A bootlegger in Congress? During National Prohibition (1920-1933) it was illegal to transport or sell alcoholic beverages. Most members of Congress publicly supported Prohibition and its enforcement. They included both Democrats and Republicans. They came from across the country. From East, West, North and South. They came from both rural areas and cities.
But most of them drank alcohol in spite of Prohibition. Hypocrisy during Prohibition was rampant. Many relied on the best-known bootlegger in Congress. He was George Cassiday (pronounced “cassidey”). He always wore a green fedora. Later, he became known as The Man in the Green Hat.
George Cassiday was a former tank crew member during World War I. After discharge, he was unable to return to his pre-war job. Work was hard to find. Returning veterans crowded the labor market. Yet Cassiday had to support himself and his family.
A friend told him that alcohol brought a better price on Capitol Hill than elsewhere else in town. He then began illegally selling alcohol in the House Office Building in 1920. He had no problem finding customers. His problem was meeting the demand.
He started by hiding bottles of spirits in his coat before entering the office building. But it was hard to supply the demand using this method. Then a congressman suggested that he bring in larger quantities. He could distribute alcohol from a base of operations within the building. Cassiday agreed and was given an office in the basement of the House Office Building.
He bought his supply in New York City and Philadelphia by taking the train. The bootlegger would then return with two suitcases containing 40 quarts of spirits. People entering the House Office Building were never searched. Except for members of Congress, they were only searched when exiting. In those pre-terrorism days, the concern was theft.
The bootlegger had a brisk business. The members of the House were a thirsty group. To quench their thirst kept him very busy. He began the day at 9:00 when offices opened. He continued until ‘well along in the evening.’
Cassiday was arrested in 1925. The House Sergeant at Arms described him to reporters as ‘the man in the green hat.’ The name stuck.
The Man in the Green Hat was banned from the building. Still needing to make a living, he switched to the Senate Office Building.
Senators, Cassiday later reported, were generally more discreet. They tended to send their secretaries for their alcohol. One senator kept his alcohol on the top of a bookcase. It was next to volumes of the Congressional Record. To order more alcohol he would tell Cassiday that he needed more reading material. The senator called him his ‘librarian.’
The Man in the Green Hat was again arrested in 1930. He was convicted of a felony and sentenced to 18 months in jail. But Cassiday never spent a night there. He would go to jail every morning and sign himself in. Then, at the end of the day, he would sign himself out.
During the year of his arrest, Cassiday wrote a series of articles in The Washington Post. He told his story in detail. But he never revealed the names of any of his many Congressional customers. He estimated that he had sold alcohol to about two-thirds of the members of Congress. But he wasn’t the only bootlegger in Congress. He estimated that 80% were drinkers.
Cassaday’s revelations of widespread hypocrisy documented what many critics of Prohibition had long charged. The articles ran October 24-29 of 1930. The last ran one week before the midterm election. The result of that election was disastrous for drys. That is, for those who supported Prohibition.
George Cassiday’s exposes helped pave the way for Repeal.
Resources for a Bootlegger in Congress
Bragg, M. Meet Congress’ Favorite Bootlegger. Prohibition, Hypocrisy, and “The Man in the Green Hat.” Reason, Dec 5, 2012.
Cassiday, G. Cassiday, Capitol Bootlegger, Got First Rum Order From Dry. Wash Post, Oct 24, 1930, p. 1.
Cassiday, G. Part of Cassiday’s Rum Supply Stored in House Office Building. Wash Post, Oct 26, 1930, p. 1.
Cassiday, G. Rum Buyers in Capitol Indicted as Law Violators by Cassiday. Wash Post, Oct 29, 1930, p. 1.
Kelly, J. Congress Winks at Prohibition in Bootlegger’s Tale. Washington Post, April 27, 2009.
Peck, G. Prohibition in Washington, D.C. How Dry We Weren’t. Charleston, SC: Hist Press, 2011.
Poikolainen, K. Perfect Drinking and Its Enemies. Minneapolis: Green, 2014.