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What The World Was Like When The Skeller Opened

Photo by Morton Lin

As we close in on The All-American Rathskeller’s State College tenure, we decided to take a trip back to 1933, when the historic establishment first opened just days after the end of prohibition. What was the world like for the first Penn Staters to crack open a cold one at what was then called the Rathskeller and Gardens?


Ralph Hetzel served as Penn State’s tenth president from 1927 to 1947. It wasn’t until 20 years after the Skeller opened that the university broke ground on his namesake building, the Hetzel Union Building, known as the HUB.

Clara Calhoun Phillips became the first woman to serve on Penn State’s Board of Trustees in 1926, and continued her tenure through the opening of the Rathskeller and Gardens and its 1934 renaming to The All-American Rathskeller before taking a five-year break. She returned to the Board of Trustees from 1939 to 1948.


Just past the Roaring ’20s, it’s no surprise jazz was the popular genre of 1933. Top songs included “Stormy Weather” by Ethel Waters, “Sophisticated Lady” by Duke Ellington, “Gold Digger’s Song” by Dick Powell, and “Shadow Waltz” and “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” by Bing Crosby.


The Nittany Lions played their 1933 season at New Beaver Field just North of Rec Hall under the direction of head coach Bob Higgins. The team went 3-3-1 that year, besting Lehigh 33-0 and tying Penn at 6-6 in Philadelphia.

(Photo: Kevin McGuire)

Celebrity Births

There was no shortage of celebrities born the same year the Skeller opened its doors for the first time. Notable stars born in 1933 include comedienne Carol Burnett, musician Willie Nelson, television and radio host Larry King, and comedienne Joan Rivers.


King Kong topped the box office in 1933, followed by romantic dramas like Ecstasy, Bed of Roses, and Chance at Heaven. The Marx Brothers’ musical comedy Duck Soup rounded out the top five pictures of the year.

The first drive-in theater opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. It could accommodate about 400 vehicles and cost 25 cents per car plus 25 cents per person.

Professional Sports

The New York Giants won the 1933 World Series (yes, of baseball) and would remain in the city for an additional 25 years before moving to San Francisco. The Chicago Bears won the National Football League in its first-ever scheduled championship game against the New York Giants (the football team, this time). The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup the same year with a victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Television barely existed in 1933. One of the only TV shows around at the time, The Television Ghost, aired from New York City and was never recorded. By 1936 there were only 200 TV sets in use, so it’s unlikely anyone in State College ever saw the show.

Things were much different when the Skeller first opened. But some things never change: More than 80 years later, the bar still serves as a symbol of camaraderie and the spirit of the college town that surrounds it.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a senior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.


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