"Bone Dry" Liquor Law of 1917

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The Arkansas State Liquor Law of 1917 (commonly called the "Bone Dry" Liquor Law of 1917), passed in January 1917 and outlawed "the transportation, delivery, and storage of liquor, excepting only alcohols used for scientific, religious, and medical purposes." The "Bone Dry" Law finally finished off "wet" supporters in Arkansas by attempting to completely eliminate alcohol sales in the state. The only victory left for them to claim was a Supreme Court decision that the "Bone Dry" Law did not prevent individuals from crossing into the state with alcohol. The full intention of the "Bone Dry" Liquor Law of 1917 came to a climax in 1919 when Arkansas ratified the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, making the sale of alcohol illegal in the entire United States. The Governor of Arkansas at the time, Charles Brough, was a major supporter of the 1917 act, as well as a supporter of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The "Bone Dry" law followed on the heels of several other laws. While part of the Confederacy, Arkansas banned the use of corn to make whiskey in order to guarantee supplies of the grain for the Army. An 1885 law closed saloons on Sundays, and 1899 law outlawed the sale of alcohol from one private citizen to another. Many counties by 1900 had already made themselves "dry." The Arkansas Liquor Law of 1913 made the entire state officially dry, though anti-prohibitionists claimed a small victory in that the act allowed saloons and bars to petition county courts for licenses, much like Arkansas bars and clubs do today. The Newberry Act of 1915 outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol within state borders.

An interesting footnote to the Prohibition fight in Arkansas is that many of the successes could be attributed to prominent African-Americans in the state urging blacks with voting rights to pass prohibition measures.

Prohibition laws in general made clandestine drinking and bootlegging much more popular. Prohibition ended in failure. Fifty-nine percent of Arkansans voted for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. The federal withdrawal from legislated morality was accomplished by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933. For two more years, Arkansas prohibited the sale of beer and wine with more than 3.2 percent alcohol by volume. In 1935, faced with yawning Depression-era deficits, the General Assembly legalized the manufacture and sale of all types and concentrations of alcoholic beverages to raise revenue.


  • Tom Dillard, "How's About a Drink?" Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 18, 2010.

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