National Prohibition in Nevada seemed like a sure thing when it began in 1920. Nevadans had already begun their own statewide prohibition in 1918. There was great support for it.
Nevada residents had believed that Prohibition would improve health. That it would reduce crime. And that it would raise morality. They thought it would protect the family. Promote prosperity. And help young people. Reality would shatter their beliefs.
Large numbers of people refused to give up their freedom to drink. “Medicinal alcohol” was a problem. In one year, Nevada’s roughly 90,000 residents got about 10,000 prescriptions for alcohol. “Medicinal” of course.
But the demand far exceeded what could be met by medical prescriptions alone. It was satisfied by moonshiners and bootleggers. They typically had to bribe police and others. The widespread corruption created a backlash against Prohibition.
It became fashionable to violate Prohibition. For the first time in history drinking became popular among young women. It was the exciting “forbidden fruit.”
Prohibition also promoted a dangerous pattern of drinking drinking. It was less frequently but much heavier drinking. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor a leisurely drink. They went to drink quickly and heavily.
Moonshiners carelessly made their products. They used auto radiators. These were soldered with lead. So it often had lead toxins. They sometimes added creosote for color. The results could be disastrous. Consumers sometimes had paralysis, blindness, or even death.
Prohibition led to the rapid expansion of organized crime and violence. For example, in the winter of 1922, a Prohibition officer in Nevada was shot in a battle with moonshiners. They left him to die in the snow.
Yet Prohibition denied the state much-needed tax revenue. But it was badly needed to address the very problems that it caused. So the tax payers had to make up the difference.
Residents came to realize that Prohibition in Nevada, as elsewhere, failed. But worse, that it created serious problems. That it threatened health, increased crime, and reduced morality. They saw that it drug down the economy. That it threatened the family. And that it endangered young people. So voters in great numbers called for Repeal.
Prohibition in Nevada
- Dobbs, W. The Struggle for Temperance and Prohibition in Nevada.
- An Act to Prohibit the ale of Ardent Spirits, Fire-arms, or Ammunition to the Indians. NV. Assembly, 1862.
- Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Nevada records, 1887-1997.