By Teddy Walker
From 1920 to 1933, the 18th amendment prevented all sale, production, import, or export of alcoholic beverages. While the goal of the amendment was to curb alcohol related abuse and crime, it allowed organized crime gangs like Al Capone’s to come to prominence.
Many people over the country supported the prohibition movement.. It was led in part by rural religious and temperance movement groups who saw prohibition as a way to finally stop the evils of alcohol and intoxication. Many women also supported prohibition as they viewed it as a destructive force in families and marriages. While, on a state level, some prohibition laws were already passed, there was no national law until 1917 when a temporary prohibition was passed to allow more grain for the war effort. The 18th amendment came to the floor of congress not long after.
The effects of prohibition were many, and diverse. In the days before the amendment came into effect, for instance: many bars and restaurants gave patrons free alcohol while others charged incredibly high prices looking to make some quick cash. Some of the most prominent and famous effects of prohibition were the rise of organized crime, bootlegging, and the speakeasy. So prominent was the speakeasy that experts believe that in 1925, there were approximately 100,000 speakeasies within New York City. These illegal bars ranged from run down holes in the wall to high end clubs protected by the mob. Regardless of what kind of speakeasy it was, they all needed one thing:booze. There were many ways for these bars to acquire alcohol. Some of it was made in people’s homes in homemade distilleries. This moonshine, as it was often called, was very strong and if made incorrectly could cause temporary or permanent blindness or even death. Others got prescriptions from doctors (or through forgery) for “medicinal whisky”. As non-prescription alcohol was illegal, people needed to make sure the police didn’t get them. Some bootleggers started tuning up their cars to outrun the police, a practice that eventually gave rise to NASCAR.
With prohibition came the rise of organized crime. While originally comprised of smaller groups, many joined together and expanded their operations into fields other than alcohol such as gambling and narcotics. While considered detestable in the eyes of the law, many people liked mobsters like Al Capone because they gave people what they wanted and generally didn’t hurt anyone who didn’t have it coming. Public support for the mob dwindled after the infamous st. Valentine’s day massacre, were Capone’s men posed as police officers and gunned down unarmed rival mobsters.
In 1933, the 21st amendment was passed, repealing the prohibition of alcohol on a national level ( some states still outlawed it until 1966). The legalization of alcohol removed a massive source of revenue from organized crime. While it didn’t disappear, it has never recaptured the prominence it had during the roaring 20s.