The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – known as the Prohibition Amendment – was adopted in the 1920s and made the making, selling, possessing, and consuming of alcoholic drinks illegal.
In the early 1930s, liquor was illegal, but people in Nebraska found ways to buy or make their own alcohol. York County farmer Elroy Hoffman says his father made corn whisky illegally. “It was pretty darn good stuff, too,” he says. “When I was a kid I always heard older boys talking about buying ‘near’ beer, you know. And I didn’t even know what that was. And then, they would spike it with Ð now, where they got [the alcohol,] I suppose from a bootlegger somewhere, I don’t know. But, I never did none of that, I tell you.”
Because of Prohibition, organized crime increased, especially in major cities. Gangsters got richer and more violent as they fought over control of liquor sales and other illegal activities such as prostitution and gambling, which also grew during the 1930s. The public was fascinated by big-city mob bosses who became the subject of newspaper stories and movies. Although they were far from urban speakeasies and gangland crime, rural residents also were fascinated by the underworld activities of mobsters. Gangs and outlaws with names like “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Baby Face” Nelson, Ma and Fred Barker, and Bonnie and Clyde grabbed newspaper headlines. John Dillinger’s armed robberies took place mostly in the Midwest, and he was named “Public Enemy Number One.”
Carla Due (left) remembers people she knew hiding hootch and making home brew. One time, the alcohol really became a problem when a man she was riding with couldn’t find his hootch.
Millie Opitz (right) admits that she and her friends spiked soft drinks with home brew. And she remembers one time the home brew blew up.
Walter Schmitt says their neighbors in Gresham made homebrew. Although his parents drank very little, they decided to try making homebrew. They bought the ingredients at the grocery store, took it home, and put it together. He says his folks “bottled the stuff up and put it down in the basement.” But something went wrong. “One night, late in the night, BOOM! The homebrew stuff all blew up.”
Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and sent to the states for a vote. Thirty-six states held constitutional conventions to ratify the repeal in 1933. The national debate over Prohibition divided city and rural residents, ethnic groups, social classes, and religions.
In 1934, Nebraskans voted 60 percent to 40 percent to repeal Prohibition.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.