Alcohol Prohibition: A Very Brief History
From 1920-1933, The United States was in a political and economic period known as alcohol prohibition, or the temperance movement. During this time, it was illegal to manufacture, transport, sell or purchase alcohol.
The buildup to alcohol prohibition began in 1917, when the United States entered WWI. President Woodrow Wilson established a temporary ban on alcohol in effort to safe grain for producing food. Also that year, Congress introduced the 18th Amendment, which upon state ratification, would ban the manufacturing and distribution of alcohol.
On January 29, 1919, this amendment was ratified, and went into effect a year later. During this time, three-quarters of U.S. states had already enacted statewide alcohol prohibition.
The National Prohibition Act was passed in October, 1919. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Andrew Volstead, promoted the cause and from then on the legislation became known as the Volstead Act.
Most of the prohibition enforcement early on came from the Internal Revenue Service, although later reassigned to the Justice Department. Federal and local governments generally struggled to enforce alcohol prohibition throughout the better part of the 1920’s. Rural areas were heavily targeted, while urban areas were watched less closely.
A decline in alcohol consumption was apparent; however, those persons and communities who wished to consume alcohol found ways to do so. Alcohol was illegally manufactured, stored, and distributed through bootlegging. Some nightclubs continued to sell alcohol – these were known as “speakeasies”. Alcohol was also smuggled interstate. Some private residences made their own alcohol, often called “moonshine”.
During this time, criminal activity around bootlegging emerged, as did gang violence and organized crime. This era climaxed with the Chicago St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, when men associated with Al Capone gunned down a rival gang.
By this time, support for prohibition was on the decline, largely due to economic reasons. After the Great Depression hit, it became abundantly clear that legalization of alcohol would be a big help to the economy by creating jobs and producing revenue.
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president on a platform that supported repeal of prohibition. He won, defeating current president Herbert Hoover. By February 1933, the 21st Amendment was adopted which would repeal the 18th. By 1966, all U.S. states had given up on prohibition, although a few “dry” counties in the southern U.S. still remain.
If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.