On Monday, November 27, 1933, Kentucky became the 33rd state to pass the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. That week was Thanksgiving week and no other state voted on the issue until Tuesday, December 5th. First Ohio and then Pennsylvania passed the 21st Amendment, but it fell to Utah later in that day to be the 36th state to vote for repeal and end national prohibition. The 18th Amendment was the only Amendment to the United States Constitution to take away a freedom from its citizens, so it is only appropriate that it is also the only amendment that has been repealed. It ended 15 years of what can only be called a national tragedy. Prohibition cost people jobs, the government tax revenue and most importantly, it caused citizens to lose respect for the law of the nation.
Prohibition got its start in 1918 when the government passed “Wartime Prohibition”, prohibiting the distilleries from making beverage alcohol so they could supply the government’s war effort in Europe. Even when the war ended in November 1918, the government simply extended the law because the 18th amendment was well on its way to being passed and was indeed passed in January of 1919. The law called for prohibition to start one year to the day from the ratification of the 18th Amendment so prohibition officially started on January 16, 1920.
In the 15 years that had passed since the beginning of wartime prohibition much changed. The industry had lost many of its skilled workers due to age and death. The nation was in the middle of the Great Depression and the distilleries had to compete with Scotch and Canadian whiskies that were ready to enter the market immediately, while American distillers would have to wait four years before they could have an aged product ready for the market. Times were tough and they would not get better soon. The Second World War brought back wartime prohibition and it was 1946 before the distillers could begin to meet consumer demands for bourbon whiskey.
For those interested in these subjects, I recommend looking in the following collections at the Filson Historical Society. The Henry Watterson papers have editorials against prohibition. The Brown-Walker Family papers discuss Creel Brown’s plans for distilling in Florida after the repeal of prohibition. Finally, the Taylor-Hay family papers include scrapbooks dealing with the prohibition movement in the early 20th century and correspondence dealing with the K Taylor Distillery founded after the repeal of prohibition.