Prohibition in Missouri: A Disappointing Disaster

Great Hope for Prohibition

National Prohibition in Missouri began with great hope. Most Missourians had supported it. They believed that outlawing alcohol would increase prosperity, improve health, and lower crime. That it would decrease violence, protect the family, and 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 by making 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, but supporting business and their employees who suffered. Missouri was a large producer of wine. Prohibition destroyed wineries and caused severe economic problems for grape growers.


Legal alcohol producers and sellers were driven out of business. Illegal operators moved in to fill the demand. Their hastily made products sometimes contained lead toxins, creosote and even embalming fluid. Some consumers suffered paralysis, blindness or death.

Illegal operators had to bribe law enforcement officers and even various elected officials. 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. With alcohol now a “forbidden fruit,” large number of 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 over a meal. They went to drink heavily when they had the chance.

And there was sometimes violence between organized criminals and law  enforcement as well as between rival gangs,

In addition, Prohibition reduced tax revenues from alcohol. And it did this at the very same time that it was causing mounting expenses for the criminal justice system.

The problems caused by Prohibition in Missouri grew and grew. Missourians decided that the expected cure was much worse than the disease.

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

More about Prohibition in Missouri

Courtaway, R. Wetter than the Mississippi. Prohibition in St. Louis and Beyond. St. Louis: Reedy, 2008.

Renner, G. Prohibition comes to Missouri, 1910-1919.  Missouri Hist Rev, 1968, 62(4),  363-397.

Waugh, D. Egan’s Rats. The Untold Story of the Prohibition-era Gang that Ruled St. Louis.  Nashville: Cumberland, 2007.

Wasserman, I. Prohibition and ethnocultural conflict. The Missouri Prohibition referendum of 1918. Soc Sci Q, 1989, 70(4), 886-901.