Nevadans Gambled on Prohibition and Lost

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Nevadans had not only been strong supporters of National Prohibition, which was established in 1920, but had implemented their own statewide prohibition in 1918.

Nevada residents had believed that Prohibition would improve health, reduce crime, raise morality and protect young people. Their beliefs were to be shattered by reality.

Large numbers of people refused to be denied their freedom to drink. In one year alone, Nevada's approximately 90,000 residents obtained about 10,000 prescriptions for "medicinal alcohol."

But the demand far exceeded what could be met by medical prescriptions alone. That was satisfied by moonshiners and bootleggers who typically had to bribe law enforcement officers. The widespread corruption created a backlash against Prohibition in particular and against all law in general.

It became fashionable to violate Prohibition and for the first time in history drinking - suddenly the "forbidden fruit" - became popular among young women. Prohibition also promoted a dangerous pattern of drinking drinking less frequently but consuming more heavily. People didn't go to a speakeasy to savor a leisurely drink but to consume rapidly and heavily.

The alcohol made by moonshiners frequently contained toxic lead compounds from careless production as well as creosote for color and sometimes embalming fluid for extra strength. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or even painful death.

Prohibition led to the rapid expansion of organized crime and resulting violence. For example, in the winter of 1922, a Prohibition officer was shot in a battle with moonshiners, who left him to die in the snow.

Ironically, Prohibition denied the state much-needed tax revenue to address the very problems that it caused.

Nevadans are open-minded and came to realize that Prohibition not only failed to deliver its promises but, instead, threatened health, increased crime, reduced morality and endangered young people. So voters in the state overwhelmingly called for Repeal.

 

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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