Constitution Daily

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10 things you need to know about Prohibition

January 16, 2013 by NCC Staff


The Prohibition Era was one of most dynamic ages in American history, and it hit full speed on January 16, 1919, when the 18th Amendment was ratified.



Officially, Prohibition started in 1920 and ended in 1933, but it was more than a century in the making, and parts of it are still with us today.


Technically, the 18th Amendment made it illegal to manufacture, sell or transport “intoxicating beverages.” During the 13-year experiment, America became a much different country.


So here’s a look at 10 basic trends that had lasting impact on a nation that battled between the Wets and the Drys during the Roaring Twenties. (There are a lot more, and we encourage you to check out “American Spirits: The Rise And Fall Of Prohibition” at the National Constitution Center.)


The 18th Amendment. The law that changed it all barred most sales of booze, but it also didn’t make it illegal to drink. The Volstead Act put the law into effect in 1920.


The 16th Amendment. As the Drys fought to ban booze, a key step was the imposition of a national income tax, to replace taxes on liquor sales. The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913, providing a clear path to Prohibition. Somehow, after Prohibition was repealed, the government forgot to repeal the income tax!


The 19th Amendment. This amendment gave women the vote. The Suffragette movement had close ties to the Temperance movement, and women were able to vote on a national level starting in 1920.


The 21st Amendment. The end of Prohibition came with its repeal via the 21st Amendment in 1933. It allowed states to control their own liquor laws and it is the only Amendment ever approved using state conventions as part of the process.


Mobsters! Yes, the sale of illegal intoxicating spirits was a huge boom to organized, and unorganized crime. Figures like Al Capone, Owney Madden, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano made headlines, as did the exploits of moonshiners and rum runners.


The Drys. The Drys were a coalition of interest groups who wanted booze banned as a sacred cause. The Drys included religious groups, the Suffragettes and other people. The key leader of the Drys was Wayne Wheeler, who led the grassroots movement through the Anti-Saloon League. Carry Nation was another prominent Dry.


The Wets. Also known as the anti-Prohibitionists, the Wets wanted the 18th Amendment repealed and they finally got their way in 1933. Brewers were in the anti-Prohibitionist group, and people like Al Capone definitely weren’t. Democrats Al Smith ad Franklin Delano Roosevelt were all Wet, and FDR championed the cause after becoming president, as a way to boost the economy.























The Music. The Roaring Twenties was a revolutionary era for music in America. Jazz actually had its roots in the late 1910s, as the sounds of New Orleans started to make its way north along with workers seeking new lives in areas like Chicago. By the time of Prohibition, the Jazz age had taken foot nationally. Radio broadcasts later in the decade made stars out of country musicians, and Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family became recording stars. The first Blues artists had roots in the 1920s.


The Flappers. The growth of jazz and up-tempo dance music gave birth to The Flapper, a liberated woman who wore shorter skirts, drank, smoked, danced and had a lot of attitude! Flappers were also highly attuned to any and all fashion trends. The Great Depression put an end to the Flapper lifestyle.


The Wall Street Crash of 1929. The great market crash of 1929 had a direct role in ending Prohibition, since the Great Depression that followed created a need for economic stimulus, in the form of beer and liquor sales, and the taxes that went with them. The market lost one-third of its value in two October 1929 days, and it wouldn’t see its 1920s peek again until 1954. The crash effectively put the brakes on the Roaring Twenties.


For more on American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, check out its web site at


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