The United States' experiment with the prohibition of alcohol is a fascinating subject. The history and stories of the period are an endless source of interest for history buffs and, being one of those, I find myself captivated by the newspapers of the days. I've pulled a few of those stories from the papers of 1933 which give a sweeping look at how Americans were reacting to the upcoming repeal of Prohibition.
This selection of news clippings come from Google's archive and show the actual paper spreads, which are interesting to browse beyond the liquor stories. You'll find the wet/dry argument scattered throughout almost every edition - typically highlighted because of my search for repeal and prohibition. I chose clippings from the lesser known newspapers throughout the country because I personally find them more interesting than some of the newspaper giants, and because as of publication of this article, all of them are available to view for free.
The Evening Independent - St. Petersburg, Florida
January 16, 1933
On the 13th "birthday" of Prohibition, this article explains quite clearly how the lingering battle between the wet and dry camps is playing out. This report is during the period when Congress was debating the legalization of 3.2% beer and wine, which did pass and went into effect on April 8th, 1933.
From the article: "Democrats said it would be approved speedily by that committee and by the senate. Drys planned no drive against it, being confident, they said, that President Hoover would veto such a measure."
The article also notes the December vote for total repeal that "was defeated in the house by six votes..."
This edition of the paper includes excerpts from other newspapers in a section titled Gleanings From the Press. The last entry from the Sanford Herald discusses the opposition to the repeal of the saloon.
Youngstown Vindicator - Youngstown, Ohio
February 20, 1933
Front page headlines at the end of February declare that the fate of Prohibition is now in the hands of the then 48 states in the U.S. This is history in the making, as the article states, "...the states now for the first time in history must act on such a change to the constitution." Just 2 months prior, the House margin was a 6 vote difference and now the vote was 289 to 121, proving many legislators rethought the issue. The article continues here, further detailing the trials and tribulations facing the federal level of the government regarding this matter.
From the article: "The suddenness and decisiveness of the Senate action in adopting the Blaine resolution started a chain of swift moving events that has caused some of the most ardent drys in the House to concede privately that they had no hope to blocking the wets."
The political strife of the country in 1933 went far beyond liquor. In Part Two of the Vindicator, between a story of farmers fighting for better milk prices and a snippet entitled "Hitler's Experiment," one finds a note that "In Washington today representative will declare officially that the "noble experiment" of prohibition was a mistake..."
The Pittsburgh Press - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
April 19, 1933
This particular page in The Pittsburgh Press is an interesting look at a few of the nation's issues regarding repeal weeks after the beer and wine prohibition ended. It begins with an explanation of why Oklahoma was a pivotal state. This state was dry since joining the union and remained that way until 1959, making it the longest running hold out in the country. No, Oklahoma did not ratify the 21st Amendment (see list of states that did at ProhibitionRepeal.com), yet the country did go wet despite the opening statement of this article which reads: "If Oklahoma goes wet, so goes the nation."
From the article: "...the crashing of this fortress virtually would wipe out dry hopes of keeping 13 states in the dry column for seven years to defeat repeal."
This edition of The Pittsburgh Press is captivating in many other fronts and I encourage you to scour it for yourself. One that stands out in particular is "When Beer Came Back" under the editorial It Seems to My by Heywood Broun on page 21. The writer reflects on an interview request from a reporter and says regarding this "...it's bad enough in the eyes of my Presbyterian relatives to see my name under 'the following also spoke' at Socialist meetings without appearing in your sheet as a 'bon vivant.'"
Lewiston Evening Journal - Lewiston, Maine
August 3, 1933
This is a fascinating transcript of a speech by Professor Brooks Quimby of Bates College presented at a program for the Androscoggin Pomona Grange in Turner, Maine. In addressing the agricultural audience, it is clear that Quimby is in the dry camp as he matter-of-factly points out the facts about whether repeal will be good for farmers. His speech is riddled with figures, uses Canadian repeal and increased crime as an example, and questions the moral and financial benefits of hard liquor legalization. It's one of the best accounts of the Prohibitionist attitude in the middle of highly contested year.
From the article: "Yet, by taking advantage of a present and natural desire of people to get out of the depression, those who would make money out of the poverty and weaknesses of their fellow beings are making many honest people believe that the repeal of prohibition will improve conditions."
The Evening Independent - St. Petersburg, Florida
December 6, 1933
Reflecting on the events of repeal, this AP reporter notes that things were pretty quiet the day after the big event. Surprisingly, celebrations were milder than forecasted and the speedy passage of the 21st Amendment led to concerns for immediate demand. That included preventing bootleggers from taking advantage of the situation while legal distillers and brewers caught up with production. Temporary measures were taken and this report also includes excerpts from President Roosevelt's proclamation.
From the article: "The temporary liquor import committee...continues issuing permits for immediate importation of American-type bourbon and rye whisky suitable for blending."
If repeal was not the front page headline of the day, then what was? The Lindbergh flight across the south Atlantic (not the New York-Paris trip). However, further down the front page the headline reads Chicago Folks Have Headache (it looks like they partied hard in the Windy City) and the next column reports Maine's vote for ratification, while other small headlines liter the Independent, including a small tribute "Pioneer of Repeal", Captain William Stayton, on page 8.
Berkeley Daily Gazette - Berkeley, California
December 6, 1933
On the other side of the country, the December 6th edition of the Berkeley Daily Gazette is filled with short articles regarding Prohibition and the future of the country. Highlights include a reminder of Henry Ford's threat of pulling out of the U.S. should liquor return (his factory workers were required to remain dry or lose their jobs), New York speakeasies trying to go legit frantically applying for licensing, and the new taxes which would hopefully help bring the country out of the Depression.
Though the nation may have been wet, many places remained dry and that included Washington D.C. In a Capitol Hill gossip column, the writer laments about the loss of saloons that once littered the capitol. Shoomaker's seemed to be a hotspot and of that establishment he wrote: "The bartenders were gentlemen of the old school, always perfectly attired, always on their dignity. Gus, the head bartender, taught Sunday School."
From the article: "Then he [Roosevelt] appealed, personally, to the 'good sense of the American people not to bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquor.'"