Prohibition was a job-killer for Kentucky's bourbon makers

Lexington Herald-LeaderOctober 17, 2011 

In November 1919, Kentucky voters narrowly approved a state constitutional amendment banning the sale and distribution of alcohol in the state two months before national Prohibition went into effect.

Not until Jan 17, 1920, did the Volstead Act go into effect, making America, officially at least, a dry nation as provided by the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constituion.

Prohibition returned as a topic of conversation earlier this month with the premiere, on public television, of "Prohibition," a three-part documentary by popular film-maker Ken Burns. It traces the rise of the anti-liquor movement; shows how millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans chose to violate the national liquor ban; and details the vast, often violent, criminal industry that quickly sprang up to satisfy the country's thirst for illegal booze.

The documentary generally presents Prohibition as a bad idea that was doomed from the start. But some historians and social commentators say Prohibition produced benefits, lowering alcohol use and associated health and social problems, at least temporarily.

The idea that Kentucky — a state which takes so much pride in being the birthplace of bourbon whiskey and the home of many distilleries — could vote to ban alcohol seems almost unthinkable today. But historians say it was only typical of a period in which anti-alcohol fervor ran strong and dry forces successfully promoted Prohibition as a solution for many societal ills.

"There is something of a perception that the dries kind of pulled the wool over the eyes of the American people all of a sudden in 1919 and 1920," says Thomas Appleton, a professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University. "But that's not true. It was a movement that lasted a full century, and here in Kentucky it began in the 1830s and moved steadily forward."

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