In March 1936, melting snow and relentless spring rain caused significant flooding in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, killing 25 people and resulting in more than $41 million USD in damages. The state’s legislators acted quickly, passing a temporary 10 percent tax on all wine and liquor sold in Pennsylvania to help pay for the area’s recovery. Within six years, the town’s losses were covered, but the tax never went away. In fact, the 10 percent tax became a 15 percent tax in 1963, and it was increased again in 1968 to 18 percent, where it remains today. Since 1936, this tax has netted about $15.4 billion USD -- almost $300 million USD a year -- for Pennsylvania. Since 1997, there have been over a dozen bills introduced to repeal or reduce the tax, but none has been passed.
A flood of national help:
- The 1936 Johnstown flood, often referred to as the St Patrick’s Day Flood, was preceded by rains that started on March 9th and continued until March 22nd. The deluge was so bad that President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed through major national flood control legislation in 1936 and 1937.
- In November 1943, Gilbert Van B. Wilkes of the US Army Corps of Engineers reported to Johnstown leaders that the flood problem had been solved. Johnstown began to promote the city as "Flood Free.”
- Johnstown's history has been marked by a series of tragic floods. Besides the 1936 flood, the town was struck by the Great Flood of 1889, which killed an astonishing 2,209 people. Another disastrous flood occurred in 1977, killing 84 people.