Not exactly what you would expect to read--but that was the headline in the London Evening News 75 years ago this week. In November 1933, Utah was the last state needed (the 36th) to approve the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition.
Needless to say, the state with the largest number of LDS voters--all taught to avoid alcohol in any form--became unlikely heroes to "wets" (drinkers) across the nation. According to a recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune, as voters went to the polls to vote on local races as well as the amendment, LDS Church President Heber Grant even told Mormons: "I am not asking any man to vote against his conscience, but I am urging that before he votes for repeal he gets down on his knees and asks God if he is doing right."
Nonetheless, the long, misguided, national nightmare came to an end in Zion. Why? Economics were one big factor. There was money to be made in distillation and fermentation, as the longstanding beer and liquor industry in Utah suggested. That profits increased during Prohibition caught the attention of many. In the midst of the Great Depression, the state would profit from moving the underground liquor economy to a legal, taxable one.
Furthermore, many Utahns were not Mormon. White ethnics in the mines south of Salt Lake City, as well as Gentiles in the railroad and industrial town of Ogden were just two non-LDS populations with a sizable voice (and interest in regaining access to legal booze). Finally, Mormons themselves were only a generation removed from socially-acceptable drinking. Thomas Alexander, the current dean of LDS historians, argues in his book Mormonism in Transition (1986) that the Word of Wisdom, which banned alcoholic drink among true believers, was evenly enforced within the LDS church only in the early 1900s. Even then, some of the faithful were known to bend the rules if the good stuff was within reach.
For a little taste of this history, pour yourself some rye tonight. If you're really feeling historic, make it a rye and ginger. Regardless, raise your glass to the clear-eyed, dyed-in-the-wool patriotic voters of Utah (circa 1933) that delivered us all from darkness and brought us back into the light. Take a long, satisfying sip. And then take a look at this.