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← What happened when the United States tried to ban alcohol - Rod Phillips

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Showing Revision 3 created 07/06/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. On January 17, 1920, six armed men
    robbed a Chicago freight train.
  2. But it wasn’t money they were after.
  3. Less than one hour after spirits
    had become illegal
  4. throughout the United States,
  5. the robbers made off with thousands
    of dollars worth of whiskey.
  6. It was a first taste of the unintended
    consequences of Prohibition.
  7. The nationwide ban on the production
    and sale of alcohol in the United States

  8. came on the heels
    of a similar ban in Russia
  9. that started as a wartime measure
    during World War I.
  10. But the view in the Western world
    of alcohol
  11. as a primary cause of social ills
    was much older.
  12. It first gained traction
    during the Industrial Revolution
  13. as new populations of workers
    poured into cities
  14. and men gathered in saloons to drink.
  15. By the 19th century, anti-drinking groups
    called temperance movements

  16. began to appear in the United States
    and parts of Europe.
  17. Temperance groups believed
    that alcohol was the fundamental driver
  18. behind problems like poverty
    and domestic violence,
  19. and set out to convince
    governments of this.
  20. While some simply advocated
    moderate drinking,
  21. many believed alcohol
    should be banned entirely.
  22. These movements drew support
    from broad sectors of society.
  23. Women’s organizations were active
    participants from the beginning,
  24. arguing that alcohol made men neglect
    their families and abuse their wives.
  25. Religious authorities,
    especially Protestants,
  26. denounced alcohol
    as leading to temptation and sin.
  27. Progressive labor activists
    believed alcohol consumption
  28. harmed workers’ ability to organize.
  29. Governments weren’t strangers
    to the idea of prohibition, either.

  30. In the United States and Canada,
    white settlers introduced hard liquors
  31. like rum to Native communities,
  32. then blamed alcohol for disrupting
    these communities—
  33. though there were many other
    destructive aspects of their interactions.
  34. The American and Canadian governments
    banned the sale of alcohol
  35. to Native populations
    and on reservation land.
  36. American temperance movements gained
    their first victories

  37. at the state and local levels,
  38. with Maine and several other states
    banning the sale and production of liquor
  39. in the 1850s.
  40. In 1919 the 18th Amendment
    to the US Constitution
  41. banned the manufacture, sale,
    and transportation
  42. of all alcoholic beverages.
  43. The amendment took effect a year later
    under the Volstead Act.

  44. Since the act did not ban
    personal consumption,
  45. wealthy people took the opportunity
    to stock up while restaurants and bars
  46. rushed to sell their remaining supply.
  47. Workers lost their jobs as distilleries,
    breweries, and wineries closed down.
  48. Meanwhile, organized crime groups
    rushed to meet the demand for alcohol,
  49. establishing a lucrative black market
    in producing, smuggling,
  50. and selling illicit liquor.
  51. Often they worked side-by side
    with corrupt policemen
  52. and government officials,
  53. even bombing the 1928 primary election
    for Illinois state attorney
  54. in support of a particular
    political faction.
  55. Tens of thousands of illegal bars,
    known as "speakeasies,"

  56. began serving alcohol.
  57. They ranged from dingy basement bars
    to elaborate dance-halls.
  58. People could also make alcohol
    at home for their own consumption,
  59. or obtain it legally with a doctor’s
    prescription or for religious purposes.
  60. To prevent industrial alcohol
    from being consumed,
  61. the government required manufacturers
    to add harmful chemicals,
  62. leading to thousands of poisoning deaths.
  63. We don’t know exactly how much people
    were drinking during Prohibition

  64. because illegal alcohol
    wasn’t regulated or taxed.
  65. But by the late 1920s,
  66. it was clear that Prohibition
    had not brought the social improvements
  67. it had promised.
  68. Instead it contributed to political
    corruption and organized crime
  69. and was flouted by millions of citizens.
  70. At one raid on an Detroit beer hall,
    the local sheriff, mayor and a congressman
  71. were arrested for drinking.
  72. With the start of the Great
    Depression in 1929,

  73. the government sorely needed the tax
    revenue from alcohol sales,
  74. and believed that lifting Prohibition
    would stimulate the economy.
  75. In 1933, Congress passed the 21st
    Amendment repealing the 18th—
  76. the only amendment to be fully repealed.
  77. Members of the temperance movements

  78. believed that alcohol
    was the root of society’s problems,
  79. but the reality is more complicated.
  80. And while banning it completely
    didn’t work,
  81. the health and social impacts
    of alcohol remain concerns today.