There have been two periods of Prohibition of alcoholic beverages in Birmingham. A Jefferson County measure restricting alcohol sales was in force between 1908 and 1911, and a statewide prohibition was in effect from July 1, 1915 until 1937.
The county-wide prohibition campaign was an effort, led by mayor George Ward and the Birmingham News to improve the city's notorious image following a series of bribary scandals involving liquor and gambling interests. Birmingham's “red light” districts, such as Pigeon’s Roost and Scratch Ankle, were also cited as both a public safety concern and a source of negative publicity.
In 1907 Ward and the News began a push for prohibition of alcohol within the city. A special election was held on October 28, 1907, and on New Years Day 1908, Jefferson County went dry. The experiment was repealed in 1911.
Birmingham would again experience prohibition beginning on July 1, 1915 with the Alabama legislature's passage of a total ban of alcohol over the veto of Governor Charles Henderson. The scene, as it appeared to visitors to Birmingham, was described by writer Julian Street:
Alabama has beaten her public bars into soda fountains and quick-lunch rooms, and though her club bars still look like real ones, the drinks served are so soft that no splash occurs when reminiscent tears drop into them.
When we were in Alabama each citizen who so desired was allowed by law to import from outside the State a small allotment of strong drink for personal use, but the red tape involved in this procedure had already discouraged all but the most ardent drinkers, and those found it next to impossible, even by hoarding their "lonesome quarts," and pooling supplies with their convivial friends, to provide sufficient alcoholic drink for a "real party."
We met in Birmingham but one gentleman whose cellars seemed to be well stocked, and the tales of ingenuity and exertion by which he managed to secure ample supplies of liquor were such as to lead us to believe that this matter had become, with him, an occupation to which all other business must give second place.
It was this gentleman who told us that, since the State went dry, the ancient form, "R. S. V. P," on social invitations, had been revised to "B. W. H. P.," signifying, "bring whisky in hip pocket".
National prohibition came into effect with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1918. This measure was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933. Alabama, however, remained dry until the establishment of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in 1937.
- Street, Julian (1917) American Adventures: A Second Trip "Abroad at Home" New York: The Century Co.
- Sellers, James Benson (1943) The Prohibition Movement in Alabama, 1702 to 1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce (1976) Century Plus: A Bicentennial Portrait of Birmingham, Alabama 1976 Birmingham: Oxmoor Press, p. 18.