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State Historical Society of Iowa

Prohibition Exhibition Comes to State Historical Museum of Iowa Sept. 1-Oct. 20

Aug 24, 2018

DES MOINES – There was a time when the spigot ran dry on liquor in America.

From 1920 to 1933, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made it illegal for Americans to manufacture, sell or transport "intoxicating beverages." That pivotal period of history is captured in a new traveling exhibition called "Spirited: Prohibition in America," which comes to the State Historical Museum of Iowa Sept. 1-Oct. 20.

“Almost a century has passed since Prohibition, and this traveling exhibition provides visitors the opportunity to discover its impact across the country,” said Susan Kloewer, administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa. “Iowa’s own Prohibition story intersects with this controversial time in our country's history, and museum visitors can explore this topic further through an Iowa-focused display highlighting Iowa's story.”

The exhibition has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with additional support from Mid-America Arts Alliance. “Spirited: Prohibition in America” was organized by The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

When Prohibition was added to the U.S. Constitution, holding the same status as the freedom of speech and the abolition of slavery, it stirred up a passionate debate between the “wets” and “drys” that defined that tumultuous era.

The exhibition takes museum visitors back to the time of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists, and real-life legends, such as Al Capone and Carrie Nation. In addition, a complementary display explores the story of Prohibition in Iowa with historical photos and artifacts from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Visitors will learn about the role of liquor in American culture, the cultural revolution of the roaring ’20s, the rise of organized crime, the spread of morality campaigns, and the development of alternatives to booze, such as Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine, “near beer” and good old Coca-Cola.

Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division is a partner for this traveling exhibition and is promoting it with graphics on a semi-truck that will log thousands of miles traveling throughout Iowa in the coming months.

"We are proud to partner with the State Historical Museum to promote this exhibition," said Stephen Larson, administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. "It's important that we study Prohibition through the lens of history to understand how alcohol regulation has evolved to balance business needs with the legal and social responsibilities that protect public health and safety. I encourage all Iowans to visit the museum and learn more about this fascinating exhibition."

Along with the exhibition, the State Historical Museum will present a program about liquor-by-the-drink laws in Iowa, a screening of "Whiskey Cookers" and a "History on the Rocks" program with Central College historian Lori Witt. More information follows:

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.