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Prohibition exhibit opens at the National Constitution Center

October 19, 2012 by NCC Staff


The National Constitution Center’s American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition exhibition is open for business, making its national debut in Philadelphia.

American Spirits is at the Center until April 28, 2013, before embarking on a nationwide tour.

Spanning the dawn of the temperance movement in the early 1800s, through the Roaring ’20s, American Spirits was created by the Center and curated by Daniel Okrent, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

Okrent collaborated with filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on the documentary Prohibition, which aired on PBS in fall 2011.

“Prohibition left an indelible mark on America, redefining the role of the federal government and leaving its mark on everything from our personal habits to our tax policies,” said Okrent. “And though it may have been a wild card in our constitutional history, it came into being through the invention and deployment of political tactics and strategies still in play today.”

The 5,000-square-foot exhibition features more than 120 rare artifacts, including:

  • Original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st Amendments
  • A hatchet used by Carry Nation during one of her barroom-smashing raids
  • A Prohibition Bureau Badge issued by the Department of Justice in 1931
  • Temperance propaganda, including pamphlets, school lesson manuals, speeches, and hymnals
  • The phone used by Roy Olmstead, the defendant in the landmark Olmstead v. United States wiretapping case, to run his bootlegging empire
  • 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
  • One of the first crates of Budweiser produced after the “Beer Act,” which passed in April 1933 and changed the legal limit for “intoxicating” beverages to 3.2% per volume to allow for the return of beer production.

Interactive elements and immersive environments bring to life the sights, sounds, and experiences of the time period. Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine, a dazzling 20-foot-long, eight-foot-tall carnival-inspired contraption, will trace how the temperance movement culminated in the 18th Amendment. In addition, visitors can:

  • 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 find out if you would have been a “wet” or a “dry"
  • Test their knowledge of what could and could not be consumed under the rules of the 18th Amendment during the “Is it Legal?” interactive touchscreen game
  • Explore a re-created speakeasy complete with a bar, dance floor, bandstand, and powder room and learn how to dance the Charleston
  • Play the role of a federal Prohibition agent chasing rumrunners in a custom-built video game where you drive your own speedboat
  • Join gangsters in a criminal lineup for a memorable photo opportunity.

Okrent, Ken Burns, and Lynn Novick also lend their voices and commentary to a special iPod audio tour that will guide visitors through the exhibition.

Admission to American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is $17.50 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, and $11 for children ages 4-12. Group rates also are available.

Admission to the Center’s main exhibition, The Story of We the People, including the award-winning theatrical production Freedom Rising, is included. For ticket information, call 215.409.6700 or visit

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