The story of Prohibition in Indiana is fascinating.
Prohibition in Indiana
National Prohibition began in 1920. Many Hoosiers thought it would lower crime. It would improve health. It would decrease crashes. They thought it would lead to prosperity. To protect young people. And to raise morals.
Celebrations were held. Famous preacher Billy Sunday visited the state. He preached that Prohibition would save many people from Hell.
One of the strongest supporters of Prohibition was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Klan said that those who opposed it were un-American. It often took enforcement into its own violent hands. The KKK was large and very powerful. It had 165,746 dues-paying members in the state. They were in chapters in 90 of the state’s 92 counties. The Klan was very harsh with bootleggers, Yet continued to flourish.
Bootlegging was widespread. The legislature responded by passing the Wright Bone Dry Bill in 1925. This law greatly increased penalties for possessing bootleg alcohol. It was “one of the most repressive” laws ever passed in the state. But enforcing the law was quite hard.
But Prohibition also caused other problems. Instead of reducing crime, it made criminals of ordinary citizens. It also promoted the growth organized crime. Instead of increasing health and safety, it led to the widespread drinking of often toxic moonshine. The results were sometimes paralysis, blindness and even death.
Prohibition led to the spread of speakeasies. (See Blind Pig, Blind Tiger, and Striped Pig.) Their operation required that police, and sometimes entire law departments, be bribed. Payoffs were simply a cost of doing illegal business.
With the decline in public morality, respect for the law decreased. In 1928, the Indiana Bureau of Statistics reported that the murder rate had gone up in the state. It expressed concern over problems caused by Prohibition. That included “fast living by young people.”
Crime put an added burden on the state taxpayers. But Prohibition deprived the state of much-needed taxes on alcohol.
Prohibition in Indiana, as elsewhere, was a disaster. The state repealed the Wright Bone Dry in 1933. It did so by large majorities in both the House and Senate. A few months later, the ratified Repeal.
The Prohibition Party chose to hunker down in the state. It had its national headquarters in Winona Lake. It so for four decades after Repeal. It also held its national convention in the state for many years.
The Prohibition Party is no longer a political force. But residents continue to suffer from the legacy of Prohibition-era thinking.
IN remains one of the very few states that still has an alcohol Blue law. That’s a law prohibiting the Sunday sales of beer, wine or spirits (liquor). Even though Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week.
IN consumers still suffer from the vestiges of Prohibition.
- Carmichael, M. and Feightner, H. A History of Alcohol and Politics in IN.
- Moore, L. Citizen Klansmen. The Ku Klux Klan in IN, 1921-1928.
- Roth, G. The King of the IN Bootleggers.