The Prohibition and Repeal Experience of Various States

From strongholds of temperance sentiment to widespread disregard for the law, the states responded to National Prohibition and repeal in different ways.


Although Alabamans came to reject Prohibition by a resounding vote of nearly 60% in favor of Repeal, much temperance sentiment remains almost 80 years after Repeal. For example, many counties still prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages, although research demonstrates that alcohol-related traffic fatalities are higher in dry counties.


The famous hatchet-wielding Carry Nation became actively involved in prohibition activities in Arkansas early in the twentieth century and settled in Eureka Springs, where she lived the rest of her life.


The state of Arizona had been among the first to ratify the Constitutional amendment that created National Prohibition in 1920. However, many Arizonians refused to relinquish their freedom to drink and the law was widely violated. The sheriff in one county alone reported that he has seized 152 stills, arrested 183 people for violating federal alcohol violations and 80 for violating state violations, all within a three-month period in 1925.


The State Prohibition Commissioner of California reported that hair tonics and other products containing alcohol accounted for one-half of the drunkenness in the state.


Not all law enforcement officers were on the take but many were known for their use of violence. For example, a 20-year-old Colorodian was beaten to death by a Prohibition officer in a dispute over a bottle of wine.


In the early part of the twentieth century the Yankee old-stock population increasingly advocated prohibition as a way to reduce what it considered the crime, poverty and vice associated with the flood of southern and eastern European immigrants entering the state.

Yale economist Irving Fisher, a strong promoter of prohibition, complained that in Connecticut cities "the American stock has been submerged by a wave of immigrants from Italy, the Balkans, Russia, and Poland."

The Connecticut Temperance Society, the Prohibition Party, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, the Connecticut Ku Klux Klan (CKKK) and other groups saw prohibition as a way to "Americanize" immigrants.


To enforce the law, Delaware created the state Department of Prohibition. Its deputy director was Harold D. Wilson, who became known as "Three Gun" Wilson. Described as a fanatical dry, Three Gun Wilson was determined to stamp out all consumption of alcohol and to use whatever means were necessary.

The Prohibition enforcer actually conducted a sensational raid on a party honoring the governor of the state. Some of his raids were motivated by departmental power struggles as well as the desire for publicity. To Wilson, the goal of preventing alcohol consumption appeared more important than legalities and the rights of citizens. He was accused of illegal search and seizure and he was also found guilty of contempt of court.


In Fort Lauderdale, the sheriff, the assistant chief of police, and seventeen others, including policemen and deputy sheriffs, were arrested on charges of conspiracy. In South Jacksonville, practically the entire city administration, including the mayor, the chief of police, the president of the city council, the city commissioner, and the fire chief, were indicted for conspiracy by a federal grand jury.


Prohibition led to widespread corruption. for example, in 1923, the sheriff and a deputy sheriff of Ada County, the police chief of Boise, a prominent physician, and a number of others were arrested and charged with conspiring to produce and distribute illegal alcoholic beverages; only the sherif was acquitted.

Those who couldn't be bought off were sometimes threatened and intimidated. In For example, a federal officer preparing to testify in a moonshine case was threatened with death to prevent his testimony.


Chicago's location made it a natural spot to become the major center for bootlegging and organized crime in the country. "Chicago is the imperial city of the gang world, and New York a remote provincial place," wrote Alva Johnston in the New Yorker.

Although there were powerful mobsters in New York, Chicago became the capital of racketeers, including the powerful Al Capone, "Bugs Moran", Johnny Torrio, the Gennas, and the O'Banions.


One of the strongest supporters of Prohibition was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Klan insisted that those who opposed it were un-American and often took enforcement into its own violent hands. The KKK was large and very powerful, with 165,746 dues-paying members in chapters or "klaverns" in 90 of the state's 92 counties. The Klan was especially harsh with bootleggers, who continued to flourish.

Frustration with the continuing bootlegging and the widespread consumption of bootleg alcohol led the legislature to pass the Wright Bone Dry Bill in 1925, which dramatically increased the penalties for those found with illegal alcohol. It's been described as "one of the most repressive" laws ever passed in the state. However, enforcing the controversial law remained quite difficult.


Iowa was the home of several national leaders of the prohibition movement. One was John Brown Hammond (see Dictionary/Glossary). Others included Smith Wildman Brookhart, who insisted until he died that "liquor is a poison and drinking it is a crime" and Ida B. Wise, the head of the national Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and former head of the Iowa WCTU. Wise continued to lead efforts to return both the state and nation to Prohibition throughout the 1930's and 1940's.


Terrain and rurality combined to make Kentucky an ideal location for the production of moonshine. With easy, untaxed money to be made, police and sheriffs were routinely bribed. The revelations of such corruption lowered respect for the law, which was widely violated. The decline in public morality caused by Prohibition created a deep lack of respect for law. It became fashionable to flaunt Prohibition, especially among young people.


Although it earlier ratified the 18th Amendment to establish that experiment in social engineering, Marylanders generally opposed the law and over 80% would later vote for Repeal. Maryland was the only state in the union that refused to pass a law to enforce the unpopular law. The governor throughout the entire period of Prohibition (1920 through 1933) opposed it.


The famous evangelist Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral in Boston for "John Barleycorn," where "mourners" threw alcohol bottles into his symbolic casket. Sunday then extolled the benefits of Prohibition. "The rein of tears is over," he asserted. "The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and jails into storehouses." It was a beautiful dream that soon turned into a nightmare.


Minnesota has a long temperance history and strongly supported National Prohibition. The National Prohibition Act of 1919 is usually called the Volstead Act in recognition of Minnesotan Andrew Volstead. It was Volstead who introduced the legislation and oversaw its successful passage through Congress. The Volstead Act was important because it was the enabling legislation for the enforcement of National Prohibition, which existed between 1920 and 1933.


Before Prohibition, St. Louis alone was the home to over 20 breweries. Under Prohibition some tried to survive by making ice cream, yeast, non-alcoholic drinks, malt, and other products. But most could not survive. Their employees and those of supporting industries were thrown out of work. With legitimate alcohol producers and sellers driven out of business, illegitimate operators moved in to fill the demand. Their hastily made products sometimes contained lead toxins, creosote and even embalming fluid. Some consumers suffered paralysis, blindness or death.


In one year alone, Nevada's approximately 90,000 residents obtained about 10,000 prescriptions for "medicinal alcohol." Moonshiners satisfied the large remaining demand.

New Hampshire

Recently, when he was asked by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee if he would be in favor of reinstating alcohol prohibition, the President of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police testified "I certainly would consider it."

New Jersey

Col. Ira Reeves, head of the federal governments NJ district for Prohibition Enforcement, upon realizing the counterproductive results of Prohibition, became active in an anti-Prohibition organization.

New Mexico

A newspaper editorialized a year after Prohibition began that "It is estimated that there are a dozen or more moonshine stills in operation in the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe. Everyone knows that more rotgut whiskey is being sold and drunk in Santa Fe than before the days [of Prohibition.]"

New York

So many speakeasies operated that New York was known as the "City on a Still."

North Carolina

After Prohibition was established, speakeasies or blind tigers sprang up over the state "like mushrooms after rain" and a reported $15,000,000 worth of alcoholic beverages came into the state from nearby Richmond alone each year. Years after National Prohibition went into effect, the director of prohibition enforcement for the eastern counties of the state asserted that "we have more illicit distilleries than any other State in the Union; and the number is increasing."


Although alcoholic beverages were outlawed, the demand for them wasn't. Therefore, moonshining and bootlegging became highly profitable. Cities along the Pacific coast tended to become bootlegging centers in the state. To operate, alcohol producers, transporters and sellers paid bribes to law enforcement officials and various public officials. Knowledge of this fact reduced respect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. Alcohol had also become the highly-desired "forbidden fruit." For the first time, drinking became popular among women and young people.


Temperance movements have a long history in Tennessee and by 1907 the sale of alcohol was prohibited throughout most of the state. Although National Prohibition was overturned in 1933, temperance sentiment still endures. For example, Tennessee remains one of a minority of states that still prohibit the Sunday sale of whiskey, tequila and other distilled spirits. This is despite the fact that Sunday has become the second busiest shopping day of the week.


A 19-year-old man from an "excellent family" in North Troy was killed near Jay while being chased on suspicion of rum running. Officers reported that he was killed when his car hit a tree. However, an autopsy revealed that he had been shot in the back of his head and in his shoulder blade.


Virginia has long been a stronghold of temperance sentiment. So many Virginians were opposed to the sale of alcohol that they had established state-wide prohibition in 1914, well before the country followed suit in 1920. However, when Virginians realized that Prohibition was not only ineffective but actually counterproductive, they voted by a 63 percent margin for Repeal.


Former Seattle police sergeant Roy Olmstead became a bootlegger making $200,000 per month.

West Virginia

Some employers in West Virginia viewed Prohibition as a way to increase the efficiency of their work force, especially their immigrant workers. One of the strongest supporters of Prohibition was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). It insisted that those who opposed it were un-American and often took enforcement into its own violent hands.

Further Reading

  • Readers may find those books preceded by an asterisk (*) to be especially interesting or useful.
  • Aaron, Paul, and Musto, David. Temperance and Prohibition in America: An Historical Overview. In: Moore, Mark H., and Gerstein, Dean R. (eds.) Alcohol and Public Policy: Beyond the Shadow of Prohibition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1981. pp. 127-181.
  • Allen, Clayton S. The Repeal of Prohibition in Mississippi. Thesis. University of Mississippi, 1992.
  • *Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1950.
  • Becker, Susan D. Review of American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. Journal of American History, 1996, 83(3), 1057-1058.
  • Behr, E. Prohibition. New York: Arcade, 1996.
  • Boyd, John A. The Repeal of Prohibition in Ohio: the Repeal Process from Congress to Ohio. Thesis. University of Cincinnati, 1981.
  • Cannon, Bishop James. Prohibition Repeal Unthinkable. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1928.
  • Cherrington, Ernest H. The Fight against Alcoholism in the United States Since the Repeal of Prohibition. Washington, DC: Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morality of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1937.
  • Childs, Randolph W. Making Repeal Work. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Alcoholic Beverage Study, Inc., 1947.
  • Choate, Jr., Joseph H. Reasons for the Repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment: An Address. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Temperance pamphlets, part 3.
  • Committee on the Judiciary. U.S. House of Representatives. Repeal of Prohibition on Federal Employees Contracting or Trading with Indians. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 1996.
  • Committee on the Judiciary. Modification or Repeal of National Prohibition. Hearings. Seventy-second Congress, First Session. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1932.
  • Dickinson, Edwin. The effect of prohibition repeal upon the liquor treaties. American Journal of International Law, 1934, 28, 101-104.
  • Engdahl, Sylvia. (ed.) Amendments XVIII and XXI: Prohibition and Repeal. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2009.
  • Engelmann, Larry. Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor. New York: Free Press, 1979
  • Everest, Allan S. Rum Across the Border. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1978.
  • Fantus, R.J. Repeal Prohibition. Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, 2008, 93(6), 47-48.
  • *Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1965.
  • Gasper, Louis. The Movement for Repeal of National Prohibition, 1926-1933. Thesis. Bowling Green State University, 1949.
  • Gillett, Ransom H., and Holmes, John H. Repeal of the Prohibition Amendment. NY: H.W. Wilson Co., 1923.
  • Graymont, Barbara. Prohibition and Repeal: The Churches' Crusade that Failed. Thesis. University of Chicago, 1959.
  • Harrison, Leonard V. and Laine, Elizabeth. After Repeal. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1936.
  • House Judiciary Committee. The Prohibition Amendment, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the Untied States In Lieu of the Eighteenth Amendment: Hearings, 70th Cong., 1st sess, serial 21 (Washington: GPO, 1928)
  • *Kobler, John E. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1973, 143.
  • *Kyvig, David E. Repealing National Prohibition. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000.
  • Kyvig, David E. Review of American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. American Historical Review, 1997, 102(2), 538.
  • Leeman, Richard W. Reflective Rhetoric: Its Framework and its Utility in Explicating the Rhetoric of Prohibition and Repeal. Thesis. University of Maryland, 1982.
  • Legislative Reference Service. Intoxicating Liquors: State Prohibition after Repeal of the 18th Amendment. Washington, DC: Legislative Reference Service, 1933.
  • Lucas, Eileen. The Eighteenth and Twenty-First Amendments: Alcohol, Prohibition, and Repeal. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998.
  • Munger, Michael and Schaller, Thomas. The Prohibition-Repeal amendments: a natural experiment in interest group influence. Public Choice, 1997, 90(1/4), 139-163.
  • Nelli, Hubert S. American Syndicate Crime: A Legacy of Prohibition. In: Kyvig, David E. (Ed.) Law, Alcohol, and Order: Perspectives on National Prohibition. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.
  • Nishi, Dennis. Prohibition. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2003.
  • Patch, Buel W. Preparations for Prohibition Repeal. Washington, DC: Editorial Research Report, 1933.
  • Pickett, Deets. Then and Now: The Truth about Prohibition and Repeal. Columbus, OH: School and College Services, 1952.
  • Pollard, Joseph P. The Road to Repeal: Submission to Conventions. NY: Brentano's, 1932.
  • Prohibition vs. Repeal Literature. Five Current Aspects of Repeal. Washington, DC: Prohibition vs. Repeal Literature, 1936.
  • Repeal Associates. Repeal Review. Washington, DC: Repeal Associates, 1936-1965.
  • Roizen, Ron. Redefining alcohol in post-repeal America: Lessons from the short life of Everett Colby's Council for Moderation, 1934-1936. Contemporary Drug Problems, 1991,75, 237-272.
  • *Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • *Root, Grace C. Women and Repeal: The Story of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1934.
  • Sabin, Pauline Morton. I change my mind on Prohibition, Outlook, June 13, 1928.
  • Sabin, Pauline Morton. Women's revolt against Prohibition, Review of Reviews, November, 1929, 80, 86-88.
  • Sabin, Pauline Morton. Why American mothers demand repeal, Liberty, September 10, 1932, 12-14.
  • Sann, Paul. The 20s, the Lawless Decade: A Pictorial History of a Great American Transition from the World War I Armistice and Prohibition to Repeal and the new Deal. NY: Da Capo Press, 1957 and 1984.
  • Schaller, Thomas F. Institutional Design, Institutional Choice, and the Case of Prohibition Repeal. Thesis. Yale University, 1997.
  • Schrad, Mark L. Constitutional Blemishes: American Alcohol Prohibition and Repeal as Policy Punctuation. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.
  • Severen, Bill. The End of the Roaring Twenties: Prohibition and Repeal. NY: J. Messner, 1969. (Juvenile readership)
  • Shellenberger, Kurt L. Prohibition in Pennsylvania from Ratification to Repeal. Thesis. Millersville State College, 1974.
  • Shouse, Jouett. The Status of Prohibition Repeal. Washington, DC: Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, 1933.
  • *Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.
  • Stegh, Leslie J. Wet and Dry Battles in the Cradle State of Prohibition: Robert J. Bulkley and the Repeal of Prohibition in Ohio. Thesis. University of Cincinnati, 1981.
  • Tietsort, Francis J. Temperance - or Prohibition? NY: American, 1929.
  • Walker, Robert S, and Patterson, Samuel C. Oklahoma Goes Wet: The Repeal of Prohibition. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1960.
  • Weise, Chetley D. The Political Economy of Prohibition and Repeal. Thesis. Auburn University, 1998.

Filed Under: Prohibition