George L. Cassiday, Sr. (April 12, 1892 – January 21, 1967) was one of the leading Congressional bootleggers during National Prohibition. Known as “the man in the green hat,” he sold liquor for ten years to congressmen and senators. In October 1930, he came forward and told his story in six front-page articles in the Washington Post. The articles pointed out Congressional hypocrisy and made the public even more jaded about Prohibition. His admission made both national news and an impact on the midterm Congressional elections just a week later.
Born in 1892 to a Methodist and WCTU family in Wheeling, West Virginia, Cassiday (pronounced “Cass-i-dee'”) fought in World War I and founded the Irish War Veterans association. When he couldn’t qualify for his pre-war job working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, he came to bootlegging almost by accident. “A friend of mine told me that liquor was bringing better prices on Capitol Hill than anywhere else in Washington and that a living could be made supplying the demand,” he wrote in the Post. His first customers were two southern congressmen, both of whom had voted for the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.
Cassiday operated out of the Cannon House Office Building from 1920–1925, then shifted to the Russell Senate Office Building after his 1925 arrest, as he noted that senators were more discreet. After his final arrest in February 1930, Cassiday agreed to stop bootlegging. That fall, he agreed to write a series of six articles for The Washington Post. With the exception of naming names, he told his entire story, including how he got his start, where he bought the booze, how he smuggled it in, and how Congress gave him an office to work out of. The series ran October 24–29, 1930 (the Post ran an introductory article on October 23). The final article ran exactly one week before the midterm election day.
Cassiday met most members of Congress during his ten years bootlegging. He wrote, “As the result of my experience on Capitol Hill since prohibition went into effect I would say that four out of five senators and congressmen consume liquor either at their offices or their homes.”
Cassiday concluded his article series by declaring that he was giving up bootlegging. He accepted responsibility, but said that Congress was likewise culpable. “Considering that I took the risk and did the leg work from 1920 to 1930, I am more than willing to let the general public decide how I stack up with the senator or representative who ordered the stuff and consumed it on the premises or transported it to his home.” Cassiday’s articles in The Washington Post were a contributing factor to the Republican defeat in the 1930 midterm election. The dry Republican majority was ousted, and replaced by a wet Democratic majority that supported the repeal of Prohibition.
After his 1930 arrest, Cassiday was convicted of a felony and sentenced to eighteen months in jail. He never spent a night in prison, as he was allowed to sign out every night and sign back in the next morning. He went on to work in a shoe factory and several hotels in the Washington area. He died in 1967 at age 74. Cassiday’s second wife destroyed the “black book” that Cassiday used to keep track of customers and their purchases. He never revealed who his customers were – beyond admitting that it was most of Congress.
In 2012, the first post-Prohibition distillery in Washington, DC, New Columbia Distillers, launched Green Hat Gin named after George Cassiday.
- Peck, Garrett (2011). Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't. Charleston, SC: The History Press. pp. 125–133. ISBN 978-1609492366.
- Cassiday, George (October 24, 1930). "Cassiday, Capitol Bootlegger, Got First Rum Order From Dry". The Washington Post.
- Cassiday, George (October 29, 1930). "Rum Buyers in Capitol Indicted as Law Violators by Cassiday". The Washington Post.
- Peck, Garrett (2011). Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-1609492366.
- Kelly, John (April 27, 2009). "Congress Winks at Prohibition in Bootlegger's Tale". The Washington Post.