Repeal Day … it should be a national holiday.

Banners announcing prohibition on Louisville liquor store

Banners on a Louisville, Ky liquor store announce imminent prohibition and encourage patrons to stock up, circa 1920.

On Monday, November 27, 1933, Kentucky became the 33rd state to pass the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.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to take away a freedom from its citizens, so it is only appropriate that it is also the only amendment that has been repealed.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.

Schenley advertisement

"Some day they'll be back for your guest's enjoyment..." Schenley Distilleries Company anticipates the return of bonded whiskey in the post-prohibition era. From the United Distillers Collection, circa 1937.

 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.

Mike Veach

3 comments on “Repeal Day … it should be a national holiday.

  1. A.J.

    I would proudly be the first to sign your Petition to make Repeal Day a national holiday…hint, hint. Great article.

  2. Michele

    I an trying to find out the name of the oldest bar that is still operating in the Louisville area?

  3. Mike Veach

    It all depends upon how you want to define “Oldest”. Because of prohibition the saloons and taverns of the city were closed for about 14 years. This forced many long time establishments out of the business, but there are some bars that did come back after the repeal of prohibition. I would venture to say that the bar at the Seelbach hotel is the oldest in the city still operating today since the Seelbach opened in 1905. Prohibition closed the bar but it did open again as soon as prohibition was repealed. The Pendennis Club dates back to 1881, but they have only been in their present location since 1928, so it could be argued they have had a bar since 1881, but the present bar has only been operating since December 1933 when prohibition was repealed.


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