‘Prohibition has proved a fraud, a delusion and a snare’

Just months into prohibition, Perth whisky baron Tommy Dewar toured the United States to gauge the effects of the Volstead Act.

He returned to Scotland in October 1920 and gave an interview to The Courier claiming the new law was killing hundreds.

The managing director of John Dewar and Sons clearly had a vested interest in challenging the ban on alcohol but he was also quick to identify both the hypocrisy of prohibitionists and the criminality the law had unleashed.

Tommy Dewar, who had just been made Lord Dewar, toured the US in September and October 1920. Prohibition was enacted in January that year.

His interview with this newspaper opened with the statement: “Prohibition has proved a fraud, a delusion and a snare.”

He noted that people were building concrete basements to store alcohol and that many people who supported prohibition were stocking their cellars with drink. As he toured the northern states, he noted that it would be impossible to patrol the Canadian border over which alcohol poured.

He also discovered that fishermen were no longer catching fish. Instead they were retrieving cases of whisky dropped offshore by steamers.

Lord Dewar claimed he had evidence that spirits were being delivered to the US in torpedoes, in false fuel tanks in cars and even in coffins. The most serious incident he cited took place in Connecticut. Ten large drums of wood alcohol were shipped from Detroit to New York en route to the UK.

However, the alcohol was removed and replaced with water. The wood alcohol was then repackaged and distributed across Connecticut for human consumption. Lord Dewar said the incident left 100 dead, 200 blinded and 600 hospitalised.

“This is the kind of beverage they get under prohibition and this is but one of the flagrant incitements to law-breaking that prohibition supplies,” he said.

Tommy Dewar was born in Perth in 1864, the fifth son of John Dewar. He started work in his father’s High Street shop before the family built the firm into one of the world’s largest whisky producers, employing hundreds of people in Perth.