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 temperance.
Nevada residents had believed that Prohibition would improve health, reduce crime, and raise morality. They thought it would protect the family, promote prosperity, and benefit young people. Reality would shatter their beliefs..
Large numbers of people refused to give up their freedom to drink. In one year alone, Nevada’s approximately 90,000 residents obtained about 10,000 prescriptions for “medicinal alcohol.”
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 law enforcement officers 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. It often had lead toxins. They sometimes added creosote for color. They sometimes added embalming fluid for extra “kick.” The results could be disastrous. Consumers sometimes had paralysis, blindness or even painful death.
Prohibition led to the rapid expansion of organized crime and resulting 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.
Ironically, Prohibition denied the state much-needed tax revenue to address the very problems that it caused.
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, threatened the family, and endangered young people. So voters overwhelmingly called for Repeal.
Learn more about Prohibition in Nevada
Dobbs, W.T. The Struggle for Temperance and Prohibition in Nevada. Las Vegas: U. Nevada, 1983.
An Act to Prohibit the ale of Ardent Spirits, Fire-arms, or Ammunition to the Indians. Nevada. Legislature. Assembly, 1862.
Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Nevada records, 1887-1997. WCTU of Nevada. OCLC No. 154690882.