Adjusting the Lights: Prohibition Was Not Flipped On and Off Like a Switch


  • Eline Poelmans KU Leuven, Faculty of Economics and Business, Campus Brussels, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
  • Jason E. Taylor Central Michigan University


Prohibition; Repeal; beer; alcohol


Prohibition (1920-1933) in the United States is generally viewed as a period with a defined beginning and end. When one factors state and local bans into the discussion, however, the issue is much more complicated. Local prohibitions began in the 1830s and state-level bans appeared in the 1850s. On the eve of federal Prohibition, thirty-two states already had statutory or constitutional prohibitions in place and fifteen more had local options whereby municipalities within those states could prohibit alcohol. Prohibition’s end is also not as clear-cut as typically assumed. Many states legalized beer prior to “Repeal” and state- (and municipal-) level prohibitions remained in effect in many parts of the US even after Repeal. Were it a metaphorical light bulb, prohibition’s glow in the US would be controlled by a continuous dimmer knob rather than a dichotomous on/off switch. This paper documents the brightening and dimming of this light in the eras both before and after federal Prohibition.