The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution–which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors–ushered in a period in American history known as Prohibition. Prohibition was ratified by the states on January 16, 1919 and officially went into effect on January 17, 1920, with the passage of the Volstead Act. Despite the new legislation, Prohibition was difficult to enforce. The increase of the illegal production and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”), the proliferation of speakeasies (illegal drinking spots) and the accompanying rise in gang violence and other crimes led to waning support for Prohibition by the end of the 1920s. In early 1933, Congress adopted a resolution proposing a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 18th. The 21st Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933, ending Prohibition.
Origins of Prohibition
In the 1820s and ’30s, a wave of religious revivalism swept the United States, leading to increased calls for temperance, as well as other “perfectionist” movements such as the abolitionist movement to end slavery. In 1838, the state of Massachusetts passed a temperance law banning the sale of spirits in less than 15-gallon quantities; though the law was repealed two years later, it set a precedent for such legislation. Maine passed the first state prohibition laws in 1846, followed by a stricter law in 1851. A number of other states had followed suit by the time the Civil War began in 1861.
By the turn of the century, temperance societies were a common fixture in communities across the United States. Women played a strong role in the temperance movement, as alcohol was seen as a destructive force in families and marriages. In 1906, a new wave of attacks began on the sale of liquor, led by the Anti-Saloon League (established in 1893) and driven by a reaction to urban growth, as well as the rise of evangelical Protestantism and its view of saloon culture as corrupt and ungodly. In addition, many factory owners supported prohibition in their desire to prevent accidents and increase the efficiency of their workers in an era of increased industrial production and extended working hours.
READ MORE: See All the Crafty Ways Americans Hid Alcohol During Prohibition
Passage of the Prohibition Amendment
In 1917, after the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson instituted a temporary wartime prohibition in order to save grain for producing food. That same year, Congress submitted the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors, for state ratification. Though Congress had stipulated a seven-year time limit for the process, the amendment received the support of the necessary three-quarters of U.S. states in just 11 months.
Ratified on January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment went into effect a year later, by which time no fewer than 33 states had already enacted their own prohibition legislation. In October 1919, Congress put forth the National Prohibition Act, which provided guidelines for the federal enforcement of Prohibition. Championed by Representative Andrew Volstead of Minnesota, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation was more commonly known as the Volstead Act.
Enforcement of Prohibition
Both federal and local government struggled to enforce Prohibition over the course of the 1920s. Enforcement was initially assigned to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and was later transferred to the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prohibition, or Prohibition Bureau. In general, Prohibition was enforced much more strongly in areas where the population was sympathetic to the legislation–mainly rural areas and small towns–and much more loosely in urban areas. Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do it. The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”) went on throughout the decade, along with the operation of “speakeasies” (stores or nightclubs selling alcohol), the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the informal production of liquor (“moonshine” or “bathtub gin”) in private homes.
In addition, the Prohibition era encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with bootlegging. The most notorious example was the Chicago gangster Al Capone, who earned a staggering $60 million annually from bootleg operations and speakeasies. Such illegal operations fueled a corresponding rise in gang violence, including the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, in which several men dressed as policemen (and believed to be have associated with Capone) shot and killed a group of men in an enemy gang.
Al Capone and Prohibition
Prohibition Comes to an End
The high price of bootleg liquor meant that the nation’s working class and poor were far more restricted during Prohibition than middle or upper class Americans. Even as costs for law enforcement, jails and prisons spiraled upward, support for Prohibition was waning by the end of the 1920s. In addition, fundamentalist and nativist forces had gained more control over the temperance movement, alienating its more moderate members.
With the country mired in the Great Depression by 1932, creating jobs and revenue by legalizing the liquor industry had an undeniable appeal. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president that year on a platform calling for Prohibition’s repeal, and easily won victory over the incumbent President Herbert Hoover. FDR’s victory meant the end for Prohibition, and in February 1933 Congress adopted a resolution proposing a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 18th. The amendment was submitted to the states, and in December 1933 Utah provided the 36th and final necessary vote for ratification. Though a few states continued to prohibit alcohol after Prohibition’s end, all had abandoned the ban by 1966.
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Prohibition - HISTORY
At midnight, January 16, 1920, the United States went dry breweries, distilleries, and saloons were forced to close their doors.
Led by the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the dry forces had triumphed by linking Prohibition to a variety of Progressive era social causes. Proponents of Prohibition included many women reformers, who were concerned about alcohol's link to wife beating and child abuse, and industrialists, such as Henry Ford, who were concerned about the impact of drinking on labor productivity. Advocates of Prohibition argued that outlawing drinking would eliminate corruption, end machine politics, and help Americanize immigrants.
Even before the 18th Amendment was ratified, about 65 percent of the country had already banned alcohol. In 1916, seven states adopted anti-liquor laws, bringing the number of states to 19 that prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. America's entry into World War I made Prohibition seem patriotic since many breweries were owned by German Americans. Wayne Wheeler, lobbyist for the Anti-Saloon League, urged the federal government to investigate "a number of breweries around the country which are owned in part by alien enemies." In December 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment. A month later, President Woodrow Wilson instituted partial prohibition to conserve grain for the war effort. Beer was limited to 2.75 percent alcohol content, and production was held to 70 percent of the previous year's production. In September, the president issued a ban on the wartime production of beer.
National Prohibition was defended as a war measure. The amendment's proponents argued that grain should be made into bread for fighting men and not for making liquor. Anti-German sentiment aided Prohibition's approval. The Anti-Saloon League called Milwaukee's brewers "the worst of all our German enemies," and dubbed their beer "Kaiser brew."
Unsuccessfully, the brewing industry argued that taxes on liquor were paying more for the war effort than were liberty bonds. Yet even after Prohibition was enacted, many ethnic Americans viewed beer or wine drinking as an integral part of their culture, not as a vice.
The wording of the 18th Amendment banned the production, transport and sale (but not the private possession or consumption) of "intoxicating liquors." Many brewers hoped that the ban would not apply to beer and wine. But Congress was controlled by the drys, who advocated a complete ban on alcohol. A year after the ratification, Congress enacted the Volstead Act, which defined intoxicating beverages as anything with more than 0.5 percent alcohol. This meant that beer and wine, as well as whiskey and gin, were barred from being legally sold.
Advocates did not believe it would be necessary to establish a large administrative apparatus to enforce the law. The federal government never had more than 2,500 agents enforcing the law. A few states did try to help out: Indiana banned the sale of cocktail shakers and hip flasks Vermont required drunks to identify the source of their alcohol. The original Congressional appropriation for enforcement was $5 million several years later, the government estimated enforcement would cost $300 million.
Enforcing the law proved almost impossible. Smuggling and bootlegging were widespread. Two New York agents, Izzie Einstein and Mo Smith, relied on disguises while staging their raids--once posing as man and wife. Their efforts were halted, however, after a raid on New York City's 21 trapped some of the city's leading citizens. In New York, 7,000 arrests for liquor law violations resulted in 17 convictions.
Enforcement of Prohibition was originally assigned to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hence, the enforcement agents who destroyed moonshine stills were called “revenuers.” In 1930, enforcement transferred to the Justice Department. After Prohibition, tax collection on liquor was returned to the IRS, which was also charged with the registration of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns and the enforcement of taxes on tobacco. These responsibilities were transferred in 1972 to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Prohibition failed because it was unenforceable. By 1925, half a dozen states, including New York, passed laws banning local police from investigating violations. Prohibition had little support in the cities of the Northeast and Midwest.
Prohibition did briefly pay some public health dividends. The death rate from alcoholism was cut by 80 percent by 1921 from pre-war levels, while alcohol-related crime dropped markedly. Nevertheless, seven years after Prohibition went into effect, the total deaths from adulterated liquor reached approximately 50,000, and there were many more cases of blindness and paralysis. According to one story, a potential buyer who sent a liquor sample to a laboratory for analysis was shocked when a chemist replied: "Your horse has diabetes."
Prohibition quickly produced bootleggers, speakeasies, moonshine, bathtub gin, and rum runners smuggling supplies of alcohol across state lines. In 1927, there were an estimated 30,000 illegal speakeasies--twice the number of legal bars before Prohibition. Many people made beer and wine at home. It was relatively easy finding a doctor to sign a prescription for medicinal whiskey sold at drugstores.
In 1919, a year before Prohibition went into effect, Cleveland had 1,200 legal bars. By 1923, the city had an estimated 3,000 illegal speakeasies, along with 10,000 stills. An estimated 30,000 city residents sold liquor during Prohibition, and another 100,000 made home brew or bathtub gin for themselves and friends.
Prohibition also fostered corruption and contempt for law and law enforcement among large segments of the population. Harry Daughtery, attorney general under Warren Harding, accepted bribes from bootleggers. George Remus, a Cincinnati bootlegger, had a thousand salesmen on his payroll, many of them police officers. He estimated that half his receipts went as bribes. Al Capone's Chicago organization reportedly took in $60 million in 1927 and had half the city's police on its payroll.
Popular culture glamorized bootleggers like Chicago's Capone. These symbols served as the model for the central characters in such films as Little Caesar and Scarface . In rural areas, moonshiners became folk heroes. The fashion of the flapper, dancing the Charleston in a short skirt, was incomplete without a hip flask.
Prohibition created a huge consumer market unmet by legitimate means. Organized crime filled that vacuum left by the closure of the legal alcohol industry. Homicides increased in many cities, partly as a result of gang wars, but also because of an increase in drunkenness.
Prohibition devastated the nation's brewing industry. St. Louis had 22 breweries before Prohibition. Only nine reopened after Prohibition ended in 1933. Anheuser-Busch made it through Prohibition by making ice cream, near beer, corn syrup, ginger ale, root beer, yeast, malt extract, refrigerated cabinets, and automobile and truck bodies.
The jobs and tax revenue that a legal liquor industry would generate looked attractive as the country entered the Great Depression. During his presidential campaign in 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who never hid his fondness for martinis, called for Prohibition's repeal.
The noble experiment ended at 3:32 p.m., December 5, 1933, when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. By then, even some proponents admitted that the 18th Amendment resulted in "evil consequences." The Rev. Sam Small, an evangelist and temperance advocate, said that Prohibition had created "an orgy of lawlessness and official corruption." John D. Rockefeller, a teetotaler, observed in 1932, "drinking has generally increased, the speakeasy has replaced the saloon, and a vast army of lawbreakers has been recruited and financed on a colossal scale."
Even today, debate about the impact of Prohibition rages. Critics argue that the amendment failed to eliminate drinking, made drinking more popular among the young, spawned organized crime and disrespect for the law, encouraged solitary drinking, and led beer drinkers to hard liquor and cocktails. One wit joked that "Prohibition succeeded in replacing good beer with bad gin." The lesson these critics derive: it is counterproductive to try to legislate morality.
Opponents argue that alcohol consumption declined dramatically during Prohibition--by 30 to 50 percent. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver for men fell from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929.
Was Prohibition a "noble experiment" or a misguided effort to use government to shape morality? Even today, the answer is not entirely clear. Alcohol remains a serious cause of death, disability, and domestic abuse. It was not until the 1960s that alcohol consumption levels returned to their pre-Prohibition levels. Today, alcohol is linked each year to more than 23,000 motor vehicle deaths and to more than half the nation's homicides, and is closely linked to domestic violence.
Prohibition includes the attempts of many reformers to reduce, if not end, the consumption of alcohol.
During the early nineteenth century, many citizens of the United States became convinced that many throughout the nation were living in an immoral manner. They feared that God would no longer bless the United States and that these people they considered ungodly and unscrupulous posed a threat to the U.S. political system. These people believed that in order to survive, the United States needed virtuous citizens who did not engage in immoral acts.
Because of these concerns, many people became involved in reform movements during the early 1800s. One of the more prominent reforms was the temperance movement. Temperance advocates encouraged their fellow men and women to reduce the amount of alcohol that they consumed. Ideally, in their view, people in the U.S. would forsake alcohol entirely, but most temperance advocates remained willing to settle for reduced consumption. The largest organization established to advocate temperance was the American Temperance Society. By the mid-1830s, more than 200,000 people belonged to this organization. The American Temperance Society published tracts and hired speakers to depict the negative effects of alcohol upon people.
Many Ohioans participated in the temperance movement. In 1826, residents of Trumbull County formed a temperance society, and Summit County residents followed suit three years later. Many of the earliest temperance advocates were women. Most men believed that women were best suited for the home, and it was, according to the men, a woman's responsibility to raise virtuous children. Women involved in the temperance movement used this argument against the men, however. If women were responsible for creating virtuous children, they contended that women should also play a role in helping those people who have become consumed by immoral acts redeem themselves.
During the late 1800s, support for Prohibition—"the outlawing of alcohol's manufacture, transportation, and consumption"—gained tremendous support. Progressives especially supported Prohibition, as these reformers tried to convince their fellow citizens to live a more moral lifestyle. On May 24, 1893, temperance advocates in Oberlin, Ohio, formed the Ohio Anti-Saloon League. This organization's members, like the Progressives, believed that society in the United States was in moral decline. As people moved from rural areas to urbanized ones, many in the U.S. believed that they were losing touch with their religious values. They felt that one way that people were violating God's desires was by consuming alcohol. The Ohio Anti-Saloon League hoped to prohibit alcohol by enforcing existing laws and by implementing new ones. This same year, temperance supporters in Washington, DC, formed their own Anti-Saloon League. In 1895, the Ohio and Washington organizations united to create the National Anti-Saloon League, which eventually became the Anti-Saloon League of America. The Anti-Saloon League adopted Prohibition as its primary goal. This organization also sought to eliminate bars, taverns, and saloons, believing that these businesses promoted the consumption of alcohol.
For the first fifteen years of its existence, the Anti-Saloon League and its subsidiaries focused on implementing anti-alcohol laws in local communities. As support grew, including among such prominent Americans as John D. Rockefeller, the League began a national campaign to implement Prohibition. In 1913, the League sponsored a parade in Washington, DC. At the gathering's conclusion, the League's superintendent, Purley Baker, presented an amendment to the United States Congress. This amendment would be the basis for the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Anti-Saloon League of America and its state organizations inundated the U.S. Congress with letters and petitions, demanding the prohibition of alcohol. With the outbreak of World War I, the League also used anti-German sentiment to fight for Prohibition, as many brewers in the United States were of German ancestry. Utilizing patriotism and morality, the Anti-Saloon League succeeded in getting the Eighteenth Amendment passed by the Congress and ratified by the necessary number of states in 1919. Congress subsequently enacted the Volstead Act (the National Prohibition Act), which established the legal means to for the federal government to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment.
With Prohibition in effect, anti-alcohol supporters, especially the Anti-Saloon League, entered a tumultuous period. Wayne Wheeler, a prominent League member, believed that the League should focus on enforcing Prohibition by enacting more stringent laws. Ernest Cherrington disagreed and argued that educating children about the evils of alcohol would prevent consumption of liquor and the flaunting of the law in the future. This division dramatically weakened the Anti-Saloon League and allowed opponents to Prohibition to build momentum. Many temperance advocates believed that the struggle was over once Prohibition went into effect, causing many of these people quit participating in anti-alcohol organizations. Prominent financial backers withdrew their support as well. Because of this declining support, anti-temperance supporters were able to introduce the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1933. That same year, a sufficient number of states ratified the amendment, ending Prohibition.
The prohibition movement influenced Texas and American politics from the 1840s to the 1930s. In the nineteenth century a movement against alcoholic beverages arose when some Americans, appalled by the social damage and individual wreckage that alcohol consumption too often seemed to cause, sought to persuade citizens to refrain from drinking liquor. This "temperance" movement enjoyed considerable success and continued parallel with the prohibition movement. In the eyes of some reformers a sober America was attainable only under laws that declared illegal the manufacture and sale of liquor. In their view the profit motive led the distilling, brewing, and saloon industries to encourage more people to drink. The destruction of the legal liquor traffic appeared to be the solution of a widespread individual and social problem. Prohibition sentiment found ready partisans among fundamentalist Protestants in Texas. Fundamentalists had long taught that drinking is immoral, and many of them came to believe that state-enforced teetotalism would improve public morality. In this regard, during the prohibition era at least, fundamentalists contributed to the extension of state power. Legal prohibition would, they thought, conduce to greater freedom. In subsequent years, however, in spite of this temporary alliance with political liberalism, and in spite of continuing opposition to alcohol sales and consumption, fundamentalists demonstrated a staunch conservatism.
Drys, as the reformers were called, first animated Texas politics in the 1840s. The drys sought measures allowing voters in prescribed areas to declare prohibition in effect: to pass so-called local-option laws for neighborhoods, towns, cities, and counties. Eventually the drys sought statewide prohibition and an amendment to the United States Constitution declaring illegal the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. In 1843 the Republic of Texas had passed what may have been the first local-option measure in North America. A Texas law of 1845 banned saloons altogether. The law was never enforced, however, and was repealed in 1856. The prohibition controversy, however, did not disappear in either Texas or the nation. The United Friends of Temperance, the first Texas-wide dry organization, was formed around 1870. In 1883 the state branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was founded with help from the national WCTU leader, Frances Willard. There was a separate black WCTU for the state. In 1886 the Prohibition party offered candidates for office in Texas. The new Constitution of 1876 had required the legislature to enact a local-option law. In 1887 the drys engineered a state prohibition referendum, which they lost by more than 90,000 votes. Nevertheless, dry sentiment was widespread. In 1895, fifty-three of the 239 counties were dry, and another seventy-nine counties were partly dry under local option.
In the twentieth century the prohibition movement advanced from the rural counties of North Texas to convert a majority of the state's voters. As before, the liquor industries opposed the measure with well-financed publicity and well-placed financing of political leaders. In 1903 the Home and State began to counteract liquor publicity, and the Texas Local Option Association united dry groups. That association merged in 1908 with the state Anti-Saloon League , which had appeared in 1907. The league, formed in Ohio in 1893, was bringing new zeal and organizing skills to the dry campaign around the United States. In Texas the drys in 1908 and 1911 tried again for a prohibition law but lost the referendum by a close margin. Although the statewide dry campaigns had failed, the number of dry counties was increasing. North Texas was dry only areas with relatively large concentrations of African, Hispanic, and German Americans continued to license the liquor industries.
With the electorate split on the issue, prohibition continued to divide Texans. In 1913 Morris Sheppard , a dedicated dry, won a seat in the United States Senate and assumed leadership in the national prohibition campaign by his sponsorship of what became the Eighteenth Amendment. In 1916 the drys won enough congressional races to have Congress initiate the national prohibition amendment. The Texas legislature, encouraged by the Anti-Saloon League (which was reorganized in 1915 under Arthur J. Barton to provide sustained support for state prohibition), ratified the federal amendment in 1918. In 1919 Texas voters approved a state prohibition amendment.
Prohibition was controversial in both national and Texas politics in the 1920s. The Anti-Saloon League was deeply divided over the question of how to use the Eighteenth Amendment: as a measure providing new opportunities to persuade Americans to abstain from liquor, or as a measure demanding strict enforcement. In Texas, Atticus Webb, who assumed leadership of the state league, failed to obtain strict enforcement. In 1925 opponents of prohibition were in control of the Texas government and refused to support enforcement. In the meantime, the drys were unable to obtain funds for a large-scale, sustained educational campaign on behalf of abstinence. Nationally, popular support for prohibition receded dramatically after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, and in 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment repealed prohibition. In 1935 Texas voters ratified a repeal of the state dry law. Thereafter the prohibition question reverted to the local level, and the drys had available only local-option statutes.
In the 1980s a neoprohibition movement emerged in the United States. The reformers sought not to outlaw the liquor industries but more closely to regulate their marketing campaigns. In 1984, for instance, Congress required Texas and all other states to declare the minimum drinking age to be twenty-one in order to receive full federal highway funding. Subsequently, "warning labels" stating the dangers of alcohol consumption were mandated.
Prior to 1907 statehood, Oklahoma and Indian territories (the Twin Territories) had different liquor policies. Oklahoma Territory (O.T.) laws permitted the sale of alcohol, but in Indian Territory (I.T.) federal laws prohibited the distribution of intoxicants. For more than a decade before statehood, the powerful Anti-Saloon League (ASL) and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) forces waged war against the legalized sale of liquor in O.T. and called for stricter enforcement in I.T. As statehood neared, prohibitionists, with Protestant churches as their key support, flexed their political muscle to select Constitutional Convention delegates who would frame an antiliquor law into the new state's constitution.
Antiliquor or "dry" proponents also won a significant victory when the federal government not only provided for single statehood in the 1906 Oklahoma Enabling Act but also mandated prohibition in I.T. for twenty-one years. The act permitted Oklahoma to establish a "dispensary" or liquor agency to handle the sale of alcohol for "medicinal" purposes.
With an upper hand at the Constitutional Convention, prohibition forces wanted to make the entire state "bone dry." They found a skillful champion for their cause in Charles N. Haskell, one of the convention leaders and future governor. Although proliquor groups ("wets") such as the Citizens League tried to convince the delegates of the revenue value of liquor sales, they encountered difficulty in counteracting the ASL and WCTU. Wets faced a stiff challenge in overcoming the organized campaign of drys in the territories and the strong antisaloon sentiment spreading across the country during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
On September 17, 1907, future Oklahomans accepted prohibition as part of the new state's constitution. Drys achieved their immediate objective, and they made repeal of prohibition more difficult for subsequent generations to overturn by writing prohibition into basic law. Upon taking office, Charles N. Haskell, the state's first governor, reiterated his support for strong enforcement, and he placed on notice anyone "'within our borders disposed to violate [the law].'" Subsequent Oklahoma governors would make similar statements, but they would achieve no better enforcement record than Oklahoma's first chief executive.
Between statehood and the 1930s Oklahoma's rural, Protestant landscape provided a healthy environment for prohibition as a social experiment. The Billups Law, passed in March 1908, provided for a dispensary system, and a few Oklahomans became "ill" enough to request "prescription" medicine from the dispensary. Governor Haskell strongly defended this outlet for liquor. It was not a "'barrel of whiskey with the head knocked in and a tin cup hanging conveniently near.'" Despite the governor's defense and support of the ASL, the dispensary system fell upon hard times, victim to financial failure, corruption, and the availability of bootleg liquor. In November 1908 Oklahomans voted to abolish the dispensary, but a court decision overturned that vote on a technicality. Nevertheless, the state recognized the futility of the dispensary as a moneymaking scheme, and in 1911 Oklahoma lawmakers passed legislation that effectively killed the institution. However, the few drinkers who had relied on the dispensary could easily secure their "medicine" through illegal means.
World War I and the effective lobbying of antiliquor groups brought favorable results in Oklahoma and many other states. With much of the country already in the dry column by 1915, the ASL wanted to deliver a knockout punch to alcohol wherever it flowed. Oklahoma drys united behind this effort. In December 1917 Congress submitted a constitutional amendment to outlaw the sale of liquor throughout the United States. Oklahoma, with only eight dissenting votes in the legislature, became the eighteenth state to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment in January 1919. With the aid of a number of social and political forces, drys had now achieved their ultimate objective of national prohibition. Nevertheless, federal enforcement officials experienced difficulty policing the nation's expansive borders, and in Oklahoma the amendment did little to encourage stronger enforcement of the law.
Disrespect for the liquor legislation during the 1920s fueled the wets' continued agitation for overthrowing state laws and the Eighteenth Amendment. With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who favored repeal, an Association Against the Prohibition Amendment successfully pressured Congress to approve a resolution that called for state conventions to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment. Before Oklahoma could establish a convention process for repeal, in December 1933 Utah became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ending prohibition. Although Oklahoma was not ready to abandon the state's dry history, clearly attitudes toward liquor legislation had begun to shift.
Obvious signs of change in Oklahoma came in 1933 with a proposal to approve the sale of beer. Wets argued that beer represented a chance to obtain badly needed revenue for a state hard hit by the Great Depression. More than thirty states had already approved the sale of beer immediately following repeal, and Oklahoma probeer forces made the most of that fact. They said citizens should have the opportunity to vote on the issue in a referendum. Led by a group calling itself the Beer for Oklahoma League, the legislature approved a beer referendum in summer 1933. Discounting the wets' emphasis on revenue and individual freedom, the Prohibition Thousand organization fought hard to turn back "suds," arguing that beer would mean more crime and more jails. Drys believed in their message, but Oklahomans believed more in beer and its revenue. The referendum carried by a margin of more than ninety-five thousand votes, with only twenty of Oklahoma's seventy-seven counties in the dry column. However, if wets thought that Oklahomans would now welcome hard liquor in the state, they were badly mistaken. More than two decades would pass before Oklahomans abolished the constitutional mandate against liquor.
Throughout the 1940s drys fought off determined attempts to legalize liquor, but they failed to gain state legislation to outlaw beer or, at the least, to limit it to package sales. With the support of Gov. Raymond Gary, in 1957 the United Drys, an umbrella organization for the antibeer groups, initiated a local-option amendment designed to limit the distribution and sale of beer. After considerable court haggling over the validity of the dry campaign, the state approved a referendum on the issue. Again, the wets pressed home the value of beer revenue to the state, and they repeatedly stressed that outlawing beer in the various Oklahoma counties would lead to more bootlegging. Governor Gary endeavored to defeat the wet argument with his own statistics, but he and his supporters failed to convince Oklahomans. When they marched to the polls in December 1957, they administered local option a resounding defeat, with forty-three of seventy-seven counties against it. Significantly, all but four Oklahoma cities with a population of ten thousand or more voted against local option.
The defeat of local option represented the beginning of the end for prohibition in Oklahoma. A shift in attitude among Oklahomans had slowly developed along with increased industrialism, more commercial activity, and urban growth. Indeed, by mid-twentieth century, the Sooner State was more than 50 percent urban. Also, a more youthful and courageous state political leadership had emerged to contest some long-standing social traditions. In 1958 Democrat J. Howard Edmondson won the governorship, committing himself to strong enforcement of the laws and to a special election on repeal. Although Edmondson faced determined opposition in pushing a repeal referendum through the legislature, he ultimately succeeded, and a vote was set for April 1959. The referendum provided for the package sale of liquor, and it also contained a local option provision.
Edmondson lived up to his promise of vigorous enforcement of the liquor laws. He wanted to give Sooners the choice of voting for legalized liquor or doing without the illegal booze that so many of them continued to imbibe. Commissioner of Public Safety Joe Cannon devised an enforcement method to shut off almost all liquor supplies to the state. Drys hated to admit it, but the enforcement they had long demanded worked against them. The so-called "Cannon raids" affected convention and hotel business in the larger cities, and they annoyed some people unaccustomed to searches of establishments that sold booze. A United Oklahomans group that led the attack against the repeal referendum faced a number of problems they could not overcome. They found it difficult to raise money equal to that raised by the wet forces, and the churches that had sustained the drys in the past had split over the issue. The contention that liquor would bring significant new revenues to the state decisively impacted voters during the repeal debate, as some citizens believed that liquor sales would help avoid new taxes.
On April 7, 1959, Oklahomans went to the polls and contradicted Will Rogers's adage that they would vote "dry as long as they could stagger to the polls." They repealed prohibition and turned back local option. The Liquor Control Act established an Alcohol Control Board (renamed the Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission in 1985) that governed the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The legislation did not permit liquor by the drink, and that particular provision remained law until 1984 when the state voted it out. Prohibitionists continued to lament the passing of the old order, but as Oklahoma neared its centennial, few signs pointed to a return to the past.
Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Born Sober: Prohibition in Oklahoma, 1907–1959 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971).
Jimmie L. Franklin, "That Noble Experiment: A Note On Prohibition in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 43 (Spring 1965).
"Prohibition," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
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A policy outlawing the sale of alcoholic beverages, but also used for the time period, 1920-1933, when alcohol sales were illegal in the U.S.
Wisconsin's first effort at prohibition occured in 1853, when the question of whether the legislature should enact a law prohibiting the sale of liquor in the state was submitted to a vote of the people. It was carried affirmatively by a vote of 27,579 to 24,109. In 1855 the legislature enacted a law prohibiting the sale of liquor and Governor Barstow vetoed it.
Prohibition became federal law on January 29, 1919, with the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, or transportation of intoxicating liquor starting in 1920. To clarify its terms, Congress passed the Volsted Act in October 1919, which defined an intoxicating beverage as one that contained one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume. During Prohibition many Wisconsin breweries began to make "near beer" while others tried to produce soda, ice cream, and cheese many simply went bankrupt, while organized crime took over black market liquor distribution. In 1926, Wisconsin voters approved a referendum amending the Volsted Act that allowed the manufacture and sale of beer with 2.75 percent alcohol, and in 1929 they repealed Wisconsin¿s prohibition enforcement law. Pledging loyalty to the will of the people as expressed in these referendums on alcohol, Wisconsin Senator John J. Blaine (q.v.) proposed a constitutional amendment for the repeal of prohibition. The U.S. Senate modified Blaine¿s resolution to satisfy antiprohibitionists and passed the measure without delay. On December 5, 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified and national prohibition ended. View Turning Points in Wisconsin History for more information.
Wisconsin: comprising sketches of counties, towns, events, institutions, and persons, arranged in cyclopedic form, ed. by Ex-Gov. Geo. W. Peck (Madison, Wis., Western Historical Association, 1906) Turning Points in Wisconsin History
My great grandfather was Theodor Finkenauer, a name my father brother and son share. The stables of that brewery are now the St Benjamin Brewing Company. 5th and Columbia, Cecil Moore. Kensington. They have done a terrific job in saving the old structure…
My great grandfather was Isadore Albaum, listed as such on Franklin Street in the 1920 census, he and his wife Bessie had two lodgers who were Irish “Stagehands.” But, Isadore was not a chauffeur, as he claimed. In 1917 he’s listed as “Cigars.” In 1918 he’s in the military. But…
…he was known as Jim Burke, a bookie-turned-speakeasy operator. He pretended to be Irish and paid off the Irish.
My father’s cousin says he had to leave Philadelphia to return to NYC (where he was from and where he left his children behind) when he began to fear the Italian mob. Although, I read there were things happening with Mickey Duffy, too. Buy 1930, he’s back in Brooklyn doing “Billiards” stuff, which was the Albaums were pretty much all doing except for one.
While the 18th Amendment made Prohibition the law of the land, the Volstead Act defined what "intoxicating liquors" were and set the parameters for enforcing the new rule. Although publicly agnostic on the wet vs. dry issue, President Wilson vetoed the bill and declared that "personal habits and customs of large numbers of our people" should be legislated with greater caution. However, Congress overrode his veto.
Dry pastor T. P. Hunt warned people off Madeira wine by saying it was "common practice" to make it with a bag of cockroaches.
Prohibition was the law of the land by 1920, but the Prohibition Party was still uneasy. As the presidential campaign season got underway, they feared that neither a Republican nor a Democratic president could be trusted to vigorously enforce the new law. Already there were proposals to weaken prohibition by modifying the law to allow the manufacture of light wines and beer.
What Was the Punishment for Bootlegging During Prohibition?
Bootleggers and moonshiners producers faced heavy penalties during the prohibition age, which Congress increased substantially in 1929 when they passed the Increased Penalties Act.
The Original Penalties
Those found guilty of violating the Volstead Act, which began prohibition in America, were liable for a fine of up to $5,000 or a maximum of one year in prison, or both. $5,000 may not sound like much now, but if you adjust for inflation, that would be over $68,000 today.
And that was for first offenders. Repeat offenders could be liable for increasing fines and prison sentences. Although bootlegging was incredibly profitable, it was not without its risks.
The Increased Penalties Act
The Increased Penalties Act of 1929 lived up to its name. The act increased the maximum fine for bootlegging and the manufacturing of intoxicating liquors from $5,000 to $10,000 and increased the possible prison sentence from one year to five.
These increased penalties, combined with moonshine’s declining price, meant that bootleggers were incurring more risk for less reward.
In Washington -- as in the rest of the country -- the question of who, if anyone, should control, manufacture, import, possess, and consume alcoholic intoxicants has been contentious and complicated by other social issues such as race, religion, education, and gender. The issue of alcohol control influenced territorial and state politics and elections on the county and town level, especially with regard to individual community decisions to incorporate and thus gain control local of liquor laws. And just as saloons were important centers of social life for those who drank, groups devoted to temperance and anti-liquor agitation were social centers for many citizens who did not. Washington was among the 33 of the existing 48 states that had already adopted Prohibition laws at the state level before the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Prohibition amendment, was ratified in 1919.
Hudson's Bay Company
Controlling access to alcohol was a factor in the development of what would become Washington state from the time of contact, when fur trappers and traders introduced alcohol to Indian peoples. Alcohol became an aspect of the social change the fur trade brought to the region. It contributed to the breakdown of value systems that had existed before contact.
Under explicit direction from the British government, Hudson's Bay Company officials reduced the amount of alcohol the company routinely distributed to Indians in partial payment for pelts. The eventual goal was to withdraw payment with alcohol entirely. The British objected to giving liquor to Indians because it debauched them, and also because intoxication rendered Indians more likely to rise up against the British.
But as American ships carrying alcohol began to play a part in coastal trade, and as American fur trappers penetrated the region by land, the task required of Hudson's Bay employees became increasingly impossible. Nevertheless, in 1831 company officials in London forbade the sale of rum to all Indians. Faced with direct competition from liquor-toting rivals, Hudson's Bay Company chief factor John McLoughlin (1784-1857) sold alcohol to traders, who then "gave" it to the Indians -- gift, it seemed, was not the same as payment.
Missionaries who reached the region -- then known as the Oregon Country -- beginning in 1834 strongly favored temperance. Temperance (with regard to alcoholic intoxicants) meant drinking in moderation. What constituted moderation was individually defined -- for some, temperance meant consuming moderate amounts of only wine or beer, but in any case not consuming any alcoholic beverage to the point of inebriation. Some temperance advocates defined the word more narrowly, and opposed intoxicants entirely.
Oregon Territorial Legislation, 1849
In 1849, legislators in Oregon Territory (which at the time included the future state of Washington) passed a licensing act regulating the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The act forbade the sale or gift of alcohol to Indians, but established a liberal policy toward saloon licensure.
As some settlers assembled the requisite $200 licensure fee and hung their saloon shingles, others began working for temperance. Many emigrants from the United States were devoted to temperance. Congress organized Washington Territory in 1853, and a Presbyterian missionary from Indiana, the Reverend George Whitworth (1816-1907), immediately organized the new territory's first temperance society, calling for total abstinence.
Territorial Legislation, 1855
The second session of Washington's Territorial Legislature took up the Prohibition question, placing on the 1855 ballot a territorial referendum outlawing the sale and manufacture of liquor. Voters (all male) defeated the issue with 564 votes for, and 650 against.
Over the next decade, the massive influx of intemperate gold miners into Washington Territory (which at the time included the future state of Idaho) made Prohibition legislation a doubtful prospect. In 1863, Congress organized Idaho Territory, tipping the balance of political power away from more transient residents like the gold miners, since much mining activity was now outside Washington Territory's boundaries.
Territorial Legislation, 1879
On November 14, 1879, state legislators prohibited the sale of liquor within a mile of the Northern Pacific Railroad during its construction in Spokane, Stevens, and Whitman counties. As noted by Jon Owen Nuxoll in a 1989 University of Washington master's thesis, territorial legislators may have been "mindful of the 'hell on wheels,' the tent towns of saloons, prostitutes, gamblers, and hooligans which had accompanied construction of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific some years earlier" (p. 5).
Historian Norman Clark called this law "an effort to protect workers from the saloon keepers, who were as eager to debauch the railroad gangs as they had been to debauch the Indians" (The Dry Years, p. 32).
Territorial Legislation, 1883-1888: Woman Suffrage
In 1883, women in Washington Territory gained the right to vote, which they immediately exercised, generating consternation and outrage among liquor advocates because (as a whole) they supported prohibition measures. Women lost their right to vote on February 3, 1887, regained it on January 16, 1888, and lost it again on November 14, 1888.
Not until 1910 would Washington women regain the vote for good. Distancing the cause of woman suffrage from Prohibition was one important strategy leading to this victory.
Territorial Legislation, 1886-1889: Local Option
In 1886, the Territorial Legislature passed a local option law. This allowed residents of a town or precinct to petition for elections on the licensing of liquor sales within their community. The territorial Supreme Court outlawed local-option prohibition in 1888, although a modified version of the law was later reinstated. The modified version returned the power to grant or refuse applications for saloon licenses to city councils and county commissioners, and gave these bodies the right to set license fees between $300 and $1,000 annually -- enriching local coffers.
This modified version of local option remained in effect through 1909, and led to wide variations in alcohol availability from town to town, and from county to county. Since only incorporated towns and cities had city councils with the power to render their community wet or dry, on the saloon question unincorporated settlements were at the mercy of their county's commissioners. In most communities, a saloon had been one of the first businesses established -- from the seedlings of a saloon, an eating house, a blacksmith, and a few industrious families, many towns grew and prospered. The cost, however, often included drunkenness, crime, and job absenteeism.
Even in dry towns, pharmacies were allowed to sell alcohol for medicinal purposes. Lemon extract with high alcohol content could be purchased in grocery stores. Some customers used it by the teaspoon to flavor cookies others swallowed it straight from the bottle.
Constitutional Convention, July-August 1889
In 1889, during the creation of Washington's state constitution, delegates to the constitutional convention had the opportunity to include total, state-wide prohibition in the document. A voter-approved constitution was one of the conditions that the United States Congress had established in order for Washington to gain statehood.
Prohibition, woman suffrage, and the location of the state capital were the three most controversial issues that convention delegates grappled with. Fearful that including these questions within the body of the constitution might spur voters to reject the document, the delegates crafted a ballot that offered Washington Territory's (all male) voters the chance to vote the four questions -- the constitution, Prohibition, woman suffrage, and the location of the capital -- separately.
On October 1, 1889, voters ratified the constitution, rejected Prohibition, and rejected woman suffrage. The vote on Prohibition was 19,546 for, and 31,487 against. Olympia garnered the most votes in the race for state capital, but did not win the majority, necessitating a run-off in the next general election, held November 4, 1890. In that election, Olympia emerged victorious.
Temperance Advocacy Organizations
National temperance organizations with a vigorous presence in Washington included the International Order of Good Templars (founded in 1851), the Prohibition Party (founded in 1869), the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (formed in 1874), and the Anti-Saloon League (formed in 1893). Towns across Washington had active chapters of these organizations, and of the Washington Territorial Temperance Alliance (formed in 1874). Some counties also formed temperance leagues. One of these was Whitman, where the Whitman County Temperance League was established in 1883.
Historian Norman B. Clark described these temperance advocates:
"These 'radicals' at the hard core of the Washington prohibition movement were dedicated alcohol fighters, absolutely convinced of the evil of all intoxicating drink. To these men and women, the saloon was evil institutionalized, at once a symbol and an instrument of Satan's work among God's unfortunate creatures" (The Dry Years, p. 64).
Wine and Beer
The arrival of transcontinental railroads in the 1880s (Northern Pacific) and 1890s (Great Northern) coincided with the development of refrigerated rail cars, and with the so-called "crown" bottle cap (patented in 1892), the type with pointy edges that have to be opened with a bottle opener. These developments allowed beer to be bottled and shipped beyond the immediate area where it was brewed. Washington brewers began shipping their product to saloons along the rail lines, which stimulated the establishment of more saloons. Large breweries from the Eastern United States established district sales offices in Washington, and competed with local breweries for the beer dollar, further stimulating saloon establishment.
Wine grapes were first planted at Fort Vancouver in 1827. Many overland settlers arriving in the 1840s and 1850s brought wine grape vine cuttings, establishing vineyards for personal and commercial use. Irrigation projects throughout the central and eastern portion of the state made commercial vineyards a lucrative proposition and drew experienced winemakers to the region.
Washington Local Option, 1909
Under pressure from the Anti-Saloon League, in 1909 voters again passed local option legislation. This legislation allowed voters in any town (not just incorporated communities) to petition to hold an election to decide whether or not to license saloons in their community. Once an election date was set, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union usually campaigned heavily, organizing voters, encouraging women to be sure their (dry-favoring) male family members were registered to vote. The Washington Grange (temperance supporters because of alcohol's detrimental effect on farm laborers) did the same in rural areas.
Once a community voted itself dry, temperance supporters from surrounding areas demonstrated their approval with their wallets, traveling to the newly dry town to patronize its businesses.
State Prohibition Law, 1914
On November 3, 1914, after prodigious Anti-Saloon League lobbying efforts statewide, Washington voters approved Initiative Measure Number Three, prohibiting the manufacture and sale (although not the consumption) of liquor statewide. Washington women had gained the right to vote in 1910, and their votes contributed to the passage of the initiative. Washington's 1914 prohibition law was statutory, not a constitutional amendment. The popular vote was 189,840 for, 171,208 against. Initiative Number Three exposed a marked split between Washington's urban and rural voters. Even though the initiative failed in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, it won statewide. City people opposed it whereas smalltown and rural people were in favor.
Any saloons that had weathered Local Option closed as of midnight on December 31, 1915. The only legal drinking from this point was via imported liquor that had been manufactured out of state -- the law allowed individuals with permits to import up to two quarts of hard liquor or 12 quarts of beer every 20 days. Among those without permits (or those who lacked the means to prepay and ship alcohol), illegal drinking surged, largely via illegal sales at soft drink stands and restaurants. Drug stores, where prescription liquor could be obtained, boomed. A 1985 master's thesis comparing the effects of Prohibition on various West Coast cities states that 65 new drug stores opened in Seattle between January and March, 1916.
Defeated Initiatives, 1916
In the immediate wake of saloon closures, Washington voters apparently saw the benefit of restricting access to alcohol. In 1916, voters rejected two measures that would have eased restrictions.
The Washington Hotelmens Bill, which would have amended the prohibition law to permit the sale of liquor in hotels, was defeated 263,390 to 48,354. The Brewer's Bill, which would have permitted the manufacture of beer, and its sale directly to consumers, was defeated 245,399 to 98,843.
On March 3, 1917, the United States Congress approved the so-called Bone-Dry Amendment to the 1917 Post Office Appropriations Act. This amendment forbade shipment of intoxicating liquors of any kind into states that had bone-dry laws, whether or not those states had permit systems. The amendment went into effect on July 1, 1917.
In August 1917, the United States Congress adopted the Food Control Law, a wartime measure to conserve food, including grains that are essential ingredients in many kinds of liquor and beer. On September 8, 1917, the law went into effect, closing down all of the distilleries in the country.
Additionally, the 1917 Revenue Bill banned importation of consumable distilled spirits, but not wine or beer. Although existing stocks of spirits could still be sold and consumed, many people viewed these war measures as a large step toward post-war national alcohol prohibition. Reduced alcohol import also meant reduced revenue from import tax.
Washington "Bone-Dry" Referendum, 1918
Washington's alcohol laws ran neck and neck with federal legislation during 1917. In early 1917, the state legislature considered House Bill 4, which ended the permit system except for druggists and the clergy. The bill passed both houses, and on February 19, 1917, Governor Ernest Lister (1870-1919) signed it. The law stipulated that Washington would go bone dry in 90 days unless the people demanded a vote. Opponents of the law did so, circulating petitions that ensured the question a spot on the ballot.
On November 5, 1918, Washington voters passed Referendum 10 in favor of the bone-dry legislative act. The vote was 96,100 for, 54,322 against.
Eighteenth Amendment, 1917, ratified 1919
The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, and their import into or export from the United States and all its territories. The United States Congress passed the amendment on December 18, 1917. In order to become operative, the 18th Amendment required ratification of three-fourths of the states.
The state of Washington was the 22nd state to do so, ratifying the 18th Amendment on January 13, 1919. The vote was unanimous in both the state house and senate. The United States Congress ratified the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919. On October 28, 1919, Congress then adopted the National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act, after Andrew J. Volstead, Republican representative from Minnesota) to enforce the 18th Amendment.
The Volstead Act declared all liquors with more than half of 1 percent alcohol to be intoxicating, and banned their manufacture, sale, barter, transport, import, export, and possession. Medicines exempted comprised those manufactured by approved processes, denatured alcohol, and a number of alcohol-containing toiletries, flavorings, and patent medicines deemed unfit for use as beverages, along with sacramental wine produced under permit. Private possession of alcohol purchased before Prohibition was also exempted, as was the home fermentation of juice to produce wine or cider for personal use. The Volstead Act became effective immediately. The 18th Amendment went into effect on January 17, 1920.
Effects of Prohibition on the Wine Industry
Washington's wine industry was one of the major outgrowths of the state's irrigation projects in the central and eastern areas of the state. When Washington went bone-dry in 1917, the state's fledgling wine industry disintegrated almost overnight.
Because the 18th Amendment allowed the manufacture of small amounts of beer and wine at home for personal consumption, it actually stimulated a demand for wine grapes. Home winemakers in Washington could access many locally grown varieties. Varieties such as Zinfandel that are not grown in Washington were shipped by rail from California vineyards at the rate of between 5,000 and 10,000 tons per year. Concord grapes, used for non-alcoholic grape juice, grew well in Washington and were widely planted during Prohibition.
Home wine consumption ultimately stimulated the post-Prohibition wine industry because, for many middle-class Washingtonians, it brought drinking out of saloons and into the home, and substituted home-made wine for commercially produced hard liquor. Expanding the market for wine beyond ethnic communities (such as Italian Americans) with a tradition of wine production and consumption boosted the wine industry after Prohibition's repeal.
The return of professionally produced wine must have been a great relief for home winemakers. Lacking the skill to leave sugar in their wine without re-fermenting it, many produced wines that were high in mouth-puckering tannins. And these wines had little aging.
Best vs. Bogus Booze: Tippling During Prohibition
Even after the 18th Amendment was enacted, troubles patrolling Northwest waters for liquor smugglers persisted. The Coast Guard offered the Prohibition Bureau only limited assistance until 1924, when Congress funded increased Coast Guard personnel and 20 reconditioned navy destroyers. Still, bootleggers managed to sneak liquor that was legitimately produced elsewhere over United States borders, supplying customers who could afford the best.
Liquor fanciers who lacked funds -- or good connections -- made do with industrial alcohol that had been watered down, colored, and otherwise enhanced. Congressional hearings on this subject found that one gallon of industrial/commercial alcohol, when watered, yielded at least three gallons of bogus booze. Not surprisingly, commercial alcohol production rose steadily during Prohibition.
Washington's most successful (in other words, notorious) liquor smuggler was former Seattle police lieutenant Roy Olmstead (1886-1966). Olmstead learned the fine points of liquor smuggling during his years wearing the badge, pursuing and arresting rumrunners. During the height of national Prohibition, Olmstead's extensive well-organized operation was delivering 200 cases of Canadian liquor to Seattle every day, and grossing $200,000 a month. Olmstead was biggest, but he was one of many.
The End of Prohibition: Washington, 1932
In January 1932, State Initiative Measure No. 61, to repeal all Washington's liquor laws except the prohibition of sale to minors, was filed in Olympia. Before the end of that month, more than 20,000 voters had signed petitions supporting the initiative's place on the ballot. On November 8, 1932, voters passed Initiative No. 61 by a 62 percent margin (341,450 for, 208,211 against), sending Washington's Congressional Representatives a clear mandate to support the repeal of the Volstead Act.
In April 1933, after passing the 21st Amendment, but before its ratification by the states, the United States Congress modified the Volstead Act to permit the sale of beer up to 3.2 percent alcohol. Since Washington had already repealed Prohibition in the state, such beer immediately became legal in Washington.
The End of Prohibition: The 21st Amendment, 1933
On February 20, 1933, the United States Congress passed the 21st Amendment to the United States constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment. The state of Washington ratified the 21st Amendment on October 3, 1933.
On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1881-1945) issued a proclamation repealing the 18th Amendment. As of 2010, the 18th Amendment remains the only amendment to the United States constitution to have ever been repealed.
Post-Repeal Alcohol Legislation
On January 23, 1934, Washington Governor Clarence Martin (1887-1955) signed the Steele Liquor Act establishing the Washington State Liquor Control Board into law. The Liquor Control Board was authorized to establish strict controls over how alcohol could be sold and consumed, including limiting the sale of wine and hard liquor to state-run liquor stores. Whether or not to limit alcohol sales to state-run stores had been highly controversial during the state legislature's debate over the bill.
In 1935, legislators modified this law to permit Washington wines to be sold by private distributors. On July 1, 1969, this was extended to all wines, no matter where they had been produced. This reduced the consumer price on out-of-state wines.
On November 2, 1948, Washington voters rejected Initiative 13, which would have limited the sale of (in state) wine and beer to state liquor stores. The vote was 208,337 for, 602,144 against. On the same ballot, voters approved Initiative 171, permitting the sale of liquor by the drink, with some restrictions. The vote was 416,227 for, 373,418 against.
On November 8, 1966, Washington voters passed initiative 229 repealing the Blue Laws that had played a role in the prohibition of the sale of liquor on Sundays. The vote was 604,096 for, 333,972 against. In the following year, the Liquor Control Board took the first of a series of actions that eventually allowed Sunday liquor sales on the same basis as the rest of the week.
On November 7, 1972, Washington voters narrowly defeated Initiative 261, which would have privatized liquor sales and ended their restriction to state-owned sales outlets. The vote was 634,973 for, 779,568 against.
On November 6, 1973, Washington voters narrowly declined to reduce the state's drinking age from 21 to 19. The vote was 495,624 for, 510,491 against. (In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution had lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, so Washingtonians who voted this ballot included those directly impacted.)
On November 2, 2010, Washington voters rejected two initiatives -- I-1100 and I-1105 -- each of which would have privatized liquor sales and ended their restriction to state-owned outlets. However, a year later on November 8, 2011, voters approved a new initiative, I-1183, privatizing liquor sales statewide. Grocery and warehouse stores (including COSTCO, the $22.7 million initiative campaign's top donor) were scheduled to begin selling liquor on June 1, 2012, and all state-run liquor stores were to cease operation by that date.
Ad for James Durkin's Spokane saloon, July 5, 1907
Seattle Brewing & Malting Co., Gorgetown, 1904
Photo by Asahel Curtis, Courtesy Washington State Historical Society (1943.42.4516)
"Picking Grapes, Washington" postcard, ca. 1910
Keystone Liquor Co, just before Prohibition, Seattle, 1915
Courtesy MOHAI (1983.10.12279)
Roy Olmstead (1886-1966), ca. 1920s
Courtesy The Seattle Daily Times
Columbia Wineries (Vancouver, Washington) apple wine label, ca. 1940s
Bumpersticker urging voters to vote for Initiative 229 to repeal the Blue Law, Washington state, 1966