The ink was barely dry before American history took a change. Before the day was over, to people would be killed, lives upturned and persons would go to prison for something that was legal 24-hours before.
Prohibition in America was a nationwide attempt to legislate morality through banning anything to do with alcoholic beverages. Production, importation, transportation and sale remained illegal for thirteen years, from 1920 through 1933. Only politicians and gangsters enjoyed a steady flow of something to drink. Physicians opposed Prohibition as alcohol was widely prescribed for therapeutic purposes.
During the 1800s, alcoholism, family violence, and political corruption prompted pietistic ‘Christians” to stop the alcohol trade. They meant to cure a sick society and weaken political opposition. Prohibition supporters, derogatorily called ‘drys’ presented the legal prohibition as a victory for public morals.
The alcohol ban, through the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, built a grassroots base The 18th Amendment, also known as the Volstead Act, spelled out the rules for the federal ban and defined which types of alcoholic beverages were prohibited. Private ownership and consumption of alcohol were never made illegal under federal law, and the religious could still enjoy opening a bottle of wine with the sacraments — or covered-dish-dinners which followed.
During the 1920s, the laws were disregarded, and the government started losing tax revenues. Organized gangs took control of the beer and liquor for most major cities, and a crime wave swept the country. By the late 1920s, anti-prohibition crusades pointed out the increase in crime, reduced tax revenues and fought back against Protestant religious values. Prohibition ended with a whimper when the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth. Signed on December 5, 1933, many urban areas celebrated the end of prohibition by hosting alcohol laced parties and celebrations complete with ‘Flappers,’ celebrities and regular townsfolk — joining the politicians in celebrating.
When the nation went ‘dry’ on January 17, 1920, no one could, or would, foresee the trouble ahead. By 1925 there were about 70,000 ‘speakeasy clubs’ — in New York City alone. Popular Prohibition-era speakeasies in New York that still operate today include the Landmark Tavern, 21 Club, and Flûte.
Although Prohibition reduced the amount of booze drank, it stimulated the underground economy and increased widespread criminal activity.
New York attorney Arkady Bukh says that many gangsters rose through the ranks to either become politically popular or supported those with political ambitions. Joe Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s father, made millions through the outlawed alcohol which flowed through Boston. That many helped JFK later become President. The Chicago gangsters who took Joe’s money in states like West Virginia to help tilt the election are also thought to be the ones who took down Kennedy in Dallas, 1963.
During the first six months of 1920, the federal government opened over 7,000 cases for Volstead violations. That figure would jump to 30,000 violations by summer 1921 and continue to skyrocket over the next thirteen years. Al Capone is estimated to have made $60 million in alcohol sales in just 1927 alone.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone became famous during Prohibition as the co-founder, and boss, of the Chicago Outfit. Guy Murchie, Jr., writing in the Chicago Daily Tribune attributed 33 murders to Capone. No one knows how many died as a result of Capone’s murderous instructions to underlings.
Because of gangsters like Capone, America’s murder rate started to skyrocket during prohibition and reached heights the nation wouldn’t see again until the 1990s drug cartels fought turf wars.
After the bedlam, failed legislation and holier-than-thou church goers had created such a mess, President Roosevelt signed the repeal of the 18th Amendment and quipped, “America needs a drink.”