Prohibition in Missouri: A Disappointing Disaster

Great Hope for Prohibition

National Prohibition in Missouri began with great hope. Most people had supported it. They believed that outlawing alcohol would increase prosperity. It would improve health. And that it would lower crime. That it would decrease violence. It would protect the family and children. And it would improve morality. They would soon be proven terribly wrong.

Before Prohibition, St. Louis alone was the home to over 20 breweries.  Under Prohibition some tried to survive. They made ice cream, yeast, soft drinks, malt, and other products. But most could not survive. Their employees were thrown out of work.

It was not just breweries. Supporting business and their employees suffered. Missouri was a large producer of wine. Prohibition destroyed wineries. It also caused severe problems for grape growers.


Legal alcohol producers and sellers were driven out of business. Illegal ones moved in to fill the demand. Their hastily made products sometimes contained lead toxins. So some customers were blinded, paralyzed, or died.

Illegal operators had to bribe police and politicians. Sometimes entire police and sheriff’s departments were on the take.

Knowledge of this widespread corruption reduced respect for Prohibition. It also reduced respect for law in general. Alcohol was now a “forbidden fruit.” Many women and young people began drinking for the first time.

prohibition in Missouri
Prohibition in Missouri was a disappointing disaster.

Prohibition led to a new pattern of drinking.  It was drinking less frequently but more heavily. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor drinks. They went to drink heavily when they had the chance.

And there was sometimes violence between organized criminals and police. It also occurred between rival gangs.

And Prohibition reduced tax revenues from alcohol. It did this at the very same time that it was causing mounting crime. So expenses for criminal justice mushroomed.

The problems caused by Prohibition in Missouri grew and grew. People decided that the promises of Prohibition were false.

Prohibition didn’t increase prosperity. It destroyed it. It didn’t improve health. But it endangered it. The law didn’t lower crime. It created it. It didn’t reduce violence. But it increased it. And it didn’t protect young people. It endangered them.


Repeal occurred in 1933. Yet temperance sentiment still exists in Missouri. It’s expressed in many restrictive laws.

Perhaps residents of today will finish the job by ending all vestiges of Prohibition.

Resources: Prohibition in Missouri


Missouri Alcohol Laws. Think you really know them?.

Readings: Prohibition in Missouri

Courtaway, R. Wetter than the Mississippi. Prohibition in St. Louis and Beyond. St. Louis: Reedy.

Renner, G. Prohibition comes to Missouri, 1910-1919.  MO Hist Rev, 62(4),  363-397.

Waugh, D. Egan’s Rats. The Untold Story of the Prohibition-era Gang that Ruled St. Louis. Nashville: Cumberland.

Wasserman, I. Prohibition and conflict. The Missouri Prohibition referendum of 1918. Soc Sci Q, 70(4), 886-901.


At this point, you know much more about Prohibition than most people. So kudos!