Prohibition

Prohibition has happened to almost every country in the world. The nutshell version of the American Prohibition starts with American citizens in the late 1700s who fell into two groups: those who felt drinking alcohol was a sin (religious groups) and families weary of men spending money at saloons drinking while women and children were left at home penniless and starving. They believed that alcohol was a contributing factor in the rise in crime, health issues, relationship issues, and extreme poverty. Thus, the temperance movement was born.

 

For America, Prohibition officially started at one minute past midnight on January 17, 1920. However, Prohibition can be compared to a hurricane today in that you have plenty of warning before it hits, so large amounts of alcohol had previously been hoarded for years. When the supply ran out, alcohol was smuggled from Canada and Mexico, and bootleggers began making moonshine. People also took booze cruises twelve miles out (the legal distance) to international waters. Hidden secret bars called speakeasies opened, often hiding in a room behind a legal storefront business, or entrances were in alleys or in basements. It is believed that in New York City alone, there were over 100,000 speakeasies.

 

All of this created a booming business for bootleggers, but it also created a booming business for a new dark world of organized crime called the Mafia, which spread to all the large cities with many gangs and gangsters.

The Mafia made and sold “bathtub gin” to speakeasies (and to whoever wanted it) by purchasing moonshine from bootleggers, or legally through medical suppliers by infusing it with juniper berries and other herbs in an effort to get the smell and taste of pre-ban gin. (They used large containers such as barrels—not bathtubs.) After bottling, they would cut the moonshine with water by placing the bottles and jugs under bathtub faucets. (The bottles would not fit under a sink faucet.) Around 1,000 people would die yearly because it is said that sometimes they would obtain cheap (and poisonous) industrial alcohol, which was used for fuels, polishes, etc., and use that in the cutting process as well.

 

As for cocktails, more mixers and ingredients were added to the Mafia’s bathtub gin to mask the nasty burn, such as the Bee’s Knees, made with lots of lemon juice and honey. Cocktails made with smuggled rum, whiskey, and brandy included the Twelve Mile Limit, Mary Pickford, and Between the Sheets. But the average middle-to-lower-class Americans just mixed—any booze they could get—at home with ingredients as simple as plain juices, herbs, and homemade syrups. These recipes will always remain a mystery.

 

The Top Ten Things to Know About Prohibition

Prohibition (the noble experiment) did not outlaw the drinking of alcohol—it outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol.

 

Prohibition did not only occur in America. It has happened at different times all over the world and still exists in some countries (and US counties) today.

 

As of 2018, the American Constitution has twenty-seven amendments. The Eighteenth Amendment is when American Prohibition began (Tuesday, January 20, 1920) and the Twenty-First Amendment is when Prohibition ended (Tuesday, December 5, 1933) for a total of thirteen years, ten months, and fifteen days.

 

The Eighteenth Amendment did not happen in one fell swoop. Many states banned alcohol before, starting in 1851. It was the same for the Twenty-First Amendment; many states did not lift the ban for years and, today, there are still counties that have alcohol bans resulting in “dry” counties. The Twenty-First Amendment left the decision up to the states. The fight for nationwide American Prohibition was not something that happened in a few years. It began in the late 1700s with the Temperance Movement (a movement to subdue the widespread drunkenness in America).

 

Legal alcohol during Prohibition included sacramental wine for churches; patented medicines; use in scientific research; industrial development of fuel, dye, and other things industries might need; and use in hospitals for cleaning. Homemade beer, wine, and cider, and pre-banned alcohol could be drunk in the privacy of one’s own home.

 

Up until the 1920s, the only American women allowed into the large main rooms of saloons/bars were prostitutes and madams. In nice bars, there were small “Ladies’ Rooms” where prominent women could drink. The speakeasies from 1920 to 1933 were the first drinking establishments where women could patronize the whole bar.

 

Cocktails and drinks in speakeasies were known to be expensive, so you saved up for a special night on the town, had plenty of money (or were with someone with money), or just partied at home.

 

Out of necessity, Appalachian mountain bootleggers tinkered with their vehicle engines to make them faster than police cars. This lead to what we know today as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

 

Kansas

If you happen to be traveling through Kansas today, then feel lucky because they win for having the longest alcohol ban (sixty-eight years between 1880 and 1948). The alcohol ban was lifted by a new Kansas state law that was passed in 1965. However, it put all public bars out of business because only private bars were allowed.

Twenty-one years later, in 1986, the private bar ban was lifted and within a year, 400 public bars opened. However, there was a stipulation—30 percent of bar sales must be from food. On a side note and to open the crazy Kansas box even more, in the 1970s—unbelievably—5’5” Vern Miller (ex–police officer, deputy sheriff, and county marshal who then went on to graduate law school) was elected as the Kansas attorney general in 1970. His job was to aggressively enforce Kansas’s liquor laws. Examples of his hostile assertiveness included raiding Amtrak trains that were passing through Kansas and forcing airlines to stop serving liquor while traveling through Kansas’s airspace. Miller made headlines and a book about him was published in 2008.

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Prohibition Words to Know

Amendment

An article added to the Constitution of the United States.

 

Anti-Saloon League

The number-one leading organization that lobbied for an American Prohibition in the early 1900s.

 

Bathtub Gin

A gin-like spirit made by the Mafia with purchased legal and illegal alcohol. They did not make it in the bathtub, they cut it with water from the bathtub faucet because the sink bowls and faucets were too small.

 

Bootlegger

A person who makes and sells illegal alcohol. The American term came from the 1625 term for hiding a liquor bottle in the leg of one’s boot. 

 

Capone

Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone (1899–1947) was one of the famous American Mafia gangsters during Prohibition. He was the first of nine children born in America to his Italian-immigrant parents and grew up in Brooklyn. He quit Catholic school at age fourteen after hitting a teacher in the face, then became a member of two New York City youth gangs. In his adulthood, Capone became a bouncer and bartender for mobster Frankie Yale in a Coney Island dance hall called the Harvard Inn. It was here that Capone earned his nickname “Scarface” after insulting a woman (her brother cut his face). At age twenty, Capone left New York City and moved to Chicago, where he worked for the biggest Mafia boss, James “Big Jim” Colosimo, as a bouncer at a brothel (where he contracted syphilis). Soon he became a famous gang leader spending his money on custom-made suits, gourmet food and drink, jewelry, the best women money could buy, and Cuban cigars. His seven-year reign as crime boss ended when he was thirty-three years old.

 

Eighteenth Amendment

This established the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages in America by declaring the production, transport, and sale of alcohol illegal.

 

Flappers

A twenty-something generation of young women who drank cocktails wore short skirts, short hair, listened to jazz, frequented speakeasies, wore excessive makeup, smoked, drove automobiles, had casual sex in the time known as the “Roarin’ Twenties.” These women would have been born between 1890 and 1910.

 

Gangsters

A criminal who is a member of a gang.

 

Jazz Age

A period of music from 1920–1928 that was put on hold for four years due to the Great Depression (1929–1933), and then resumed.

 

Ratify

To sign or give formal consent to a treaty, contract, or agreement, making it officially valid.

 

Roaring Twenties

This term and period of time encompassed many things. Briefly, it was a period of economic prosperity in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, and it spread after World War I in 1919. The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was fueled by people wanting to break away from tradition and who desired to enter into a modern era. Some large-scale examples include the introduction of automobiles, telephones, radio, motion pictures, electricity, and commercial aviation. For the first time, the media focused on celebrities (especially sports celebs and moving picture movie stars). Cities built gigantic sports stadiums and Hollywood kept moving forward by introducing “talkies.” As for style, art deco was everywhere. Dance clubs popped up and fashion changed dramatically (no more corsets). Female long hair was cut into bobs, skirts hems rose, sleeves were cut, and a sexual revolution began to seep.

 

Rum Runner

A person who is involved in the illegal business of transporting and smuggling illegal alcohol. It mostly relates to ships smuggling rum.

 

Speakeasy

An illegal establishment that sold alcoholic beverages (also nicknamed “blind pig” or “blind tiger”) that had a password you had to “speak easy” at the entrance door.

 

Temperance

Temperance is defined as voluntary self-restraint or moderation in something.

 

Twenty-first Amendment

It repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, which mandated a national prohibition on alcohol.

 

Teetotaler

A person who chooses to not drink alcohol and in most cases has taken a pledge not to imbibe.

 

Volstead Act

The act that carried out the intent of the Eighteenth Amendment, which established the American Prohibition.

American Prohibition Timeline 

1784

A founding father and Philadelphia physician and politician, Benjamin Rush, publishes a pamphlet titled An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Mind and Body.

 

1789

The first known American temperance society is formed in Litchfield County, Connecticut, by leading business owners who feel alcohol hinders the conduct of their businesses.

1813

The Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance is founded.

The Connecticut Society for the Reformation of Morals is founded.

1826

Boston ministers found the American Temperance Society (ATS) and by 1831, they are 170,000 members strong.

1833

The American Temperance Union is founded and a year later, they have one million members.

1838

Massachusetts prohibits the sale of alcohol in amounts less than fifteen gallons but repeals the law two years later.

1840

The short-lived Washington Temperance Society is founded in Baltimore, Maryland (it was named after President George Washington) and becomes known as the Washingtonian movement. This society is likened to Alcohol Anonymous today. Members consist of reformed heavy drinkers who meet together, give testimonials, support one another, and take a pledge to abstain from alcohol. Two years later, they have 600,000 abstinence pledges and by 1843, the society fades away.

1851

The state of Maine passes a state Prohibition law with the help of Portland mayor Neal Dow (1804–1897). It becomes known as “The Maine Law.” Other states that begin to follow suit include Vermont, Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

1869

The National Prohibition Party is founded in Chicago.

1874

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is founded.

1876

The World’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union is founded.

1880

Kansas becomes the first state to go completely dry with the help of governor John St. John and the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

1888

The Supreme Court strikes down state Prohibition laws if they forbid the sale of alcohol that was transported into the state in its original passage. This means hotels and clubs could sell an unopened bottle of liquor, even if the state bans alcohol sales.

1893

The American Anti-Saloon League is founded in Ohio. The league is a nonpartisan organization that focuses on Prohibition through the publication of pamphlets, songs, fliers, cartoons, stories, magazines, and newspapers. They are active until 1933.

1899

Six-foot-tall, fifty-three-year-old Carry Nation begins walking into Kansas saloons with a hatchet destroying everything she can. This goes on for ten years, and she is arrested and fined thirty-two times.

1901

Prince Edward Island in Canada starts Prohibition. It is lifted in 1948.

1908

Massachusetts bans alcohol in 249 towns and 18 cities.

 

Mississippi bans alcohol on December 31 (kind of mean to do on New Year’s Eve), and does not lift their ban until August 5, 1966. The Broadwater Beach Resort in Biloxi (today it’s called President Casino Broadwater Resort) is the first to receive an on-premise liquor license and the second—but first liquor store—license goes to the Joe Azar and his brother for Jigger & Jug in Package Store in Greenville, Mississippi (304 US-82). It is still in operation today. On a side note, Joe Azar’s son, Steve, grows up to be a Nashville country music star with his biggest hit called “I Don’t Have to Be Me ’Til Monday” (2002).

 

In May of 2010, Austin Evans and Richard Patrick open Cathead Distillery—the state’s first distillery (and only so far). The name Cathead is in honor of blues musicians who are nicknamed “catheads.” In addition, on July 1, 2013, the last remaining homebrewing law is passed in Mississippi, making homebrewing legal in all fifty states.

1910

Australia starts Prohibition, then lifts it in the capital city of Canberra in 1928.

1912

Congress passes a law overturning the Supreme Court’s 1888 ruling, which permitted states to forbid all alcohol.

Absinthe is banned in America.​

1914

The Anti-Saloon League proposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit the sale of alcohol.

Russia starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1925.

1915

Saskatchewan, Canada, starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1925.

Iceland starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1922. Beer 2.25 percent or over is banned until 1989.

1916

Alberta, Canada, starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1924.

Norway starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1927.

1917

The US Senate and the House pass the Eighteenth Amendment then sends it to the American states for ratification.

 

Puerto Rico starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1933.

1918

Fueled by the temperance movement to vote for Prohibition, the United States ratifies the Nineteenth Amendment, was which allows women to vote for the first time in American history. On a global side note, New Zealand first allowed women to vote in 1893, and Saudi Arabia in 2015.

 

Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, ratify the Eighteenth Amendment.

 

Connecticut votes against ratification.

1919

Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming ratify the Eighteenth Amendment.

Rhode Island votes against ratification.

 

Congress passes the Volstead Act, which helps make the Eighteenth Amendment stick. The act states three distinct purposes:

  1. To prohibit intoxicating beverages.

  2. To regulate the manufacture, sale, or transport of intoxicating liquor (but not consumption).

  3. To ensure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye, and other lawful industries and practices, such as religious rituals.

 

It further stated, “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.”

 

Quebec, Canada, starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1920.

Finland starts Prohibition, then lifts it in 1932.

1920

Prohibition begins in America on January 17, one minute past midnight.

The US Virgin Islands start Prohibition, then lift it in 1933.

1933

The Twenty-First Amendment is passed on December 5 at 3:32 p.m. and the Eighteenth Amendment is repealed.

1934

In the United States, twenty-one is set as the legal age for drinking, purchasing, and possessing alcohol.

1949

The American drinking age is set at twenty-one for liquor and eighteen for cereal malt beverages.

1966

Mississippi is the last state to lift the ban on prohibition.

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Public Domain photo | picryl.com

Fun Prohibition Facts 

The cocktail dress was an invention in the early 1920s by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. The black dress was inspired by nuns’ habits.

 

Carpenters made extra money on the side by designing and building hidden home bars constructed into walls, hollow clocks, furniture, and anyplace else that sparked inspiration.

 

During a raid, the 21 Club in New York City had bar levers that, when pulled, dropped the liquor shelves down into the sewer. 

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