Prohibition in the United States (1920 - 1933) was a national ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol. The introduction of alcohol prohibition and its subsequent implementation into law was a hotly contested issue. Contemporary prohibitionists ("dries") perceived prohibition as a victory for public morals and health. The overall consumption of alcohol dropped and remained below pre-Prohibition levels long after the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed. Anti-prohibitionists ("wets"), on the other hand, criticized the alcohol ban as an intrusion of mainly rural Protestant ideals upon a central aspect of everyday urban, immigrant and Catholic life. Effective enforcement of the alcohol ban during the Prohibition Era proved to be very difficult, and led to widespread flouting of the law. The lack of a solid popular consensus involving the ban resulted in the growth of vast criminal organizations, most notably the modern American Mafia, as well as various other criminal cliques.
On October 28, 1919, the 18th Amendment was implemented by the Volstead Act, and went into effect on January 17, 1920. A total of 1,520 Federal Prohibition agents from three separate federal agencies (the United States Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement, the US Treasury Department IRS Bureau of Prohibition and the US Department of Justice Bureau of Prohibition) were given the task of enforcing the new law (Figure 2). Enforcement of the 18th amendment lacked centralized authority, and many attempts to impose prohibitionist laws were deterred due to the lack of transparency between federal and state authorities. American geography presented further complications. Given the prohibition agents' lack of resources, the valleys, mountains, lakes and swamps, as well as the extensive seaways, ports and massive borders running along Canada and Mexico, made it exceedingly difficult to stop bootleggers. The ultimate repealing of the 18th Amendment proved that the means by which it was to be enforced were not pragmatic.
While the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol was illegal in the U.S., Section 29 of the Volstead Act allowed for making wine and cider from fruit (but not beer) at home. Up to 200 gallons per year could be produced, and some vineyards grew grapes for home use. Also, one anomaly of the Act as worded was that it did not actually prohibit the consumption of alcohol. In anticipation of the ban, many people actually stockpiled wines and liquors during the latter part of 1919 before alcohol sales became illegal the following January. As prohibition continued, people began to recognize it as illustrative of class distinctions, since it unfairly favored social elites. Working class people were enraged by the fact that their employer could dip into a cache of private stock while they as employees were denied similar indulgences.
Prohibition directly influenced the swelling of organized crime. Powerful gangs corrupted law enforcement agencies, leading to racketeering. Though the intention of prohibition was to reduce crime, it actually contributed to crime, as it transformed cities into battlegrounds between opposing bootlegging gangs. Before the Volstead Act became law, the average drinking American spent $17 per year on alcoholic beverages. By 1930, due to the diminished supply of alcohol, this figure increased to $35 per year. Illicit alcoholic beverage industries earned an average of $3 billion per year in illegal income, none of which was taxed.
Chicago became a haven for Prohibition dodgers. Many of Chicago's most notorious gangsters, including Al Capone and his enemy, Bugs Moran, made millions of dollars through illegal alcohol sales. By the end of the decade, Capone controlled all 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago, and ruled the bootlegging business from Canada to Florida. Numerous other crimes, including theft and murder, were directly linked to criminal activity in Chicago and other cities in violation of prohibition.
To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. Bootleggers combated this by hiring chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. In response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add even more deadly poisons to industrial alcohols, including Sterno (or "canned heat") and the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended.
Prohibition also had a large effect on music in the United States, specifically jazz. Speakeasies became far more popular during the prohibition era, partially influencing the mass migration of jazz musicians from New Orleans to major northern cities like Chicago and New York. This movement led to a wider dispersal of jazz music, as different styles developed in different cities. Because of its popularity in speakeasies and its advancement due to the emergence of more advanced recording devices, jazz became very popular very fast. Jazz was also at the forefront of the minimal integration efforts of the time, as it united mostly black musicians with mostly white crowds. As the saloon began to die out, public drinking lost much of its macho connotation, resulting in an increased social acceptance of women drinking in the semi-public environment of the speakeasies. This new norm established women as a notable new target demographic for alcohol marketeers, who sought to expand their clientele.
On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to the Volstead Act known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing the manufacture and sale of "3.2 beer" and light wines. Upon signing the amendment, Roosevelt made his famous remark: "I think this would be a good time for a beer." On December 5, 1933, the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment. As Prohibition ended, some of its supporters, including John D. Rockefeller, openly admitted its failure.