The Prohibition Era

By: Tyler MacInnis & Grace Decker

The Eighteenth and Volstead Act

The Eighteenth Amendment banned the manufacture; the transportation and selling of liquor or any other alcoholic drink in the United States and any areas under their rule. This became known as Prohibition and lasted for 13 years from 1920 to 1933. This was created in retaliation to the protests against alcohol.

The Volstead Act was created not long after the Eighteenth Amendment was passed when it was realized there was not enough federal agents to enforce the Amendment. The Volstead Act was passed by Congress to help provide the means to enforce the ban on alcohol. They didn't fund for any more than the token amount of enforcement which was not close to being enough, therefore the Volstead Act was created. It was written in 1919 by Andrew Volstead. The document stated that government officials could make investigations and arrests for people or places that they suspected to be abusing the Prohibition. It also stated that all medical alcohol was legal and that alcohol made from fruit or grapes prepared at home was legal or any alcohol needed for industrial purposes. While any other beverages with an alcohol content at or above a .5 was illegal. The problem with this act was that it contained too many loopholes and this made the act unreliable ( But because of this act and the raids on areas that were considered to be against the Prohibition the illegal brewing industries went underground and this also caused less support for Prohibition.

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Speakeasies, Bootlegging, Dry and Wet Counties, and Al Capone

Hidden bars would still sell alcohol to people. These bars were very hard to find and were kept very secretive. They became known as speakeasies because the only way to get in was by knowing a certain spoken password. Speakeasies were usually controlled by organized crime gangs because they could use the money to corrupt politicians and business leaders. (Speakeasy picture from: Many people realized that millions of dollars could be made by selling illegal alcohol to other people. They would then produce this alcohol in their own house giving it the name “bathtub gin”. People who did this were known as bootleggers and this practice was known as bootlegging.

The man who controlled these practices in Chicago was a man named Al Capone. Al Capone was the famous mobster in the 1920’s who got his power from the Prohibition movement. This means that he brewed and sold alcohol to the citizens, while charging large sums of money. With all the money he got from the illegal alcohol he was able to control the police and local government, for example the mayor. He also controlled "gambling houses, nightclubs, and bookie joints"( He stayed in business because he used other people do his dirty work, therefore if they got caught they would get in trouble and Al Capone would stay clean. He murdered many, many people who stood in his way, some of his murders were considered massacres for example the Valentines Day Massacre. This is another way he stayed in power. In Al Capone’s Chicago fear and men with guns ruled the city. People were afraid to go out or say the wrong thing in front of the wrong people. This all ended when Al Capone was finally caught because of tax evasion.

Also during this time period the nation was greatly divided into two parties; those who opposed Prohibition or those who supported it. Two terms were coined, the term “dry” referring to people who supported the Prohibition movement and the term “wet” referring to people who did not support Prohibition, or in other words supported alcohol (Appleby, Oldman, Brinkley, McPherson 717). Dry and wet counties refer to whether areas were for or against Prohibition. Most counties in the Midwest were “dry” while most cities were “wet”, so, more in the Northern counties (Appleby, Oldman, Brinkley, McPherson 717).

The Culture of Prohibition

During the time period of Prohibition there was a big divide in the population, one side supported Prohibition and the other was against it. This was also a kind of crazy time period. People were trying to make extra money by selling illegal alcohol, brewing it in their bathtubs or radiators, which when people drank that they would go blind because of the lead in the radiators. The government was scrambling trying to catch the people brewing the alcohol and endangering the lives and health of the American citizens. This was considered a time that was full of crime, lawless and immoral behavior among the people. During Prohibition there were many different types of culture mashed together because of the influx of immigrants and their different cultures and drinking habits. The Prohibition era was very fast paced, with more beat and more of a dancing kind of music; there was soul and jazz going around. To sum up the culture of Prohibition as best as possible, it was a time of great many changes in society with America trying to stop and catch their bearings.

Twenty First Amendment

After 13 years Americans realized that Prohibition or the “noble experiment” was a failure and would not work in their society. This led to it being repealed in 1933 with the Twenty-first Amendment. The twenty-first amendment says that “the transportation or importation into any State, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquor, in violation of laws thereof, is prohibited.