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Prohibition Passed Congress – on ‘This Date in Central Minnesota History’

Some hunters drinking beer in 1915 (Stearns History Museum)

UNDATED – October 28th, 1919 – Volstead Act authorizing Prohibition passed Congress.

The National Prohibition Act, which made the production, sale, and transport of “intoxicating liquors” illegal, was passed by Congress on this date in 1919. This Act, which was the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was called the Volstead Act after the man who introduced it to the House, Minnesota Representative Andrew Volstead. Volstead brought the bill before the House on June 27, 1919. It passed the House on July 22, and passed the Senate on September 5. It was then vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson on October 27, but his veto was overridden by the house and the bill officially became law on October 28, 1919.

Iten Brothers Saloon (aka Etens Bar) in St. Cloud in 1909 (Stearns History Museum)

The bill did not specifically prohibit the use of intoxicating liquors (any beverage that contained more than 0.5% alcohol), it only listed that “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.” Often called “the noble experiment”, the act didn’t go over very well with Stearns County citizens.

Central House Saloon and Eating House in Cold Spring in 1900 (Stearns History Museum)

This resistance came as no surprise. The people of Stearns County in 1919 were predominantly German Catholics, and they had long standing traditions and liberal attitudes towards drinking. Now no longer able to buy booze, Stearns County folk took to making their own! At first, most of this moonshining was for personal consumption and made in tea kettles or five-gallon pails. But, as the demand grew, the stills became larger and more sophisticated. Many families turned to producing moonshine which they then sold to help make it through the Depression.

Prohibition raid in St. Paul in 1925 (Stearns History Museum)

As the process became more refined, the end product improved and became more potent. One particular Stearns County recipe became famously known as “Minnesota 13”. This was primarily made in the Holdingford area, though it was made in other parts of the county as well. Named for the corn from which it was made, it was often as high as 180 proof. There were many speakeasies around the county and it was easy for anyone to find a drink if they wanted one.

The “noble experiment” was deemed a failure. 39 states voted to for the 21st Amendment in 1933 which ended Prohibition. Stearns County residents voted 4 to 1 to end prohibition.

Thanks to Sarah Warmka and the Stearns History Museum for their help with our series, “This Date in Central Minnesota History” on WJON.

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