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Detroit – National Prohibition Test Site

German brewers circulated advertisements extolling the virtues of lager beer for the young and old alike.
From “Rum Running and t
he Roaring Twenties” by Philip P. Mason

The temperance movement was much stronger in Michigan
than in Ontario. In the 1800s this influenced both Hiram
Walker and J.P. Wiser’s decisions to move their distilleries to Canada.

The temperance movement in the US is documented as far back as 1733 when the colony of Georgia became the first colony to establish a prohibition decree. It was revoked in 1742.
In 1789 farmers of Litchfield, Connecticut began the first loose association of a temperance movement in the US by prohibiting its workers from drinking alcohol.

The temperance movement may have won the battle to legislate prohibition, but it lost the war to enforce it.

The first official association of the movement was founded in Boston in 1826 as the American Temperance Society. Emerging unions also dictated abstinence from alcohol to its members. The Anti-Saloon League was founded in 1892 in Oberlin, Ohio by Rev Howard Russell and is credited with leading the way for a dry nation. The theatrical, hatchet-wheeling antics of Carry Nation brought additional attention to the effort.

Michigan was no stranger to the temperance movement either. By 1911 forty of its eighty-three counties had gone dry. On May 1, 1917 state legislation took effect and Michigan went “dry” – saloon dry not liquor dry. But, due to a peculiar federal law it was illegal to buy or make alcoholic beverages in any state where their sale was illegal.

Michigan, and Detroit specifically, became a test site for national prohibition. Thus began a steady stream of vehicles to the Ohio border. This served as a trial run for the multitude of citizens who would soon be running rum (and other alcoholic beverages) across the waters from Ontario.

The war effort had an effect on the issue of prohibition in the US as well. On December 1, 1918 under authority of the Food Control Bill, President Wilson prohibited the use of barley for brewing.

In 1919 the Damon Law, the legislation that enabled Michigan to enforce its prohibition law, was ruled unconstitutional by way of a technicality. Soon after, however, the federal Volstead Act – prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transport of all beer, wine and spirits – was put into effect on January 16, 1920. This law gave authorities new support in their fight against the booze drinking public.


Hatchet wielding Carry Nation, who literally busted open rumshops at the turn of the last century, symbolized early prohibition movements. She was famous for leading groups of raiders who wrecked saloons with rocks and hatchets.
from “The Rumrunners, a prohibition scrapbook” by C. H. (Marty) Gervais

This legislation ushered in an era of corruption and chaos. By the late 1920s the federal government was expending 27% of its enforcement budget in Michigan. Interestingly, Michigan was the first state to ratify the 21st amendment, thus rescinding prohibition.

The temperance movement may have won the battle to legislate prohibition, but it lost the war to enforce it.

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