Joy of the Prohibition Fight

The Prohibition amendment to Michigan’s constitution was adopted November 7, 1916, well before the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States’ constitution that would lead to national Prohibition. Historian Philip P. Mason points out that business leaders “supported the view that the widespread use of beer and liquor by workers sharply reduced productivity and increased absenteeism.” Through his company’s Sociological Department, Henry Ford had been trying to get his employees off the sauce. In his “Booze Sermon,” Boston preacher Billy Sunday inveighed, “Seventy-five percent of our idiots come from intemperate parents,” and urged his hearers to “line up for the prohibition.”

The May 1, 1917 date for the end of the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol in Michigan led to the Detroit Club’s “Farewell to John Barleycorn” blowout on April 20. But Ohio was still wet and Michigan’s alcohol was smuggled along the Dixie Highway between Toledo and Detroit.

Many Prohibition supporters, like Henry Bourne Joy, Jr., who had been prominent in the Rockefeller-funded Anti-Saloon League, and his wife Helen Hall Newberry Joy, attempted to set a good example. Henry was chairman of the Packard Motor Company, and Helen was doyenne of Grosse Pointe society. (During World War I, Henry left Packard and served in the United States Army’s signal corps.) But their altruistic resolve faded after they began to find their own household servants cleverly sneaking home-brewing operations.

“Plus that, was the fact that that of all of the surrounding community, nobody that I know of, except Mrs. Joy and myself, was practicing what we had voted for, which was another hard thump,” Henry Joy wrote in a 1928 letter to Andover classmate Herbert F. Perkins, of Chicago. The letter is among his papers at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library. Joy had visited Frank Croul, the Detroit police chief, and got an eye-opener. “I became convinced utterly, that the matter of prohibition was a totally futile proposition.”

It resulted in an “immense evil,” as he had told a reporter. “The situation was intensely aggravated by the character of the prohibition enforcement officers … shooting men without anything at all to warrant suspicion beyond their own individual notions. A perfectly good and innocent citizen was shot to death in his boat by prohibition officers because they thought he might be rum running, though he was doing nothing more than returning from a duck hunt with some dead ducks in his boat.”

The previous month Joy had written to the Detroit News, “When are we going to have the next killing here and who is going to be the victim?”

Around that time there came a party attended by Henry Ford, whom Joy, in a letter to another friend, found to be “the same old fellow, and the same simple fellow that he was in our old days. He chattered like a magpie for about two hours.”

Obit of Joy, Jr., sportsman and collector of Packard cars, who died in 1966.
The 1966 obit of Joy, Jr., yachtsman and ace skeet-shooter, not to mention Packard collector.

Repealing prohibition had become serious business, and Joy became an important voice. He joined the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, led by the du Pont brothers, and was vice president of the Michigan chapter. Enlisting a Joy in this cause was significant. Henry’s father, James F. Joy, helped to create the Michigan Central railroad and the locks at Sault Sainte Marie, where Lake Superior meets Lake Huron. Henry expanded the family fortune, not only with Packard, but by increasing the family’s property holdings. The 800 acres he purchased along Lake Saint Claire eventually became Selfridge airbase. Henry B. Joy, Jr., would manage their 4000-acre ranch in Montmorency County, which was the breeding ground of Henry B. Joy IV (against whom yours truly competed in the 2004 Alcan Winter Rally).

Ultimately, of course, and thanks in no small part to leadership from the likes of Henry Bourne Joy, prohibition was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933. All the deaths—innocents, smugglers, and lawmen alike—were for naught. And one wonders about the current prohibition against other drugs, which is causing such mayhem. Where is the next Henry Joy? Today’s business leaders are too discredited to be taken seriously on important social questions.


Billy Sunday’s sermon:

Henry Bourne Joy:



One thought on “Joy of the Prohibition Fight

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s