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Factors influencing the timing and type of state-level alcohol prohibitions prior to 1920

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We employ a 70-year panel to examine the factors that influenced the timing and type—statutory prohibition, constitutional prohibition, or local option—of US state-level alcohol regulations in the seven decades prior to national Prohibition in 1920. We find that alcohol interests such as the state’s level of employment in breweries and distilleries, as well as the amounts of barley grown, generally impacted a state’s legal regime. Our results also suggest that states with larger concentrations of “dry” Christian denominations were more likely to prohibit, while those with more “wet” denominations were less likely to do so. Nearest neighbor effects likewise were important: states were generally more likely to pass statewide prohibitions when their neighboring states had such prohibitions in place.

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  1. Cherrington (1920) divided the years 1850 to 1919 into six distinct periods. We enter period dummies for 1850 to 1869, 1870 to 1879, 1880 to 1893, 1894 to 1905, 1906 to 1912, and 1913 to 1919. Those time frames were labeled by Cherrington as “The First State-Wide Prohibition Wave”, “The Partisan Movement against Liquor Traffic”, “The Second State-Wide Prohibition Wave”, “Non-Partisan Cooperation for Local Prohibition”, “The Non-Partisan State Prohibition Movement”, and “The Non-Partisan Movement for National Constitutional Prohibition”, respectively. State fixed effects could not be entered into the model because seven states did not pass prohibition, meaning that they would be dropped from the sample.

  2. For the ordered probit specifications we report only the signs and (in)significances of the results, given the difficulty of interpreting any marginal effects generated and given that such results still provide meaningful information. Thus, we discuss the results for those models only in that context.

  3. “Brewers and Distillers” were combined into one group in 1850, so we disaggregated them based on the individual shares of Brewers and Distillers operating in the states in 1860. For Delaware and Florida, which reported no employment in either sector in the 1860 Census, we assigned all of the 1850 workers to distillers since the American Brewer Association’s database showed that no breweries operated in either state between 1844 and 1858. We did the same for other states, like Mississippi, which had no breweries in the ABA database in 1850.

  4. Debt data were taken from a multitude of sources including the US Department of the Interior (1872) and the US Department of the Interior, Census Office (1884, 1895), Ratchford (1941), Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine and Commercial Review for various years, and the Commercial Review and Financial Chronicle for various years. Years for which data were missing are also interpolated linearly.

  5. Data employed for demographic measures come from the US Census. Missing data again were interpolated linearly.

  6. Dates for the granting of women’s suffrage are from.

  7. Owing to the durability of constitutional amendments just noted, the period dummies for 1850–1869 and 1870–1879 were dropped from the model specifications.

  8. Data on the number of breweries are from the American Brewer Association’s database.


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Poelmans, E., Dove, J.A., Taylor, J.E. et al. Factors influencing the timing and type of state-level alcohol prohibitions prior to 1920. Public Choice 192, 201–226 (2022).

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