Rum and Fun in the Sun How Bacardi Turned Prohibition into Innovation
Americans have loved rum since its first importation from the Caribbean in 1650, and as one of the world’s top rum distributors, Bacardi has played a pivotal role in the spirit’s history.
In the mid-17th century, Americans quickly moved from importing rum to importing sugar cane and molasses to make rum themselves. By 1657, Boston became home to the first American rum distillery. The rum production industry soon became one of the most important economic operations in colonial New England. In what became known as the Triangle Trade, rum was taken to West African, where it was traded for slaves. The slaves were then taken to the West Indies, where they were traded for molasses, which was shipped to New England to make more rum. Due to the demand, towns in states spanning from Massachusetts to the Carolinas soon opened their own distilleries.
Between 1920 and 1933, Prohibition wreaked havoc on the alcoholic beverage industry in the United States. Bacardi, which had expanded from its home in Cuba to sell and produce rum in the American market, was no exception. However, the Bacardi family managed to turn loss into ingenuity. When Emilio Bacardi, the son of company founder Facundo Bacardi y Maso, died in 1922, his brother in law, Enrique Schueg, was compelled to close the company’s New York bottling plant due to Prohibition. Far from defeated, however, he set out to draw American consumers to a venue where they could legally enjoy BACARDI cocktails: Cuba.
The Edificio Bacardi de la Habana that Schueg constructed did attract American tourists to Cuba, and its proximity to Florida helped bolster its popularity. It soon became known as âthe unofficial U.S. saloon.â The architectural beauty of the coral limestone and pink granite Art Deco building has drawn travelers to the edge of old Havana Vieja since it opened in 1929. In addition to serving as Bacardi headquarters until the company relocated to Bermuda in 1960, the building was one of Havana’s first skyscrapers.
Following this success, Bacardi’s international sales grew increasingly robust as Enrique Schueg expanded Bacardi into Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Spain. He hired world-famous architects like Felix Candela and Ludwig Mies van de Rohe to oversee the construction of several of the companyâ’s projects.
Cuba remained a popular destination for American travelers even after Prohibition was repealed, in large part due to Bacardi. In the 1940s, Pan American World Airways’ ads began featuring Bacardi, using slogans such as, Fly Pan Am to Cuba and you can be bathing in Bacardi in hours.
Although Americans no longer have to board a plane to enjoy BACARDI cocktails, the company’s innovation during Prohibition has forever solidified its place in history.