It’s no secret that Americans love drinking, it’s a huge part of our history. The founding fathers planning the American revolution in a tavern. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The grip beer has on the world of country music. Most recently, even Ted Cruz was freaking out about non-existent beer limits.


Can you imagine the national backlash if we made alcohol illegal? Well, once upon a time, that actually happened. 


How Did Prohibition Happen?


Let’s crack open the history books. In the 1800s, a wave of anti-alcohol sentiment, called the Temperance movement, began to sweep the country. Its supporters believed that complete abstinence from alcohol would eliminate immorality, domestic abuse, crime, and make society better as a whole. They might have been onto something, considering that Americans were drinking more than 3x the average today.


The Temperance movement reached its peak in 1919 when congress passed the 18th amendment, prohibiting the manufacturing, distribution and sale of any intoxicating liquor. There were some loopholes, like the fact that you could still get alcohol for medical or religious purposes (doctors could even prescribe it), but for the most part, alcohol was outright banned. 


What Happened During Prohibition?


Supporters of this movement hoped that this measure would decrease crime and other immoral behavior, however, the 1920s gave rise to the gangster era. Organized crime in the U.S. saw a massive increase thanks to prohibition, with gangs profiting from the illegal sale and smuggling of alcohol into major cities like Chicago and New York. They made millions by setting up speakeasies where locals could come and drink in secret, and while they were there gamble, use other drugs, or hire prostitutes. 


By the end of the 1920s, it was clear that Prohibition had led to the rise of gang violence and actually increased the very immoral behavior it sought to erase. Then the Great Depression hit. FDR became the president, and in a stroke of new policy to help bolster the struggling economy (and popular demand), he quickly signed the Cullen-Harrison act which allowed for the manufacturing and sale of low alcohol beer. Nine months later, the 21st amendment repealed Prohibition.


What Happened After Prohibition

Some states hung on to the anti-alcohol dream. Mississippi, the first state to ratify the 18th amendment, enforced state-wide prohibition well into the 60s (our condolences). By all reports, the states that allowed alcohol again celebrated responsibly


Because the states hadn’t been producing alcohol for over a decade, the popularity of neighboring countries’ booze (think Canadian whiskey, and Caribbean rum) exploded, as Americans were eager to get their hands on the hard stuff again. And thanks to the mixology that developed in the speakeasy-era, those new imports were used in new cocktail recipes that would stand the test of time. You might’ve heard of the sidecar or Al Capone’s favorite, the Southside. 


The world has changed a bit in the last 100 years. Alcohol has been cemented as a part of our country’s culture (they even have blogs about it now), but Prohibition was a unique piece of American history that definitely shaped the nation we know today. 


What other aspects of drinking history are you curious about? Let us know in the comments section!