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Prohibition Era Facts

Woodrow Wilson

Prohibition Era Facts: Woodrow Wilson was the 28th American President who served in office from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. One of the important events during his presidency was the Prohibition Era.

Definition and Summary of the Prohibition Era Facts
Summary and definition:
The Prohibition Era (1920 to 1933) was instituted with ratification of the 18th Amendment and enacted by the Volstead Act. During the Prohibition Era the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned. This was viewed as the solution to the nation's poverty, crime, violence,  abuse towards women and children and other problems.

It was repealed by the 21st Amendment because the 'Noble Experiment' simply did not work. Prohibition not only failed to prevent the consumption of alcohol, but led to the  development of organized crime, increased violence, unregulated and untaxed alcohol and massive political corruption.

1920's Prohibition Era Facts for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about the Prohibition Era and the ban on alcohol.

What was the Prohibition Era?
The Prohibition Era was a period in American history when the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned (Drinking liquor was never illegal).

What date was Prohibition Era?
The date of the Prohibition Era years in the United States was from 1920 to 1933.

What was the reason and cause of Prohibition? There were several reasons and causes for Prohibition including the lobbying of the Anti-Saloon League and temperance movements such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party. Anti-liquor protests by Protestant churches and to the war effort during WW1.

Why did Prohibition Fail? Prohibition failed because bootlegging became widespread. Organized crime and gangsters took control of the distribution of alcohol and the 'Speakeasies' of the Roaring Twenties.

Facts about Prohibition Era Facts
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Prohibition Era Facts.

The move towards prohibition began long before the 1920s with the emergence of temperance movements and the Anti-Saloon League. WW1 helped the Anti-Saloon League to win its fight to make the USA 'dry' and ban alcohol. Many American brewers were German immigrants, so the Anti-Saloon League claimed that people who drank beer were traitors to their country.

Most temperance groups received support from Protestant evangelical churches and hundreds of thousands of women including those who supported women's suffrage. The temperance movement had gained considerable support in rural areas by people who feared the temptations found in the cities.

The ideals of the Progressive Movement had swept across America and some prominent progressives believed alcohol was responsible for many problems in American life such as poverty, crime, abuse towards women and children and the rise of unsavory saloons with their association with prostitution and gambling.

The Anti-Saloon League, established in 1893, strongly supported nationwide prohibition during WW1, emphasizing the need to destroy the political power of the German based brewing industry, the corruption of the saloons, waste, poverty, ruin and the need to reduce domestic violence.

A famous temperance reformer was Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846–1911) who carried out a series of hatchet-swinging, saloon-smashing missions in large cities across the country.

Support also came from many businesses who believed that the consumption of liquor harmed the efficiency of their workers.

Political reformers viewed the saloon as the informal headquarters of the machine politics that controlled voter loyalty by distributing political and economic benefits such as jobs and city contracts

A Prohibition movement emerged that began to support the elimination of intoxicating liquor by constitutional amendment. Votes were gained as Americans supported politicians who were 'dry'

With the American Entry into WW1 in 1917, Congress prohibited the manufacture and importation of distilled liquor in order to aid the war effort and submitted it to the states for ratification.

Prohibition was instituted with ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution on January 16, 1919 that made it illegal to make, sell, transport, import or export alcohol anywhere in the United States. 

Prohibition came into force at midnight on January 17, 1920 and the Volstead Act was passed to enforce the amendment. Anti-Saloon League attorney Wayne Wheeler drafted both the amendment and the bill. Exceptions to the Eighteenth Amendment were made for the manufacture and sale of alcohol for medicinal and religious uses.

The Volstead Act: Congress enacted the Volstead Act, officially known as the National Prohibition Act, to enforce the amendment, and became effective on January 29, 1920. The Volstead Act defined "intoxicating liquors" and provided penalties for abuse of the law. Andrew J. Volstead, U.S. Representative from Minnesota, sponsored the bill and lent his name to the act.

The Prohibition Bureau was established but proved to be an ineffective, undermanned and under-funded agency who employed low paid agents to enforce the law.

Effects Of Prohibition: Drinking liquor was never illegal and alcoholic drinks were still widely available. The 18th Amendment and Volstead Act put legal brewers out of business and the nation's door became open to unintended consequences such as bootlegging, speakeasies, gangsters, corruption and the rise of organized crime. It also ushered in the era known as The Roaring Twenties when people wanted to enjoy themselves and an enormous public demand for illegal alcohol.

Bootlegging: The people who illegally made, imported, or sold alcohol during this time were called 'Bootleggers'. Bootleggers built secret breweries to make liquor and counterfeited prescriptions and liquor licenses to gain access to alcohol. Most of the alcohol was smuggled into the USA from Canada, Mexico or the West Indies.

Bootlegging: Bootlegging grew into a vast illegal empire that was rife with bribery and corruption. Prohibition Bureau agents, police, judges and politicians, received monthly bribes and retainers (up to $300,000 a month) to look the other way.

Bootlegging: The word 'Bootlegging' was derived from the old trading practice of concealing flasks of illegal liquor in boot tops when going to trade with Native American Indians.

The Speakeasy: A Speakeasy was a saloon or nightclub that sold alcoholic beverages illegally. Saloons and Speakeasy clubs claimed to sell soft drinks and coffee, but served alcohol behind the scenes. Speakeasies (speak-easies) were so named because patrons had to whisper code words to enter the illegal drinking clubs

The Speakeasy: New York City had nearly 100,000 speakeasy clubs. Chicago had more than 7,000 speakeasies and drinking parlors. Some Speakeasies served food and had floor shows with live bands playing 1920s Jazz music and people danced the Charleston.

Gangsters: Mobsters and the Mafia limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920. Gangsters dominated various cities and provided bootleg alcohol for speakeasies. Each major city had its own gangster element.

Gangsters: An estimated 1,300 gangs operated in Chicago.

  • There was an increase in organized crime because of the massive profits to be made in bootlegging and the speakeasies

  • George Remus was known as the "King of the Bootleggers" and made $40 million in less than 3 years

  • Charles “Lucky” Luciano operated in New York and reputed to make $4 million per year

  • William McCoy was nicknamed “the real McCoy,” because his liquor was never diluted

  • The most famous mobsters in Chicago were Al "Scarface" Capone and his Chicago Mafia who fought rival gangs led by George “Bugs” Moran.

  • Hostility between the two gangsters led to the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre

  • In 1930 FBI Agent Elliot Ness tackled violators of prohibition and Al Capone's gang in Chicago.

It has been estimated that during the Prohibition Era, $2,000 million worth of business was transferred from the brewing industry and bars to bootleggers and gangsters.

Prohibition cost the federal government a total of $11 billion in lost tax revenue and cost over $300 million to enforce

3000 Americans died every year from the effects of drinking tainted illegal liquor from the black market

Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression and a wealthy Republican, Pauline Sabin, started a repeal movement

Wickersham Commission: The Wickersham Commission (1929-1931) was established by President Herbert Hoover who appointed former U.S. Attorney General George W. Wickersham to head the U.S. National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. The Wickersham Commission reported that Prohibition was not working.

 Prohibition failed because:

  • There were not enough Prohibition agents to enforce the law and they were easy to bribe

  • The size of America's boundaries made it hard for agents to control smuggling by bootleggers

  • The banning of alcohol had led to the rise of powerful gangsters and organized crime

  • The American Public did not support the law and were willing to drink in speakeasies

  • It became very difficult to convict those who violated Prohibition because public support for the law, and its enforcement, dramatically decreased

The 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. The twenty-first amendment was passed by Congress on February 20, 1933 and ratified on December 5, 1933. The popular vote for repeal of Prohibition was 74% in favor and 26% in opposition. By its terms, states were allowed to set their own laws for the control of alcohol.

The Repeal of Prohibition dramatically reduced organized crime and corruption.

After the repeal  some states continued Prohibition by maintaining statewide temperance laws. Mississippi was the last 'dry' state  and ended Prohibition in 1966.

At the end of Prohibition President Franklin D. Roosevelt is quoted as saying "What America needs now is a drink"

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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