Prohibition in Washington State seemed to have a bright future. Residents had long supported temperance. They had adopted statewide prohibition in 1916. This was before National Prohibition (1920-1933). But many residents weren’t going to let others stop them from enjoying a drink.
Helping meet the demand for alcohol was Roy Olmstead. He had joined the Seattle Police Department in 1907. From there he quickly rose to become sergeant in 1910.
He was active in many arrests of bootleggers and rumrunners. There saw how poor their operations were. He knew that bootlegging could be very profitable if well organized.
Olmsted began his own bootlegging as a side-line. He was soon arrested. Of course, he lost his job. Then he turned to bootlegging full-time. Within a short time, Olmstead’s business became one of Puget Sound’s largest employers.
He hired office workers, bookkeepers, collectors, and salesmen. On his payroll were dispatchers, warehouse workers, and mechanics. There were drivers, rum running crews, and legal counsel.
He chartered a fleet of vessels and owned a fleet of vehicles. He even bought a farm to store the liquor. Before long, Roy Olmstead’s business was bringing 200 cases of Canadian liquor to the Seattle area daily. He was grossing about $200,000 a month. That would be about $2,400,000 today.
An informant led to Olmstead’s arrest in 1924. But others quickly took his place. So bootlegging continued.
Prohibition in Washington State
Prohibition Caused Serious Problems
We might look back now at Prohibition as colorful. But its effects were ugly. It caused widespread corruption of police and others. That led to a lack of respect for Prohibition in particular. And for law in general.
It became the fashion for women to drink in public. It also created a bad pattern of drinking. People drank less often but much more heavily. They went to a speakeasy to wolf-down alcohol when they could.
The moonshine often had lead toxins from careless production. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness, or even death.
Residents came to realize that Prohibition in Washington threatened health and safety. It reduced morality. It led to increased crime. That it promoted violence. And it led bad drinking patterns. Prohibition was ineffective. It was even counter productive. So it was worse than doing nothing.
WA voters first repealed state prohibition in 1932. Then they ratified Repeal at the national level.
- Clark, N. The Dry Years. Prohib and Social Change in WA.
- Mayers, G. The Ku Klux Klan in Bellingham, 1900-1935. (The KKK was a major defender of prohibition.)
- Metcalfe, P. Whispering Wires. (Story of Roy Olmstead.)
- Moore, S. Bootleggers and Borders.
- Parker, M. and Tyrrell, B. Rumrunner. The Life and Times of Johnny Schnarr.
- Prohib Party Campaign Text-book for the State of WA.
You now know much more about Prohibition in Washington State than most people!