Prohibition in Oregon was welcomed. The state had eagerly ratified the 18th Amendment. That amendment created National Prohibition in 1920. Temperance beliefs were strong in Oregon. Voters had approved state-wide prohibition five years earlier.
Residents widely thought prohibition would improve health, increase safety, and reduce crime. That it would lower violence, improve public morality and protect young people.
Selling alcoholic beverages was outlawed. But the demand for them wasn’t. Moonshining and bootlegging became highly profitable. Cities along the Pacific coast tended to become bootlegging centers.
Illegal producers and sellers paid bribes to police, sheriffs, and various other public officials. It was a cost of doing business.
Widespread corruption reduced respect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. Alcohol had also become a highly-desired “forbidden fruit.” For the first time, drinking became popular among women and young people.
Prohibition also promoted an undesirable new drinking pattern. That’s drinking less often but very heavily when doing so. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to leisurely sip their drinks. They went to to guzzle them quickly while they could.
And the beverages could be dangerous to life and health. Moonshiners made their products quickly. So they sometimes had lead toxins. Moonshiners often added creosote for color. Occasionally they added embalming fluid for extra strength. Not surprisingly, consumers sometimes had paralysis, blindness or even painful death.
That wasn’t the only danger. Violence between competing gangsters sometimes led to the injury or death of innocent bystanders or others.
Prohibition in Oregon wasn’t improving health but threatening it. It wasn’t increasing safety but reducing it. The law wasn’t lowering violence but increasing it. It wasn’t improving public morality but destroying it. It wasn’t protecting young people but endangering them.
Prohibition was clearly counter-productive. Oregonians called for its end. The overall crime rate in the state dropped sharply after Repeal. The murder rate dropped for 10 consecutive years.
Discover more about Prohibition in Oregon
Crawford, H. 90 Year Highlights: Oregon WCTU. WCTU of Oregon, 1973.
Hinken, S. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Oregon, 1880-1916. U Portland, 1987.
Johnson, W. How Prohibition Works in Omaha, Denver, Portland, Seattle. Chicago: Dry Chicago Federation, c. 1918.
Mole, R. Rum-runners and Renegades. Victoria, BC: Heritage, 2013.
Oregon White Ribbon Review. Springfield, OR: WCTU of Oregon, 1985- (periodical).
Reed, D. The Violation of Prohibition Laws in the Pacific Northwest. Salem: CJ Div, 1978.
Schiffner, C.C Continuing to “Do Everything” in Oregon. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1900-1945 and Beyond. Washington State U, 2004.