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During the late teens of the 20th century, one national political campaign of particular interest to Napa County residents was the Prohibition movement. In early 1918, a few local newspaper articles foretold of a “drier” future. The January 1919 issues of the Napa Daily Journal and Napa Daily Register provided frequent updates on the status of the federal amendment mandating the “drying out” of America.

Locally, the signs of change began in 1917. For example, some of Napa’s New Year’s Eve revelers had to find new favorite “watering holes” to ring in 1918. A Register article explained further: “In accordance with the provisions of Napa’s new liquor ordinance, the number of bars in this city were reduced to 12 at midnight at the last day of the old year...”

The eight drinking establishments that closed on Dec. 31, 1917 included five saloons and three hotel bars. According to the Register, those eight “retiring” bars were eligible for compensation drawn from a special account known as the “Saloon Reduction Fund.”

The Register reported, “There is at present $5,075 in the fund.” However, the exact amount each “retiree” would receive was yet to be determined by the city’s newly appointed appraisers responsible for evaluating the worth of each saloon or bar.

About a year later, a January 1919 Journal headline announced, “(State) Senate Ratified Sheppard Bill.” The article reported the California Senate voted 24 to 15 in favor of adopting the “National Dry Amendment.” Two days later, a Journal headline stated, “California Joins Dry States.” The newspaper reported the Assembly had voted in favor of ratification and, ultimately, enacted Prohibition in California by a vote of 42-28.

Although it did pass, there were Assembly members who tried to stop, or at least delay, that ratification. The Journal continued, “Assemblyman Bismarck Bruck of Napa and Carlon Green led the fight to have the former’s resolution providing for an advisory vote by the people on the proposed amendment before the Legislature took action, met defeat, as did all the other propositions to delay the vote on the proposed amendment.”

A few days later, a Register article reported four more states had also “gone dry” by ratifying and adopting the U.S. constitutional amendment. Those states were Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and North Carolina.

By mid-January 1919, it was clearly evident the enactment of Prohibition was imminent in the U.S. However, Bruck made an effort to protect his local constituents. The Journal reported, “To determine the losses ‘resulting from prohibition due to the ratification,’ and recommended ‘ways and means to best compensate such losses,’ Assemblyman Bismarck Bruck of Napa county to-day introduced a bill providing for the appointment by the Governor of a commission of five.”

Bruck’s bill proposed that 30 days after its enactment, the governor would be required to appoint five Californians to form the proposed commission. These non-compensated commissioners would investigate how Prohibition was hurting California’s viticulture industry, determine the actual parties affected and what would be an appropriate type or amount as well as the means and methods of compensation. The commissioners’ final requirement was to present a detailed report of their findings to the next, 44th, session of the California legislature.

As for the fate of Bruck’s bill, no mention of its status could be found in subsequent issues of either local newspaper.

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But, news of the inevitable was printed on the front page of the Jan. 17, 1919 Journal. The headline announced, “Country Goes Dry—Thirty-seven States, One More Than Required, Have Ratified Bone Dry Amendment — More to Follow.”

According to the article, the remaining 11 of the then 48 states of this country were expected to ratify Prohibition within the following few weeks. This ratification process took just over a year to complete after Congress had adopted the amendment on Dec. 18, 1917. The Journal added, “When word was flashed over the wires that the thirty-sixth State, Nebraska, had ratified the prohibition amendment, prohibition leaders declared that the accomplishment was the greatest piece of moral legislation in the history of the world.”

The Journal also said one year to the day following this national ratification “every saloon, brewery, distillery and wine press in the land must close its doors.” It added that Prohibition “would wipe out 236 distilleries, 992 breweries, and over 300,000 saloons and wholesale liquor establishments” nationwide.

The lengthy article ended with a prediction, Prohibition would “remove the liquor question from National, State and city politics for all time.”

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Rebecca Yerger is a Napa author and historian. Email her at yergerenterprises@yahoo.com.

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