Prohibition was an early 20th century movement in the USA to ban the manufacturing and sale of alcohol. It’s been well documented as one of the country’s biggest legal failures as it led to more crime, rather than solving any issues. Enacted in 1920 it was repealed in 1933. Here we’re looking more closely at the reasons behind prohibition and the impact it had on the country.
Prohibition was introduced in the USA by the 18th Amendment. After the First World War there was a national mood against drinking alcohol with organisations such as the Anti-Saloon League arguing that alcohol was damaging society. There were also practical concerns, religious and moral reasons all at play, when the law came into place.
From January 1920 Prohibition was in action in America but by 1929 it was evident it wasn’t working and in February 1933 it was repealed in the 21st Amendment. There were many reasons behind its failure as well as many huge and damaging consequences.
Why Prohibition Failed
Prohibition failed because the administration simply wasn’t in place to make it a success. There weren’t enough Prohibition agents enforcing the law and their low pay meant they were easily bribed. America’s huge size also made patrolling the borders and managing smuggling very difficult and the rise of gangsters such as Al Capone was prolific and in fact, protection rackets, crime and gangland murder increased during Prohibition rather than falling as they had hoped would happen.
Prohibition and Crime
Prohibition led almost immediately to a huge public demand for illegal alcohol which allowed gang leaders like Al Capone to take control of large numbers of illegal speakeasies. Organised crime boomed and there were huge numbers of gangland murders took place during this time.
Although exact figures are hard to quantify, it is believed at least $2,000 million worth of illegal business took place in the period of Prohibition as the production and sale of alcohol was taken away from the brewing industry and put in the hands of crooks.
Many new drinks were crafted and concocted during Prohibition. Bathtub gin meant many more gin cocktails were being created, with others gaining in popularity including the late 19th century Gin Rickey and South Side Fizz, well known as the favourite drink of Al Capone himself. Bourbon fell out of fashion because it was harder to manufacture but rye whiskies grew in popularity as well as sweet liqueurs.
Prohibition is also thought to have harmed the American wine industry, with many in the industry leaving the country to work elsewhere. An intriguing loophole was that grape farmers could produce liquid and semi-solid grape concentrates, often called wine bricks or blocks. These would be sold with the following “warning”:
‘After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine’
Demand for such products meant Californian grape growers to increase land under production by an estimated 700% in the first 5 years of Prohibition.