Discover the Prohibition and Repeal experiences of various States. There were strongholds of temperance sentiment. There were also bastions of opposition. And of course, there were great variations among others So different states responded in different ways.
Alabamans came to reject Prohibition by a resounding vote of nearly 60% in favor of Repeal. Nevertheless, much temperance sentiment remains over 80 years after Repeal. For example, many counties still prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. However, alcohol-related traffic deaths are higher in dry counties.
The famous hatchet-wielding Carry Nation became actively involved in prohibition activities in Arkansas early in the twentieth century. She settled in Eureka Springs, where she lived the rest of her life.
The state of Arizona had been among the first to ratify the Constitutional amendment that created National Prohibition in 1920. However, many Arizonians refused to relinquish their freedom to drink. As a result, the law was widely violated.
The sheriff in one county alone reported that he has seized 152 stills. He arrested 183 people for violating federal alcohol violations. Finally, he arrested 80 for violating state violations. All of this was within a three-month period in 1925!
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The State Prohibition Commissioner of California issued a disturbing report. It was that hair tonics and other products containing alcohol were widely consumed. In fact, they accounted for one-half of the drunkenness in the state.
Not all law enforcement officers were on the take but many were known for their use of violence. For example, a 20-year-old Colorodian was beaten to death by a Prohibition agent. It was in a dispute over a bottle of wine!
Prohibition agents had a reputation for excessive violence. For example, see William Harvey Thompson.
In the early part of the twentieth century the Yankee old-stock population increasingly advocated prohibition. This was as to reduce crime, poverty and vice. They associated it with the flood of southern and eastern European immigrants entering the state.
Yale economist Irving Fisher was a strong promoter of prohibition. He complained that “the American stock has been submerged by a wave of immigrants from Italy, the Balkans, Russia, and Poland.”
Many temperance groups saw Prohibition as a way to “Americanize” immigrants. They included the
- Connecticut Temperance Society.
- Prohibition Party.
- Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)
- Anti-Saloon League.
- Connecticut Ku Klux Klan (KKK)
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21st Amendment (brought about Repeal)
To enforce the law, Delaware created the state Department of Prohibition. Its deputy director was Harold D. Wilson. He became known as “Three Gun” Wilson. Described as a fanatical dry, Three Gun Wilson was determined to stamp out all consumption of alcohol. To do so, he would use whatever means necessary.
The Prohibition enforcer actually conducted a sensational raid on a party honoring the governor of the state. Some of his raids were motivated by departmental power struggles as well as the desire for publicity.
To Wilson, the goal of preventing alcohol consumption appeared more important than legalities and the rights of citizens. He was accused of illegal search and seizure and he was also found guilty of contempt of court.
In Fort Lauderdale, officials arrested the sheriff, the assistant chief of police, and seventeen others. They included policemen and deputy sheriffs. Officials arrested all of them on charges of conspiracy.
In South Jacksonville, a federal grand jury indicted for conspiracy practically the entire city administration. That included the mayor, chief of police, president of the city council, city commissioner, and fire chief.
Prohibition led to widespread corruption. For example, officials arrested and charged with many with conspiracy in 1923. They included the sheriff and a deputy sheriff of Ada County. The police chief of Boise. A prominent physician, and a number of others. Only the sherif was acquitted.
Those who couldn’t be bought off were sometimes threatened and intimidated. For example, a federal officer preparing to testify in a moonshine case was threatened with death to prevent his testimony.
Chicago’s location made it a natural spot to become the major center for bootlegging and organized crime in the country. “Chicago is the imperial city of the gang world, and New York a remote provincial place.” So wrote Alva Johnston in the New Yorker.
Although there were powerful mobsters in New York, Chicago became the capital of racketeers. They included the powerful Al Capone, “Bugs Moran,”,Johnny Torrio, the Gennas, and the O’Banions.
One of the strongest supporters of Prohibition was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Klan insisted that those who opposed it were un-American. It often took enforcement into its own hands.
The KKK was large and very powerful. It had 165,746 dues-paying members in chapters or “klaverns” in 90 of the state’s 92 counties. The Klan was especially harsh with bootleggers, who continued to flourish.
Frustration with the continuing bootlegging led the legislature to pass the Wright Bone Dry Bill in 1925. It dramatically increased the penalties for those found with illegal alcohol. It’s been described as “one of the most repressive” laws ever passed in the state. However, enforcing the controversial law remained quite difficult.
Iowa was the home of several national leaders of the prohibition movement. One was John Brown Hammond. Another was Smith Wildman Brookhart. He insisted until he died that “liquor is a poison and drinking it is a crime.”
Ida B. Wise was head of the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and former head of the Iowa WCTU. Wise continued to lead efforts to return both the state and nation to Prohibition throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Terrain and rurality combined to make Kentucky an ideal location for the production of moonshine. With easy, untaxed money to be made, police and sheriffs were routinely bribed.
The revelations of such corruption lowered respect for the law, which was widely violated. The decline in public morality caused by Prohibition created a deep lack of respect for law. It became fashionable to flaunt Prohibition, especially among young people.
Maryland ratified the 18th Amendment to establish Prohibition. However, Marylanders generally opposed the law. In fact, over 80% would later vote for Repeal.
Maryland was the only state in the union that refused to pass a law to enforce the unpopular law. The governor throughout the entire period of Prohibition (1920 through 1933) opposed it.
The famous evangelist Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral in Boston for “John Barleycorn.” In it “mourners” threw alcohol bottles into his symbolic casket. Sunday then extolled the benefits of Prohibition. “The rein of tears is over,” he asserted. “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and jails into storehouses.”
It was a beautiful dream that soon turned into a nightmare.
Minnesota has a long temperance history and strongly supported National Prohibition. The National Prohibition Act of 1919 is usually called the Volstead Act. That’s in recognition of Minnesotan Andrew Volstead.
It was Volstead who introduced the legislation and oversaw its successful passage through Congress. The Volstead Act was important because it was the enabling legislation for the enforcement of National Prohibition.
Before Prohibition, St. Louis alone was the home to over 20 breweries. Under Prohibition some tried to survive by making ice cream, yeast, non-alcoholic drinks, malt, and other products. But most could not survive. Their employees and those of supporting industries were thrown out of work.
With legitimate alcohol producers and sellers driven out of business, illegitimate 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.
In one year alone, Nevada’s approximately 90,000 residents obtained about 10,000 prescriptions for “medicinal alcohol.” Moonshiners satisfied the large remaining demand.
Many residents of New Hampshire hold strong temperance views today. Recently the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee posed a question.
It was to the President of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police. Asked if he would be in favor of reinstating alcohol prohibition, testified “I certainly would consider it.”
Col. Ira Reeves was head of the federal government’s NJ district for Prohibition Enforcement. However, he came to see that Prohibition wasn’t working. He also saw that, even much worse, that it was causing many serious problems.
As a result, Ira Reeves became very active in an anti-Prohibition group.
A newspaper editorialized a year after Prohibition began. It said “there are a dozen or more moonshine stills in operation in the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe. Everyone knows that more rotgut whiskey is being sold and drunk in Santa Fe than before the days [of Prohibition.]”
So many speakeasies or blind pigs operated that New York City was known as the “City on a Still.”
New York State also had unusual Prohibition and Repeal Experiences.
After Prohibition was established, speakeasies or blind tigers sprang up over the state. They popped up “like mushrooms after rain.” A reported $15,000,000 worth of alcohol came into the state from nearby Richmond alone each year.
The director of prohibition enforcement for the eastern counties of the state made a distressing observation. He said “we have more illicit distilleries than any other State in the Union; and the number is increasing.” And that was years after Prohibition went into effect. So things were not getting better.
Although alcoholic beverages were outlawed, the demand for them wasn’t. Therefore, moonshining and bootlegging became highly profitable. Cities along the Pacific coast tended to become bootlegging centers in the state.
In order to operate, moonshiners and bootleggers paid bribes. They were paid to law enforcement officials and various public officials. Knowledge of this fact reduced respect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. Alcohol had also become the highly-desired “forbidden fruit.” For the first time, drinking became popular among women and young people.
Temperance movements have a long history in Tennessee. In fact, by 1907 the sale of alcohol was prohibited throughout most of the state. Although Repeal was in 1933, temperance sentiment still endures.
For example, Tennessee remains one of a minority of states that still prohibit the Sunday sale of distilled spirits. This distinction is based on a myth. It’s that spirits are more alcoholic than beer or wine.
However, standard dinks of beer, wine, and spirits all have the same amount of alcohol. Specifically, it’s six tenths of an ounce of pure alcohol. They’re all the same to a breathalyzer.
A 19-year-old man from an “excellent family” in North Troy was killed near Jay. Officers were chasing him on suspicion of rum running.
Officers reported that he was killed when his car hit a tree. However, an autopsy revealed that he had been shot in the back of his head and in his shoulder blade.
Virginia has long been a stronghold of temperance sentiment. So many Virginians were opposed to the sale of alcohol that they had established state-wide prohibition in 1914. That was well before the country followed suit in 1920.
However, Virginians realized that Prohibition was not only ineffective but actually counterproductive. So they voted by a 63 percent margin for Repeal. Virginia’s Prohibition and Repeal experiences were not unusual.
Former Seattle police sergeant Roy Olmstead became a bootlegger making $200,000 per month. That would be about $2,500,000 today. His is a fascinating story.
Some employers in West Virginia viewed Prohibition as a way to increase the efficiency of their work force. They were especially concerned about their immigrant workers.
One of the strongest supporters of Prohibition was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). It insisted that those who opposed it were un-American. Therefore, it often took enforcement into its own hands.
Further Reading: Prohibition and Repeal Experiences
Readers may find those books preceded by an asterisk (*), and with links, to be especially interesting or useful. They’re popular, easy to read books.
- Aaron, P, and Musto, D. Temperance and Prohibition in America: An Historical Overview. In: Moore, M., and Gerstein, D. (Eds.) Alcohol and Public Policy. Washington, DC: Nat Acad Press, 1981. pp. 127-181.
- Allen, C. The Repeal of Prohibition in Mississippi. Thesis. U Miss, 1992.
- *Asbury, H. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition. NY: Doubleday, 1950. (re-issue, 2018)
- Becker, S. Review of American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. J Am Hist, 1996, 83(3), 1057-1058.
- Behr, E. Prohibition. NY: Arcade, 1996.
- Boyd, J. The Repeal of Prohibition in Ohio. Thesis. U Cincinnati, 1981.
- Cannon, J. Prohibition Repeal Unthinkable. Washington: GPO, 1928.
- Engdahl, S. (Ed.) Amendments XVIII and XXI: Prohibition and Repeal. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2009. Addresses Prohibition and Repeal experiences.
- Engelmann, L. Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor. NY: Free Press, 1979.
- Everest, A. Rum Across the Border. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse U Press, 1978.
- Fantus, R. Repeal Prohibition. Bull Am Coll Surg, 2008, 93(6), 47-48.
- *Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1965.
- Gasper, L. The Movement for Repeal of National Prohibition, 1926-1933. Thesis. Bowling Green State U, 1949.
- Gillett, R, and Holmes, J. Repeal of the Prohibition Amendment. NY: Wilson, 1923.
- Graymont, B. Prohibition and Repeal: The Churches’ Crusade that Failed. Thesis. U Chicago, 1959.
- Harrison, L., and Laine, E. After Repeal. NY: Harper, 1936.
- *Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1973, 143. (re-issue, 1993)
- *Kyvig, D. Repealing National Prohibition. Kent, OH: Kent State U Press, 2000.
- Munger, M., and Schaller, T. The Prohibition-Repeal amendments. A natural experiment in interest group influence. Pub Choice, 1997, 90(1/4), 139-163.
- Nelli, H. American Syndicate Crime: A Legacy of Prohibition. In: Kyvig, D. (Ed.) Law, Alcohol, and Order. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985.
- Nishi, D. Prohibition. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2003.
- Patch, B. Preparations for Prohibition Repeal. Washington: Ed Res Report, 1933.
- Pickett, D. Then and Now: The Truth about Prohibition and Repeal. Columbus, OH: School Coll Serv, 1952.
- Pollard, J. The Road to Repeal: Submission to Conventions. NY: Brentano’s, 1932. Covers Prohibition and Repeal experiences in the U.S.
- Prohibition vs. Repeal Literature. Five Current Aspects of Repeal. Washington: Proh vs. Repeal Lit, 1936.
- Repeal Review. Washington, DC: Repeal Associates, 1936-1965.
- *Rose, K. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: NYU Press, 1996.
- *Root, G. Women and Repeal. NY: Harper, 1934.
- Sabin, P. I change my mind on Prohibition, Outlook, June 13, 1928.
- ______. Women’s revolt against Prohibition, Rev Rev, Nov, 1929, 80, 86-88.
- ______. Why American mothers demand repeal, Liberty, Sept 10, 1932, 12-14.
- Sann, P. The 20s, the Lawless Decade: A Pictorial History. NY: Da Capo, 1984.
- Shouse, J. The Status of Prohibition Repeal. Washington: Assn Against the Prohibi Amend, 1933.
- *Sinclair, A. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.
- Stegh, L. Wet and Dry Battles in the Cradle State of Prohibition. Thesis. U Cincinnati, 1981.
- Tietsort, F. Temperance – or Prohibition? NY: American, 1929.
- Walker, R., and Patterson, S. Oklahoma Goes Wet: The Repeal of Prohibition. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1960. Covers the Prohibition and Repeal experiences og one state.
- Weise, C. The Political Economy of Prohibition and Repeal. Thesis. Auburn U, 1998.