Prohibition in the Borderland

Starting in the 1870s, Texas had enacted laws that made it possible county by county to prohibit the sale of alcohol.  So as the United States moved toward Prohibition, Texas was becoming dryer and dryer. As you might expect, it was rural counties that led the way – at least those in the eastern and northern part of the state – and it was those counties in urban areas and along the border that resisted the temptation to get rid of strong drink.

Alcohol remained legal in Mexico during Prohibition in the US, and that country was a major source of illegal alcohol distributed throughout Texas and beyond.

This photo was taken on May 25, 1934 -- less than six months after nationwide Prohibition ended. The trucks belong to the Lightsey Carroll Company Distributors, and text on their sides encourages Texans to "Drink Falstaff Beer." The image was taken by the Ellison Photo Company, whose collection is now held by the Austin History Center.*

Broadcast across the state on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 in conjunction with Ken Burns’ Prohbition, KCOS-TV and Texas PBS created a 10-minute film that addressed the current drug-related violence along our border with Mexico, and the debate – sometimes civil, and sometimes not – about how best to address it.

What lessons did we learn and how did prohibition change the Lone Star State. Those are the themes of a 10-minute companion piece. Check local listings.

A number of partners shared video and photographs to help tell this unique story of Prohibition in the Borderland including the Texas Archive of the Moving Image.

Here’s some more information about what the prohibition era was like in other cities:

The Texas Constitution, gave counties, towns and cities exclusive power to decide whether or not to ban alcoholic beverages, in what is known as the county-option or local option method. Over the years leading up to prohibition many of those communities voted to become dry, while others narrowly defeated ballot initiatives to stay wet.

By 1908, Texas contained 152 dry counties, 66 partially dry counties, and 25 completely wet counties, including Bexar County.

By 1910, the Texas prohibition movement had reached the limits of the county-option plan, as the number of wet and dry counties remained fairly constant year after year. Prohibitionists attempted to enact state prohibition by amending the Texas Constitution, but the proposal went down to defeat in the 1911 referendum.



Between 1890 and 1918, Texas had as many as forty-three breweries; many, however, started and ended within a few years. They either suffered from lack of capital, produced an inferior product, or could not compete with the national or large San Antonio breweries. Of the 43, 17 were in San Antonio. Many were operated in the same plants under successively different names. One brewery in San Antonio changed names and owners five times in six years.

On January 16, 1919, national Prohibition forced thirteen Texas breweries to stop the legal production of beer. (Texas State Handbook)


* Image credit: Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas, Image # C06561
** Image credit: Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
*** Image credit: From the program of the 13th Annual Convention, American Legion courtesy of the El Paso Public Library, Border Heritage Center