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Prohibition in the United States

Also Known As: The Noble Experiment
Dates: October 28, 1919-December 5, 1933

“During Prohibition, the manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale of alcoholic beverages were restricted or illegal.  Prohibition was supposed to lower crime and corruption, reduce social problems, lower taxes needed to support prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America.  Instead, Alcohol became more dangerous to consume: organized crime blossomed: courts and prisons systems became overloaded: and endemic corruption of police an public officials occurred”  (1920's prohibition, 2005)

“Prohibition was a period of nearly fourteen years of U.S. history in which the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor was made illegal.  It led to the first and only time an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed.”  (1920's prohibition, 2005) “Prohibition was the period in United States history in which the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors was characterized by speakeasies, glamour, and gangsters and a period of time in which even the average citizen broke the law.”  (Rosenberg)

“The Temperance movement blamed alcohol for many of society’s ills, especially crime and murder.  Saloons, a social haven for men who lived in the untamed West, were viewed by many, especially women, as a place of debauchery and evil.  Prohibition, members of the Temperance urged, would stop husbands from spending all the family income on alcohol and prevent accidents I the workplace caused by workers who drank during lunch.”  (Rosenberg)

While it was the 18th Amendment that established Prohibition, it was the Volstead Act (passed on October 28, 1919) that clarified the law.  The Volstead Act stated that “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquor” meant any beverage that was more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.  The Act also stated that owning any item designed to manufacture alcohol was illegal and it set specific fines and jail sentences for violating these laws.”  (Rosenberg)>

“There were, however, several loopholes for people to legally drink during Prohibition.  For instance, the 18th Amendment did not mention the actual drinking of liquor.  Since Prohibition went into effect a full year after the 18th Amendment’s ratification, many people bout cases of then-legal alcohol and stored them for personal use.  The Volstead Act allowed alcohol consumption if it was prescribed by a doctor.  Needless to say, large numbers of new prescriptions were written for alcohol.”  (Rosenberg)

For people who didn’t buy cases of alcohol in advance or know a “good” doctor, there were illegal ways to drink during Prohibition.  A new breed of gangster arose during this period.”  (Rosenberg)  “Prohibition also presented lucrative opportunities for organized crime to take over the importing (“bootlegging”), manufacturing, and distributing of alcoholic drinks.  Al Capone, one of the most infamous bootleggers of them all, was able to build his criminal empire largely on profits from illegal alcohol.”  (1920's prohibition, 2005)

“These gangsters would hire men to smuggle in rum from the Caribbean (rumrunners) or hijack whiskey from Canada and bring it into the US.  Others would buy large quantities of liquor made in homemade stills.  The gangsters would then open up secret bars (speakeasies) for people to come in and socialize.”  (Rosenberg)

“During this period, new hired Prohibition agents were responsible for raiding speakeasies, finding stills, and arresting gangsters.  But many of these agents were under-qualified and underpaid leading to a high rate of bribery.”  (Rosenberg)

“In 1933, the legislatures of the states ratified the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed Amendment XVIII and prohibited only the violations of laws that individual states had in regard to “intoxicating liquors”.  Federal Prohibitionary laws were then repealed.    Some States, however, continued Prohibition within their own jurisdictions.  By 1966, however, all states had fully repealed their state-level Prohibition laws.”  (1920's prohibition, 2005)



1920's prohibition. (2005). Retrieved February 2, 2009, from 1920-30.com: www.1920-30.com/prohibition/
Rosenberg, J. (n.d.). 20th Century History. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from
About.com: www.history1900s.about.com/od/1920s/p/prohibition.htm

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