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Homepage > Prohibition

(1920 - 1933)

The idea of prohibition in America started long before the 18th Amendment. The prohibition movement actually had strong roots that reach back before the Civil War. There was enough concern over the inappropriate use of alcohol that a temperance movement sprang up under the leadership of The Very Reverand Theobald Mathew (1790 - 1856).

"In this sign thou shalt conquer."
I PROMISE to abstain from ALL intoxicating drinks except used medicinally and by order of a medical man; and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.
- Rev. Mathew

This pledge was circulated and signed by concerned citizens in an attempt to raise awareness on the issue of intemperance. The lead up to the Civil War set this movement on hold for a time as the fledgling country dealt with more important matters. The Women's Christian Temperance Union and others took up the banner again after the dust from the war had settled. It should be noted however, that the core tenants of the Volstead Act are derived from Rev. Mathew's pledge, including the exception for medicinal alcohol.

In 1893 the Anti-Saloon League was founded in Orberlin, Ohio. Soon the state chapters were organized across the country. By the 1990s the Anti-Saloon Leagues began organizing to elect public officials in support of their cause, putting pressure on the state senators and representatives to propose regulations against alcohol production.

The new working environment was introduced to pressure on individual workers to live a 'dry' lifestyle. The US Steel Corporation forbade its employers to partake of any liquor on or off duty. Henry Ford also prohibited possession of liquor, wine or beer in his company. By 1916, 21 states had banned saloons.

On January 16, 1920, the National Prohibition Act became the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. From that point on, it was considered to be illegal to manufacture, sell, transport, import or export any intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes.

The Volstead Act (1919) defined intoxicating liquors as alcohol, whiskey, gin, brandy, rum, beer, wine, ale, porter or any spirituous, vinous, malt, or fermented liquor, liquid or compound sold under any name that contained 1/2 of 1% or more of alcohol by volume and was fit for beverage purpose. Volstead, Andrew Joseph (1860 - 1947) was a legislator of Minnesota.

Although the general public still had ways to gain access to alcohol beverages. It was the subject of many arguments between those in support of a 'dry' lifestyle and whose who supported 'wet' society. Alcohol consumption and sales became the source of many scandals during the Prohibition. By 1930, bootlegging was well organized by the gangs as a large illegitimate industry. Even after the repeal of prohibition, bootlegging remains a practice in many parts of the nation where prohibition is still alive. The introduction of the Prohibition gave people a reason to drink before dinner or going to a movie with the sense of playing with fire. Much of what is America today has been influenced in some way by the Prohibition. Many cocktails we know today were invented during the Prohibition such as the Long Island Iced Tea, the Highball and Gin & Tonic. Bartenders were well paid and tipped for supplying the public illegal substance of alcohol. (Read about the history of bartending)

Depression hit America after the crash of the Wall Street in 1929. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA) was an organization since 1922, formed by the wealthy industrialists. A few years before the repeal of the Prohibition, the organization argued that repeal would help the economy by increasing the number of wage-earning jobs and sales of alcohol would provide the government a great tax profit. Many became to support the organization including the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform.

On December 5, 1933, Congress officially adopted the 21st Amendment to the Constitution before the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 - 1945).

Today distilled spirits are the most heavily taxed consumer products in the United States. Federal, state and local government receive more than $18 billion each year in tax revenue from the industry.

(Source: Dave Pickerell, Maker's Mark)


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