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Awakened Spirit

We look back to the reasons prohibition failed and the accomplishments in regulation the government gained with its repeal.

August 2, 2011

By: Erin White, Special to KCTS 9

Prohibition was seen as a failed experiment when it was repealed in 1933. The strict regulation against liquor was ineffective against the social ills it was meant to cure. While many were greatly impacted by the regulation, others used their societal status or loopholes of the law to continue to purchase and consume alcohol.

Prohibition had come at a time of increased public drunkenness with workers often squandering their wages away at the neighborhood saloon. This increase in alcoholism and poor behavior came with a community who wanted it to stop.

With prohibition came a loss of profits that usually poured in from alcohol taxes and licensing fees. As the country suffered through the Great Depression, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. While the Great Depression would eventually give birth to new developments in Washington State, at the start it sent the region into debt and unemployment. The economy was in disrepair and needed the support alcohol revenues could bring.

The Great Depression did not have a great impact on Washington state until 1930, months after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Jobs were lost and banks closed down. Poverty struck the region hard and without the financial support of alcohol profits; the area began to lose sustainability.

The easily accessible loopholes of prohibition allowed the public to consume liquor with a medical prescription. Those without a prescription could secure their fix through bootleggers, rum runners or illegal speakeasies.

Illegal activity skyrocketed, an ironic comparison to the social tribulations prohibition was meant to solve.

It was this illegal activity and the ongoing need for additional profits to help boost the failing economy that gave way to the 21st Amendment, repealing prohibition in 1933. Although technically a failure, the repeal of prohibition helped to close the illegal saloons that endorsed the flourish of criminal activity that accompanied the dry years.

Related Links:
The Great Depression in Washington State
Prohibition Life and Loopholes: Interview with Daniel Okrent