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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Prohibition


a policy outlawing the sale of alcoholic beverages, but also used for the time period, 1920-1933, when alcohol sales were illegal in the U.S.

Wisconsin's first effort at prohibition occured in 1853, whenáthe question of whether the legislature should enact a law prohibiting the sale of liquor in the state was submitted to a vote of the people. It was carried affirmatively by a vote of 27,579 to 24,109. In 1855 the legislature enacted a law prohibiting the sale of liquor and Governor Barstow vetoed it.

Prohibition became federal law on January 29, 1919, with the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, or transportation of intoxicating liquor starting in 1920. To clarify its terms, Congress passed the Volsted Act in October 1919, which defined an intoxicating beverage as one that contained one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume. During Prohibition many Wisconsin breweries began to make "near beer" while others tried to produce soda, ice cream, and cheese; many simply went bankrupt, while organized crime took over black market liquor distribution. In 1926, Wisconsin voters approved a referendum amending the Volsted Act that allowed the manufacture and sale of beer with 2.75 percent alcohol, and in 1929 they repealed Wisconsin┐s prohibition enforcement law. Pledging loyalty to the ┐will of the people┐ as expressed in these referendums on alcohol, Wisconsin Senator John J. Blaine (q.v.) proposed a constitutional amendment for the repeal of prohibition. The U.S. Senate modified Blaine┐s resolution to satisfy antiprohibitionists and passed the measure without delay. On December 5, 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified and national prohibition ended. View more information elsewhere at

View pictures relating to brewing at Wisconsin Historical Images.

View pictures relating to prohibition at Wisconsin Historical Images.

View related articles at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

[Source: Wisconsin: comprising sketches of counties, towns, events, institutions, and persons, arranged in cyclopedic form, ed. by Ex-Gov. Geo. W. Peck (Madison, Wis., Western Historical Association, 1906); Turning Points in Wisconsin History]
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