Prohibition in Iowa: Iowans wanted It to Work

I. Outlook was Bright

Prohibition in Iowa seemed destined for success. The state had led the way to Prohibition. It was one of the three most strongly pro-Prohibition states in the union. It had its own state-wide prohibition in 1916. That was four years before National Prohibition. It was also the home of several national temperance leaders.


I.   Outlook was Brifgt

II.  Problem

III. Die-Hard Supporters

IV.  Repeal

V.   Resources: Prohibition in    Iowa

Prohibition in Iowa

Iowans strongly supported Prohibition. They thought it would improve society. They were convinced that alcohol was the cause of virtually all crime. On the eve of Prohibition, at least one town in the state sold its jail. That was a mistake. Crime increased greatly after it went into effect. It caused much crime!

II. Problems

Making moonshine became big business. On farms and elsewhere across the state. But much moonshine contained toxins such as lead. Those who drank it sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness, and painful death.

Bootleggers typically had to bribe police and public officials. To bootleggers it was a business expense. To corrupt officials it was “easy money.” But to the public it was immoral corruption.

Prohibition in Iowa
Prohibition in Iowa was a disappointing failure.

Some law officials worried that Des Moines might become a “little Chicago.” Al Capone controlled most alcohol distribution in the Midwestern states. Charlie “Cherry Nose” Gioe oversaw Capone’s liquor and other illegal operations in the Des Moines region.

Prohibition caused widespread serious problems. This led more and more Iowans to believe it was harmful on balance. Voters strongly supported Repeal.

III. Die-Hard Supporters: Prohibition in Iowa

But some Prohibition leaders carried on the fight long after Repeal. One was John Brown Hammond. He believed in direct and even violent action. This included wrecking speakeasies. Much in the style of Carry Nation. He mellowed with age. But he strongly promoted a return to Prohibition. Several months before his death in an Iowa nursing home he was working to organize “The Eighteenth Amendment Rescue Association.”

Similarly, Prohibition leader Smith Wildman Brookhart insisted until he died that “liquor is a poison and drinking it is a crime.” He wanted a return to Prohibition in the state and country.

Ida B. Wise was the head of the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). And she was a former head of the Iowa WCTU. She continued to lead efforts to return both the state and nation to Prohibition. She did so throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s.

IV. Repeal

But most Iowans came to a different conclusion. They came to believe that Prohibition didn’t improve health but threatened it. That it didn’t reduce crime but increased it. That it didn’t raise public morality but corrupted it. And they strongly supportrd Repeal.

Bottom line. Prohibition in the state and the nation was based on good intentions. But it had bad results.

V. Resources