Prohibition in Kentucky began with high hopes. The state had been among the first three to ratify the 18th Amendment. That amendment established National Prohibition (1920-1933).
The temperance movement had long been strong in Kentucky. Residents expected that prohibiting alcohol would lead to improved health, lower crime, and decreased violence. That it would cause higher morality, stronger families, more prosperity, and a better future for young people.
Many people in Kentucky weren’t going to let their freedom to drink be denied. Prohibition failed to deliver its promised benefits. In fact, it made things much worse.
Terrain and rurality combined to make the state an ideal place to make moonshine. Bootleggers could easily make a lot of untaxed money quickly. They would bribe police, sheriffs and Probation Bureau officers. That was simply a cost of doing business.
Widespread corruption lowered respect for Prohibition. The decline in public morality that Prohibition caused created a deep lack of respect for law. It became fashionable to flaunt Prohibition, especially among young people.
Prohibition also led to the undesirable pattern of infrequent but very heavy drinking. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to have a leisurely drink with a meal. They went to guzzle alcohol while they could.
Bootleggers carelessly made their illegal products. So it often had lead toxins. They added creosote if they wanted to color it. Sometimes they added embalming fluid for extra strength. Not surprisingly, consumers sometimes had paralysis, blindness or even death.
This led some drinkers to switch to hair tonic, sterno or drugs. They would have been unlikely to use these in the absence of Prohibition.
Prohibition also denied the state tax revenues from alcohol. This was at the very time it was causing increases in crime. This led to steeply higher criminal justice costs. That burdened tax-payers.
Widespread crime and other problems caused by Prohibition in Kentucky and elsewhere became increasingly obvious. More and more residents decided that the alleged cure was much worse than the disease.
Over 80 percent of Kentucky voters called for Repeal to end National Prohibition.
Resources: Prohibition in Kentucky
Ambrose, W. Bluegrass Prohibition. Lexington: Ambrose, 2010.
Appleton, T. “Like Banquo’s Ghost.” The Emergence of the Prohibition Issue in Kentucky Politics. U Kentucky, 1981.
Black, F. Ill-starred Prohibition Cases. Boston: Gorham, 1931.
Coker, J. Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause. Lexington: U Press of Kentucky, 2007.
Ellison, B. Illegal Odyssey. 200 Years of Kentucky Moonshine. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books, 2003.
Leonard, E. and Hammer, M. The Moonshine War. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1996.
Stewart, B. Moonshiners and Prohibitionists. Lexington : U Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Yater, G. Flappers, Prohibition, and all that Jazz. Louisville Remembers the Twenties. Louisville: Museum Hist Sci, 1984.