The story of Prohibition in Indiana is fascinating.
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 evangelist 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, who 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. However, enforcing the controversial law remained quite difficult.
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 consumption of often toxic moonshine. The results were sometimes paralysis, blindness and even death.
Prohibition led to the spread of speakeasies. Their operation required that law enforcement officials, 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 including “fast living by young people.”
Crime was putting an additional burden on Indiana taxpayers. But Prohibition deprived the state of much-needed taxes on alcohol.
Prohibition in Indiana, as elsewhere, was a disaster. The state repealed the ineffective Wright Bone Dry in 1933. It did so by large majorities in both the House and Senate. A few months later, Indiana ratified the repeal of National Prohibition.
The Prohibition Party chose to hunker down in Indiana. It located its national headquarters in Winona Lake 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 in the state. But residents continue to suffer from the legacy of Prohibition-era thinking. Indiana remains one of the very few states in the entire country that still has an alcohol Blue law. That’s a law prohibiting the Sunday sales of beer, wine and spirits. Even though Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week.
Indiana consumers still suffer from the vestiges of Prohibition.
IV. Resources: Prohibition in Indiana
Indiana Alcohol Laws. Think you really know them?
Carmichael, M. and Feightner, H. A History of Alcohol and Politics in Indiana.
IN Anti-Saloon League. Indiana’s Codified Dry Law. Indianapolis: The League, 1925.
Martin, S. Wayne County Women & Whisky. Richmond, IN: Augustine.
Moore, L. Citizen Klansmen. The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. The KKK often worked with the WCTU (the Woman’s Christian Temerance Union) to defend Prohibition.
Roth, G. The King of the Indiana Bootleggers.