🔒 Prohibition ended 88 years ago today: Here’s what it looked like in Detroit

Michigan banned alcohol 3 years prior to national Prohibition

DETROIT – Dec. 5 marks the anniversary of the end of Prohibition in the United States, otherwise known as “Repeal Day.”

Although the start of national Prohibition was on Jan. 17, 1920, in Michigan, the ban of alcohol was old news.

Here's some background from the Walter P. Reuther Library:

Michigan church, business, and community leaders had been working to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks since 1852, believing that such a ban would reduce crime and improve both family life and employee productivity. Their campaigns succeeded in 1916, when the citizens of Michigan approved a prohibition amendment to the state constitution.

Related: 6 Metro Detroit bars that used to be speakeasies during Prohibition era

Bootlegging operations and smuggling networks formed within hours of Michigan’s prohibition going into effect on May 1, 1917.

By the time Prohibition took effect nationally, the residents of Michigan and Ontario were well versed in bootlegging, and they nearly perfected their trade during the next 13 years.

Seventy-five percent of all the alcohol smuggled into the United States during Prohibition crossed the border at the Windsor-Detroit Funnel.

By 1929, rum-running was Detroit’s second largest industry, netting $215 million per year.

More: How rum-running became one of Detroit's biggest industries during Prohibition era

Gangs began capitalizing on the smuggling trade in 1923, especially Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang. Prohibition was intended to improve family life and reduce crime. Instead, a new and dangerous criminal class had developed.

Take a look through some of these historic photos of the Prohibition era in Detroit:

Below: A beer-laden truck breaks through the ice of Lake St. Clair en-route to Detroit from Ontario. Circa 1920s.

Below: Streams of alcohol pour off of the upper level of a speakeasy in Detroit during a Prohibition raid. (1929)

Below: A Detroit News photographer diagrams the process of landing alcohol from Canada in Detroit at the foot of Riopelle Street during Prohibition. (1929)

Below: A police officer inspects a cable that funneled alcohol underneath the Detroit River from Canada. (1929)

Below: A tunnel used to transport alcohol between buildings is discovered during a Prohibition raid in Detroit. (1920s)

Below: A rum-runner lies in wait on a dock in Sandwich, Ontario for the signal that it is clear to bring alcohol across the Detroit River to a landing plot on 17th Street. Diagram courtesy of a Detroit News Photographer. (1929)

Below: Officers raid a supposed speakeasy in search of alcohol. (1920s)

Below: Detective Harvey Scher speaks before the court during a hearing concerning the Purple Gang. At his right, Harry Millman and Morris Raider stand with their attorney, Neil Kelly. (1931)

Related: When the 'Purple Gang' ruled Detroit


Below: An interior view of a blind pig located at 932 E. Columbia, near the corner Randolph in downtown Detroit. (1931)

Below: Alcohol, discovered by Prohibition agents during a raid on an illegal distillery, pours out of upper windows of three--story storefront in Detroit during Prohibition. (1929)

Below: A Prohibition agent stands in a flatbed of confiscated alcohol at the Trumbull Street Police Station on Detroit's West Side. (1920s)

Below: Officers admire a cache of alcohol captured during a raid. At right are a pile of suitcases, presumably used to transport the contraband throughout Detroit.

Because of the lawlessness that Prohibition inspired, as well as the prospect of jobs that legal alcohol production could provide during the Great Depression, in 1933 Michigan reversed its own prohibition laws and, calling for the repeal of the 18th Amendment, the United States Congress sent the 21st Amendment to the states for ratification.

Michigan was the first state to ratify the amendment, and Prohibition was officially repealed on December 5, 1933.

Sources: Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit Historical Society

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.