Prohibition as Part of the War Effort
Even before the 18th Amendment, prohibiting alcohol, was ratified, about 65 percent of the country had already banned alcohol. In 1916, seven states adopted anti-liquor laws, bringing the number of states to 19 that prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. America’s entry into World War I made Prohibition seem patriotic since many breweries were owned by German Americans. Wayne Wheeler, lobbyist for the Anti-Saloon League, urged the federal government to investigate “a number of breweries around the country which are owned in part by alien enemies.”
In December 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment. A month later, President Woodrow Wilson instituted partial prohibition to conserve grain for the war effort. Beer was limited to 2.75 percent alcohol content and production was held to 70 percent of the previous year’s production. In September, the president issued a ban on the wartime production of beer.
National Prohibition was defended as a war measure. The amendment’s proponents argued that grain should be made into bread for fighting men and not for making liquor. Anti-German sentiment aided Prohibition’s approval. The Anti-Saloon League called Milwaukee’s brewers “the worst of all our German enemies,” and dubbed their beer “Kaiser brew.”
Unsuccessfully, the brewing industry argued that taxes on liquor were paying more for the war effort than were liberty bonds. Yet even after Prohibition was enacted, many ethnic Americans viewed beer or wine drinking as an integral part of their culture, not as a vice.