THE DRINK NATION IS A FREE RESOURCE FOR FINDING EVERYTHING AWESOME ABOUT DRINKING IN YOUR LOCATION

Repeal Day: A Brief History of Prohibition and Its Demise

by The Drink Nation on Dec 3, 2015 in Culture
Repeal Day: A Brief History of Prohibition and Its Demise

Each year on December 5, drinkers around the United States commemorate Repeal Day. It was on this date in 1933 that Utah became the 33rd state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thereby repealing the 18th Amendment and ending the disastrous experiment known as Prohibition. Alcohol sales became legal again, and the rest is history.

A Drinking Problem

Why did Prohibition come about in the first place? In the America of the 1800s, alcohol abuse was rampant. In 1820, the average American consumed 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor per year. That’s a bottle every four days, for every man and woman in the newly formed country.

Whiskey and rye were early favorites, and could be had for cheap at any time of day, in nearly any establishment that sold comestibles. With the influx of German and Irish immigrants in the 1840s and ‘50s, beer started to become more popular, and brewers even took to recommending mothers feed sips of it to their newborn babies.

The Temperance Movement

The most well-known temperance advocate of the early 1900s was Carrie Nation, who was a woman of large stature who famously took hachets into saloons and laid waste to the entire contents of the bar. Women in general started the movement to curtail alcohol sales, and they were joined by evangelical churches in their quest to clean up America. Propaganda-style posters were printed up, with frightening statistics about how alcohol abuse led to birth defects and younger deaths.

The campaign grew into a political movement. During World War I, the Prohibition Party and the Anti-Saloon League drew on anti-German sentiment to suggest that beer was a way the enemy was causing the downfall of America. Women’s groups connected the quest for temperance with a push for suffrage, the right to vote. On January 16, 1919 — thanks to many behind-the-scenes political machinations —  the18th Amendment was passed.

Outside the Law

Thanks to the rules enumerated in the Volstead Act, what by some measures was the nation’s fifth-largest industry was shut down nearly overnight. Americans did start drinking less, but alcohol did not disappear — people simply turned to illegal methods of making, shipping and selling alcohol. Loopholes in enforcement laws meant the mafia and other underground organizations benefited, and became rich selling untaxed booze throughout the country.

Where were they getting the liquor to sell? There were also loopholes in the Volstead Act that allowed production. For example, households could “preserve fruit” through fermentation, ostensibly for family use. Religious wine was allowed. And doctors were allowed to prescribe “medicinal alcohol.” Criminals obtained this booze or made their own, and sold it for huge profits. Al Capone ran the liquor trade from Canada to Florida, and controlled Chicago and other cities. Police were either crooked or helpless. Speakeasies flourished everywhere.

Tax the Drinks

Then the Great Depression came. Unemployment rose and the coffers of the United States government, dependent on taxes, were dangerously low. Desperate for funds, elected officials and politicians began to consider repeal of the 18th Amendment as a possible solution — legal alcohol meant a huge boost in tax revenue. Even though the repeal of a constitutional amendment had never been accomplished in U.S. history, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt came out for repeal in his 1932 presidential campaign, the chances of success began to look possible.

FDR was elected, of course, and in March of 1933 he signed into law the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing sales of alcohol up to 3.2% (very low ABV beer falls into this category). Congress drafted and passed the 21st Amendment, and it was eventually ratified — though by the previously unused (and never again used) method of state conventions, rather than state legislatures. This was because the temperance movement was still quite active in several statehouses.

State by State

The 21st Amendment gave state governments two options: a state could choose to directly control the entire alcohol industry or to regulate via licenses to private enterprise. Even today, some states are “control states,” and keep a monopoly on wholesaling and/or retailing beer, wine and/or liquor.

For example, in Pennsylvania, only the state can sell wine and spirits, and beer sales are not permitted in grocery stores. Mississippi enacted statewide general prohibition in 1908, and didn’t end it until 1966. In Kentucky — that bastion of bourbon production — 39 of 120 counties are completely dry, to this day.

Acknowledgement

Many images and information in this article are thanks to the National Constitution Center’s exhibit “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

Photos by Danya Henninger


Tags: Education, Spirits
Recent Articles

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Applebees Employee's Video Shows Crappy $1 Margaritas Even Crappier Than You Thought

Applebees Employee's Video Shows Crappy $1 Margaritas Even Crappier Than You Thought

Applebee's is offering a $1 margarita throughout the entirety of October at any of their participating restaur...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Oct 13, 2017
California Wildfires Burn 150,000 Acres, Majorly Affecting Vineyards Throughout Wine Country

California Wildfires Burn 150,000 Acres, Majorly Affecting Vineyards Throughout Wine Country

Wildfires have swept through Napa and Sonoma counties, killing 15 and putting the livelihood of wine country a...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Oct 10, 2017
Johnnie Walker Is Selling a Blade Runner 2049 Scotch

Johnnie Walker Is Selling a Blade Runner 2049 Scotch

With the Blade Runner sequel in theaters now, Johnnie Walker has designed a blend to commemorate the film: Johnnie Walker Black The Director's Cut....read more ›

by Alexander Frane Oct 10, 2017
SPONSORED
Oregon's Union Wine Co. Teams up with Wildfang Clothing to Benefit Planned Parenthood

Oregon's Union Wine Co. Teams up with Wildfang Clothing to Benefit Planned Parenthood

Oregon's Union Wine Co. and Wildfang Clothing are teaming up to raise money for Planned Parenthood with a new ...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Oct 2, 2017
Boozy Ice Cream is Here To Boost Your Buzz

Boozy Ice Cream is Here To Boost Your Buzz

A Maryland company, ArcticBuzz, has given us the gift of combining vodka and ice cream to create the ultimate boozy treat....read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Oct 2, 2017
What's Happening at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

What's Happening at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

Just about everything you can think of having to do with beer is at this festival....read more ›

by Carrie Dow Oct 2, 2017
Celebrate Fall in Style with Flask Cocktails from Coopers' Craft

Celebrate Fall in Style with Flask Cocktails from Coopers' Craft

Spice up your autumnal drinking with coffee cocktails that fit perfectly in a flask made with Coopers' Craft Kentucky Bourbon, which pairs perfectly w...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Sep 29, 2017
NPR is Starting a Wine Club to Fund Public Radio

NPR is Starting a Wine Club to Fund Public Radio

With funding for public radio possibly under fire, NPR is finding a way to fund its own shows that fits perfectly in their own tote bags - a wine club...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Sep 27, 2017
Summer Isn't Over Yet, Thanks to a Rose Festival in Texas This October

Summer Isn't Over Yet, Thanks to a Rose Festival in Texas This October

Summer may be over, but rose season isn't done quite yet, thanks to a rose wine festival this October in Dalla...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Sep 27, 2017
Auchentoshan Whisky Releases Bartenders' Malt

Auchentoshan Whisky Releases Bartenders' Malt

Auchentoshan recently released the Bartenders' Malt, a scotch whisky designed by twelve bartenders from around the world coming together at the distil...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Sep 26, 2017
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close