Alcohol Prohibition and Repeal in Missouri

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Most Missourians had supported the establishment of National Prohibition in 1920. They were convinced that outlawing alcohol would increase prosperity, improve health, lower crime, decrease violence, and protect young people. 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, non-alcoholic drinks, malt, and other products. But most could not survive. Their employees and those of supporting industries were thrown out of work.

It was not just breweries, but supporting business and their employees who suffered. Missouri was an early producer of wine and Prohibition destroyed wineries and caused severe economic problems for grape growers.

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.

To operate, 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 in particular and all law in general. With alcohol now a "forbidden fruit,"
large number of women and young people began drinking for the first time.

Prohibition led to a new pattern of drinking - consuming less frequently but more heavily. People didn't go to a speakeasy to savor drinks over a meal but to consume heavily while 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 at the very same time that it was causing mounting expenses for law enforcement, courts and jails.

As the problems caused by Prohibition escalated, Missourians decided that the expected cure was much worse than the disease.

Prohibition didn't increase prosperity but destroyed it, didn't improve health but endangered it, didn't lower crime but created it, didn't reduce violence but increased it, and didn't protect young people but endangered them.

Although Missouri voters called for Repeal three-quarters of a century ago, temperance sentiment still exists and is expressed in numerous restrictive laws.

Let's hope that residents of today will finish the job by ending all vestiges of that counterproductive experiment in social control known as Prohibition.

 

Additional Reading:

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition.
    New York: Greenwood Press, 1968 (Originally published 1950).
  • Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY:
    Arcade, 1996.
  • Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. New York:Free Press, 1981.
  • Clark, N. H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: G. P.
    Pumam's Sons, 1965.
  • Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Kobler, John. Ardent spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P.
    Putnam's Sons, 1973.
  • Krout, John A. The Origins of Prohibition. New York: Knopf, 1925.
  • Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League.
    NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.
  • Willebrandt, Mabel Walker. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN:
    Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.

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