Prohibition: America tries to go dry

Bootleggers. Washington State Archives. Clark County Photograph Collection. 1927.


The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect Jan. 16, 1920. It banned the sale, transportation, import, and export of all intoxicating liquor throughout the United States and all territories under the jurisdiction of the federal government. In Washington state, however, the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of liquor began Jan. 1, 1916. Prohibition ended nationally in 1933.


Start with secondary sources 

Use secondary sources to gain basic knowledge of your topic, its significance, and historical context.

Ask a Librarian online at Washington State Library to get expert help in locating useful secondary sources. 


Then use primary sources

Use primary sources to deepen your understanding of the topic, and assemble evidence to support your own analysis and interpretation.

Ask an Archivist online at Washington State Archives to get expert help in locating useful primary sources.


Some key historical research questions:

  • Why was a constitutional amendment to ban liquor ratified in the United States?
  • What economic and social conditions influenced the establishment of Prohibition?
  • How well did it work?
  • Why was it repealed in 1933?
  • How did prohibition affect law enforcement, organized crime, and the justice system?
  • Why did the prohibition of liquor manufacture and sales begin four years earlier in Washington?
  • How many other states banned liquor before nationwide prohibition?
  • What are bootleggers, speakeasies, and moonshiners, and what roles did they play in Prohibition?
  • What did Washington and other states do to control the manufacture and sale of liquor after Prohibition?
  • What are “blue laws”?
  • How do efforts to stop the consumption of alcohol through Prohibition compare with our efforts to stop the consumption of other addictive substances?
  • Consider other possibilities for historical questions as you analyze and interpret this topic.


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