By the 1910s, Peoria’s major industry was the distilling of whiskey and, to a lesser extent, brewing beer. The industry relied on pure spring water and the vast acres of corn that surrounded the city. Peoria so dominated the whiskey business that it was reportedly paying half of the nation’s alcohol taxes, some $36,000,000 a year.
With the passing of the 18th amendment in 1919, Peoria was deeply worried that its economy would collapse. Peoria losing whiskey was akin to Detroit losing autos or Pittsburgh steel. However, many of the distilleries and breweries were converted to producing industrial chemicals (paints and solvents) and non-alcoholic food products (such as malt and yeast). In contrast to Chicago, Peoria maintained a reputation as business friendly, union-free “open shop town,” that attracted new industry and, along with it, a growing population. By 1925, Peoria and its suburbs had swollen to just over 100,000 inhabitants.