Frank Francis, a beer-loving Ogden builder

Frank Francis is one of the most under-appreciated builders of Ogden I can think of, a situation I hope to rectify in my work here at Union Station.

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Ogden Mayor Frank Francis

For starters, he was the founder, in 1904, of the Ogden morning “Examiner,” which is the reason there’s a hyphen in the name of Ogden’s present newspaper. The morning Examiner was bought by evening Ogden Standard in 1915 and merged into it in 1920. Francis stayed on as executive editor and columnist.

Francis was also mayor of Ogden, serving three two-year terms, from 1920 to 1923 and again 1928 and 1929. One interesting aspect of Francis’ reelection bid in 1922 was the unwanted endorsement of the Ogden chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, which liked his law and order stance.

Francis won anyway.

Union Station owes him a huge debt. When the station burned in February of 1923, the first inclination of the railroads was to repair the wreck as best they could and let it go at that. Francis led a vigorous campaign to get a new station built. The result you see today.

Even when not mayor, Francis was influential in Ogden. His daily “News and Views” column in the S-E highlighted coming and goings and doings in Ogden’s bustling economy. He was well-connected and widely liked.

So it is no surprise that he was a close friend of Gus Becker.

Becker is now also widely unknown, which is sad, because he was both a heck of a nice guy and something of a local character. Becker ran Becker’s Brewery in Ogden until his death in the 1940s and was a vigorous champion of Ogden, Utah, and the local economy.

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Gus Becker with one of his hunting dogs

Prohibition hit Becker hard. Breweries make their living making alcoholic beverages, after all, and many closed. His brewery employed several hundred people, bought tons of barley and other crops from local farmers, gave jobs to local laborers, truckers and business owners.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933. While Utah cast the deciding vote, it failed to allow the making of alcoholic beverages in the state. Becker, who’d kept his brewery alive making non-alcoholic beer and soft drinks, felt this was both unfair and stupid economics.

Frank Francis, a man with a very popular and prominent podium from which to speak, was a strong ally of Becker’s.

On May 6, 1933, Francis sat down at his typewriter to both thank Becker for a letter of condolence (I don’t know what for) and to expound on the brewer’s problem with Utah’s laws. This letter is one of hundreds preserved in Becker’s scrap books, now part of the Union Station archive’s collection.

Francis’ observations and arguments about the banning of alcohol are both well-thought and applicable even today.  Now, as then, we are grappling with the legal control of something the public wants, but can’t have.  Then it was alcohol, now it is marijuana and other things, but the situation is the same overall.

Francis told Becker he “cannot see the wisdom in morals or in law of our present contradictory attitude, which prompts us to close our eyes to human behavior and pretend to believe that by some miracle of duplicity we can clothe ourselves with a smug goodness which allows us to strike an attitude of moral superiority, when as a matter of fact we are indulging in something very close to hypocrisy.”

He said he had recently visited Ely, Nevada, where he was told that the coming of legal beer had “improved their social condition. They found themselves refreshed by the consciousness of doing openly that which many of them had been doing clandestinely. They had thrown off false and put on candor and a degree of wholesome self respect.”

Francis said the whole experiment with Prohibition was an education for him.

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News headline show Prohibition’s economic impact in Ogden.

“I voted for prohibition, principally because the old saloon had become a foul thing and a corrupting influence in our public affairs. I never dreamed of something worse growing out of the abolition of the traffic which centered in the brothels of the old day. Men like Darrow (Clarence Darrow, the lawyer who defended evolution in the famous Scopes “Monkey trial”) dwelt on personal liberty, but I was willing to give up much of that liberty, if by so doing humanity as a whole could be benefitted.

“Gradually I was disillusioned, as I discovered that when law ran contrary to the appetites or desires of any large number of people, classed as respectable, the whole structure of law was endangered. I was made aware that goodness could not be legislated into human beings, and any movement in that direction eventually would be reduced to a farce. I also found that the liquor traffic had shifted from the open saloon to the home and speakeasy, and that high powered salesmen had victimized the youth of the land with their hip pocket offerings.”

Finally he said, “why not acknowledge we have made a mistake and, following the will of the people as expressed in our last national election and as written into the Huggins bill in our own state, proceed to permit your plant to manufacture 3.2 per cent beer for shipment.”

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The Huggins bill, which would allow brewing beer in Utah for shipment out of state, was indeed passed by the Legislature.

Becker, in a speech to the Ogden Lions Club a year later, said the Huggins Bill had immediate positive effect.

He was able to give new jobs to 100 people and bought 4 million pounds of barley, raising the price from 65 cents per 100 pounds to $1.50 per 100 pounds.

In 1934, when Utah unemployment was pushing 35 percent because of the Great Depression, that had an immediate positive impact.

Francis, in closing his letter in 1933, said ending Prohibition could also have positive effects beyond the pocketbook. A community that can admit its mistakes, he said, is a stronger community, and a better one.

As he said: “We seem to be obsessed with the idea that, to yield to what experience has taught us, would be a confession of weakness, though to my mind it would be a demonstration of broadness of view and strength of character.”

Nicely said.