Prohibition

In 1915, Bacardi expanded its prosperous business in Cuba to the United States, building a bottling plant in New York. Just a few short years later, the citizens of the United States found the political will to ban the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. The company was forced to close the plant and deplete 60,000 cases of inventory as a result. This potentially devastating financial blow, however, was instead turned into a marketing opportunity for Bacardi, and the company found a way to flourish.

Led by company executive Enrique Schueg, Bacardi sent thousands of colorful postcards enticing Americans to escape the “desert” of their “dry” nation and come to Cuba. A joint advertising campaign with Pan Am airlines gave birth to such slogans as, “Leave the Dry Lands Behind,” and “Fly to Cuba and Bathe in BACARDÍ rum.” Americans responded enthusiastically to the invitation to escape to Cuba, and tourism to the island doubled in a period of ten years, growing from 45,000 annual visitors in 1916 to 90,000 in 1926.

Bacardi was a core player in Havana’s heyday as a tropical retreat from Prohibition. Enrique Schueg not only turned potential disaster into lucrative opportunity, but also was able to position Cuba as “the home of rum, and BACARDÍ as the king of rums.” Visitors during this time requested the “BACARDÍ cocktail” when they wanted a daiquiri, a now famous cocktail made with lime, sugar, ice, and white rum. This could be attributed in part to Bacardi’s first brand ambassador, Rafael “Pappy” Valiente, who greeted tourists with complimentary cocktails and introduced them to the original daiquiri, made with BACARDÍ rum.

The newly completed Edificio Bacardi de la Habana, a stunning Art Deco building constructed by the company in 1930, became a major destination for international tourists. At twelve stories high, the building was the tallest of the time, richly adorned with Red Bavarian granite and bright gold panels. The interior was plush and elegant, with mirrors, stucco reliefs, polished brass, etched glass, inlaid marble, and rich mahogany paneling that wrapped visitors in luxury and pleasing excess. A black and gold Art Deco Bar on the penthouse floor drew celebrities, royalty, sports heroes, and other prominent guests.

As sales and brand awareness increased during Prohibition, the company was primed for expansion. After constructing a larger facility in Santiago de Cuba to respond to higher demand, the company expanded in 1931 to Mexico and in 1936 in Puerto Rico. Building the distillery in Puerto Rico was a forward-thinking business move, as it allowed Bacardi to sell tariff-free rum to post-Prohibition America when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. That distillery is now the largest premium rum distillery in the world, and was christened “The Cathedral of Rum by Puerto Rico’s governor in 1958. Bacardi once again expanded to the United States in 1944.

Prohibition shuttered saloons, bars, distilleries, and bottling facilities across the United States. Organizations in the business of producing and distributing alcohol were wiped out, except for a few that diversified and some that fled to other countries. Bacardi’s actions during this time are a testament to the company’s resilience and culture of perseverance. By enticing Americans to fly to the tropical paradise of freedom from “dry” restrictions and exciting nightlife, they prospered when many spirits companies failed. As a result, Cuba became the United States’ “unofficial saloon,” and BACARDÍ its most requested brand.