The 1920's were a time of great change in the United States. Changes, however, provoked resistance to change and longing for the “good old days.”
On January 16, 1920, a major change took place in the United States. This was the beginning of the “Noble Experiment”, or what is better known in this country as Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed prohibiting all importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor. The Volstead Act followed. This law was passed to enforce the Amendment. It stated that intoxicating liquor was anything having an alcoholic content of 0.5 percent or more.
The purpose of Prohibition was to reduce the consumption of alcohol and it was hoped this would cause a reduction in crime, poverty, and the death. It was also supposed to improve the economy and the quality of life. However, the opposite occurred. There was an increase in alcohol consumption and an increase in alcohol related deaths. Disrespect for the law, corruption, and organized crime all came about during the Prohibition period.
Prohibition was responsible for the creation of “speakeasies”, which were bars and saloons that operated secretly. Bootleggers were individuals who illegally imported, manufactured, distributed, and sold liquor. This was mainly the work of organized crime. They brought in alcoholic beverages from Canada and Mexico, as well as the West Indies.
Beer brewing, wine making, and distilling became booming businesses. This was also dangerous because some people used wood alcohol and medical supplies to make their own drinks. Sometimes, this caused blindness, paralysis and even death. The lack of governmental regulation of the production and sale of alcohol made it one big “free for all”. There were no standards or protections for consumers.
For example, California grape growers, who were no longer permitted to make wine, produced a grape juice product called Vine-Glo, which after 60 days, turned into wine. Beer with an alcoholic content of less than 0.5% percent, called near-beer, was legal. The use of alcohol for medical purposes was legal and doctors began prescribing more and more of it during the 1920s. People regularly broke the law by “getting sick”.
People were harmed financially, emotionally and morally. Many people who had jobs related to the liquor business were unemployed. Breweries, liquor stores, and bars had to close. Some took illegal jobs for bootleggers, or in speakeasies. Others, who did not want to break the law, took lower paying jobs than they had before. People who bought stock in businesses related to liquor lost a lot of money.
During the Prohibition period, there was disrespect and disobedience of the law and widespread corruption. Organized crime and bootleggers bribed government officials. There was so much money that it was impossible to avoid corruption. It was also very difficult to enforce the law. Crime dramatically increased and there were not enough law enforcement people to deal with it.
In the end, Prohibition was a failure. It was ineffective and society suffered. Crime increased and organized crime grew and it is still with us today. . As time went on, Prohibition became almost impossible to enforce and completely lost its strength. The stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed changed the political and social attitudes of people. Critics of Prohibition, such as the AAPA (Association Against the Prohibition Amendment), brought about change. The economy was not doing well and many argued that making the manufacture and sale of alcohol legal would help the economy and provide much needed jobs. After thirteen years, the Twenty First Amendment to the Constitution overruled the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition came to an end. The “Noble Experiment” had failed miserably.