Robinson, Andy Rooney, Nat King Cole and Liberace are born.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Martin and wife Jack and Kitty
James Connolly and Kitty Kavanagh(young couple in embrace) with Martin Kavanagh(wearing hat), his second wife Marie(left foreground) and other members of her family in Chicago. 1917. Photo Courtesy of Christine Mouser.


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