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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Oct 21, 2022

Some thought that prohibition would solve many problems in the United States. But, in fact, many problems got worse as drinking went underground. Among them, drinking amongst women increased dramatically. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------ 

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Darby Ratliff, a researcher at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on 88.1 KDHX. ———

One of the biggest questions around Prohibition was whether or not it was effective. When Prohibition came into effect, people believed that it would greatly improve American life. Billy Sunday, a celebrated preacher and evangelist during this period remarked the following when the amendment was passed: “The reign of tears is over…The slums will soon only be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jailhouses into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh.” ———

Yet, when the ban on the use and distribution of alcohol went into effect on January 17th, 1920, many would notice that instead of a dry nation, Americans were drinking more than ever. In fact, after seeing a rise in the number of alcoholics treated in City Hospital, the St. Louis Health Commissioner Max Starkloff commented, “There is no such thing as prohibition in St. Louis.” ———

So what were the effects of Prohibition? One of the most obvious lasting effects is evident in today’s drinking establishments. Prior to Prohibition, it was mostly men that were drinking in saloons. However, once Prohibition went into effect, saloons were immediately in danger, and many tried to pivot, becoming restaurants or soda parlors. Only about 60% survived the first year of Prohibition. Notably, one saloon that did make it, Garavelli’s, would stay open through the mid-1970s. Most famed among its many owners is Cardinals pitcher Stan Musial. ———

While saloons struggled, speakeasies flourished, and while we might today picture a 1920s speakeasy filled with flappers, flowing cocktails, and loud jazz music, speakeasies also revolutionized the way people consumed alcohol. First, speakeasies were made to cater to both women and men, incorporating table service, powder rooms, and entertainers—none of which would have been found in saloons. Additionally, it was unusual to refer to liquor using a brand name in a saloon., People starting using brands to avoid drinking questionable alcohol that may have been made at home as well as to express their sophistication and taste. ———

When Prohibition ended, some saloons welcomed the transition back—or, at least the legal transition back—to selling alcohol, but many of the changes to the social side of drinking were here to stay. After all, there were an estimated 3,000 speakeasies in St. Louis alone! ———

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Darby Ratliff and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———