American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

March 3 - July 16, 2017
Monday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. • Sunday 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Created by the National Constitution Center, American Spirits uses a mix of artifacts and engaging visitor activities to take you back in time to the dawn of the temperance movement, through the Roaring ’20s, and to the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment.

The 5,000 square foot exhibit features over 100 rare artifacts including:

  • A 1929 Buick Marquette. One of the bootleggers’ key innovations was the “Whiskey Six,” six-cylinder cars, such as the Buick Marquette on display, that bootleggers would modify extensively to accommodate illegal cargo and evade authorities.
  • A hatchet used by the famous saloon buster, Carry Nation.
  • A telephone used Roy Olmstead to operate his bootlegging empire. Olmstead, after leaving the Seattle police force, became the most successful bootlegger in the Pacific Northwest. He was also the plaintiff in Olmstead v. United States, one of the most important Fourth Amendment cases to arise during Prohibition.​​
  • Original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st Amendments.
  • Al Capone’s guilty verdict, which convicted the crime boss of not paying taxes on money earned from his illegal operations.
  • A Prohibition Bureau Badge issued by the Department of Justice.
  • Prohibition agent Eliot Ness’ signed oath of office from 1926 in which he swore to “support and defend the Constitution.”
  • Flapper dresses, cocktail couture, and other women’s and men’s fashion accessories from the 1920s.
  • Original home manufacturing items used for making moonshine, homebrewed beer, and other illegal and highly potent liquor.

American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition has been critically acclaimed for its immersive visitor experience. Visitors can:

  • Trace how the temperance movement culminated in the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution with Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine, a 20-foot-long, carnival-inspired contraption.
  • Sit in a pew of a recreated early 1900s church to learn about the rise of the Anti-Saloon League and take a quiz to see if they would have been a “wet” (opposed to prohibition) or a “dry” (in support of prohibition).
  • Step inside a recreated speakeasy to learn the Charleston and explore the music, fashion, and culture that made the ’20s roar.
  • View an infographic that reveals the widespread use of alcohol in 1830 (the highest year of per capita consumption on record) compared to today. Through subsequent displays, visitors learn about alcohol’s devastating impact on American society in the 1800s.
  • Test their knowledge of what could and could not be consumed under the rules of the National Prohibition Act, the 18th Amendment’s enabling legislation, in the “Is it Legal?” interactive quiz.
  • Play the role of a federal Prohibition agent chasing rumrunners in a custom-built video game.
  • Join gangsters in a criminal line up for a memorable photo opportunity.
  • View a newsreel reporting on the latest repeal-related events—projected in a 1930s-style theater.

National Constitution Center visitors can add the Center’s original exhibit American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition exhibit to their visit for an additional $3. Members see it free join now.

American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

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