Prohibition Popular at First
Prohibition in Arizona was popular at first. The state quickly ratified Prohibition on May 24, 1918. It was among the earlier states to do so. Arizonans had expected the Noble Experiment to improve health, promote morality, and reduce crime. They thought it would lower violence, protect young people and reduce domestic violence. Unfortunately, it did none of these things.
Many Arizonans refused to give up their freedom to drink. The law was widely violated. The sheriff in one county alone reported that he had seized 152 stills. He had also arrested 183 people for federal alcohol violations. And he had arrested 80 for state violations. This was all within a three-month period in 1925.
Innocent people were often harmed by the illegal activities of moonshiners. For example, beekeepers frequently suffered the loss of their hives. The honey was used in producing illegal alcohol. This, in turn, harmed farmers who needed the bees to pollinate their crops.
But there were much more serious problems caused by moonshine. The beverages frequently had toxic lead compounds from careless distillation. Some had creosote for color. Some even had embalming fluid for an extra “kick.” As a result, consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and even death.
Moonshiners and bootleggers typically had to bribe law enforcement officers in order to operate their businesses. The breakdown in public morality led to disrespect for Prohibition in particular and law in general.
It became fashionable to flaunt the law. Women, for the first time, widely became drinkers. And Prohibition led to a pattern of less frequent but much heavier consumption. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to have a leisurely drink with their dinner. They went to guzzle alcohol when they had the chance.
Needless to say, there was the violence that accompanied the organized crime that Prohibition fed.
Residents came to realize that Prohibition didn’t improve health but threatened it. Didn’t promote morality but eroded it. It didn’t reduce crime but created it. Didn’t lower violence but raised it. And it didn’t protect young people but endangered them.
Prohibition in Arizona was a disaster. Arizonans had suffered enough. Over three-quarters voted to repeal Prohibition.
Learn more about Prohibition in Arizona.
Monson, A. There’s No Tellin’: the Temperance Movement in Phoenix, Arizona, 1884-1935. Arizona State U, 2009.
Ware, H. Alcohol, Temperance and Prohibition in Arizona. Arizona State U, 1995.