Scroll for an interactive journey
through the history of Prohibition
Chapter 1: The Road to Prohibition
Read More The Building Blocks of Prohibition
The Building Blocks of Prohibition<span class=”s1″>The foundation was built during the country’s centuries-long history of widespread drinking of alcohol. In 1630, the Puritans, among the first colonists from Europe, brought along caches of beer and wine when they arrived on the East Coast. By the early 1700s, colonial America already had a drinking problem, so much so that Great Britain took a stab at prohibition. In 1730, the British Parliament overseeing the American colonies, alarmed by the abuse of rum and brandy in Georgia, prohibited the transport of spirits into the colony. But after Georgians turned from farming to illegal stills and imported liquor from South Carolina, Parliament ended the prohibition 13 years later (ironically, the same number of years that Prohibition would last nearly two centuries later).</span><span class=”s1″>Commercial distillers of rum and whiskey were well-established in the years before and after the Revolutionary War, as were many home brewers, including founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Taverns, often the best locations for social and political communication, proliferated. The Second Continental Congress considered but did not pass a bill to ban whiskey in 1777. Dr. Benjamin Rush, Washington’s surgeon general during the Revolutionary War, wrote in 1785 a pioneering and widely read argument for temperance, decrying the “ardent spirits” whiskey and rum as habit forming and associated with liver problems, diabetes, gout and madness. Rush, however, did not object to people imbibing the lower-alcohol-content drinks beer and wine.</span><span class=”s1″>But by the early 19</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> century, heavy drinking became the norm among American men, with the average adult male downing from 7 to 12 gallons of alcohol per year. Former President John Adams declared in 1811 his “zeal amounting to enthusiasm against” the spread of hard liquor and taverns. Among the early organizations to protest excessive drinking was the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, formed in 1814. Other groups in Connecticut and New York soon followed. With better supplies of water available, President Andrew Jackson’s secretary of war eliminated the rations of whiskey given to soldiers in the U.S. Army and banned drinking at military installations. The Washingtonian Movement in Baltimore – a group of drinkers asking others to join in pledging to abstain from alcohol – started in 1840. Even a young Abraham Lincoln, in his “Temperance Speech” in 1842, praised the “splendid success” of campaigns to cut alcohol but also asked crusaders to provide “a drop of honey” and “moral support,” not condemnation, for longtime drinkers.</span><span class=”s1″>The new “temperance movement” galvanized religious denominations from Protestant to Catholic who viewed drinking as sinful. Maine became the first state to ban alcohol in 1851, setting off a national prohibition trend. Oregon, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont went dry the next year and seven other states and one territory had prohibited alcohol by 1855. It didn’t last long, though. The prohibitionists turned to a bigger issue – abolishing slavery. When the Civil War started, the federal government needed tax revenues on spirits and beer to finance the fight against the Southern rebellion. All the prohibition states, save for Maine, repealed their laws.</span><span class=”s1″>The temperance movement revived in the years after the Civil War, mostly among women who were the wives of middle- and upper-class professional men. America was experiencing large waves of immigrants whose cultures included drinking: Ireland (whiskey), Germany (beer) and Italy (wine). What was dubbed the “Women’s War” against alcohol grew into a near-revolution and served as the country’s first peaceful protest movement that would influence generations worldwide. These women, blaming domestic violence and financial problems in the home on drinking, sought to disgrace men and close the many male-only saloons, or “dram-shops,” breweries and distilleries through confrontations, picketing and sit-in protests.</span><span class=”s1″>In 1873 in Hillsboro, Ohio, Eliza “Mother” Thompson, inspired by Dr. Dioclesian Lewis, who delivered anti-liquor sermons inside saloons, got groups of hymn-singing women to enter stores and saloons, successfully urging many owners to stop selling booze. The campaign quickly caught fire. Temperance advocates halted alcohol sales in parts of the Midwest and West. The National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a protest and lobbying organization started in 1874, was headed by Francis Willard, who spoke of a national ban on alcohol. Their efforts would also promote women’s suffrage. But their political successes were stunted because of lobbying by the monied liquor companies, which even blocked efforts to extend voting rights for women to prevent them from voting in favor of prohibition.</span><span class=”s1″>A larger shift in the path toward Prohibition came in 1893 with the founding of the Anti-Saloon League, a prohibitionist group that involved fewer women and was headed by a man, Wayne Wheeler, who proved to be a shrewd, ruthless political tactician. The league debuted during a period known as the Progressive Era that produced reforms in civil rights, labor, conservation, industry and political corruption. Wheeler seized on the anti-immigrant sentiment of the age, inducing fear among mainly rural white Americans that the drinking cultures of new arrivals from Europe in urban areas were weakening the nation’s moral fiber. He first succeeded in getting “dry” legislators elected in Ohio. By 1908, more than 50 counties in Ohio opted to ban alcohol. Wheeler realized national prohibition was within his grasp.</span><span class=”s1″>Many city residents in America resented the scores of saloons in their communities that enticed working men to squander their money on booze and other vices. But for the national prohibitionists, the major tipping point in their dry campaign was World War I. After America declared war on Germany in April 1917, Wheeler and his alliance of women’s temperance bands such as the WCTU and Protestant church groups set their sights on a constitutional amendment banning most alcohol. Wheeler and crew made for a powerful national political force in the states, exploiting patriotism, resentment against German-American beer makers, and to protect U.S. troops from the temptations of liquor and saloons. Their first big triumph was convincing Congress to approve Wartime Prohibition, a ban on alcohol for the duration of the war. With the momentum on their side, dry activists proposed a prohibition amendment to Congress with plans to lobby the state legislatures to approve its passage.</span><span class=”s1″>As American soldiers died on the battlefields of Europe, the U.S. Senate on August 19, 1917, voted 65-20 in favor of the proposed 18th Amendment. The House of Representatives followed with a favorable vote of 282-128 on December 18, 1917. Mississippi’s legislature, on January 18, 1918, was the first of the 36 states (two-thirds of the 48 states) required to ratify it for inclusion in the Constitution. America’s war dead had climbed toward 100,000 by the time voters went to the polls on November 5, 1918, for a mid-term election for local, state and national candidates.</span><span class=”s1″>The armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. With the war over and nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment in the air, the prohibitionists rode the momentum. Weeks later, on January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment became law after the 36th state legislature, Utah, ratified it. The amendment was to take effect exactly one year later.</span><span class=”s1″>But first, Congress had to pass a federal statute to implement the 18th Amendment with a legal process for banning the sales, distribution and transportation of alcohol of no more than 0.05 percent alcohol content and a bureau of federal agents to enforce it. The powerful Wheeler drafted the entire law, the National Prohibition Act. The law would be better known as the Volstead Act, named after Representative Andrew Volstead, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who led the effort to pass it. Congress approved the Volstead Act that July. The act withstood President Wilson’s opposition when lawmakers overrode his veto in October.</span><span class=”s1″>The nation’s new law prohibiting alcohol commenced as mandated on January 17, 1920. Violations could mean fines of up to $1,000 and months behind bars. America’s calamitous, 13-year Prohibition Era had begun.</span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-road-to-prohibition/the-temperance-movement/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-road-to-prohibition/the-temperance-movement/”><u>Next Story: Women Led the Temperance Charge ></u></a><span class=”s1″><i> </i></span>
Read More Women Led the Temperance Charge
Women Led the Temperance Charge<span class=”s1″>Temperance began in the early 1800s as a movement to limit drinking in the United States. The movement combined a concern for general social ills with religious sentiment and practical health considerations in a way that was appealing to many middle-class reformers. Women in particular were drawn to temperance in large numbers. Temperance reformers blamed “demon rum” for corrupting American culture and leading to violence, immorality and death.</span><span class=”s1″>The earliest temperance reformers were concerned with the overindulgence of American drinkers, and they encouraged moderation. By 1830, the average American older than 15 consumed at least seven gallons of alcohol a year. Alcohol abuse was rampant, and temperance advocates argued that it led to poverty and domestic violence. Some of these advocates were in fact former alcoholics themselves. In 1840, six alcoholics in Baltimore, Maryland, founded the Washingtonian Movement, one of the earliest precursors to Alcoholics Anonymous, which taught sobriety, or “teetotalism,” to its members. Teetotalism, so named for the idea of capital “T” Total abstinence, emerged in this period and would become the dominant perspective of temperance advocates for the next century.</span><span class=”s1″>Women were active in the movement from the beginning. By 1831, there were 24 women’s organizations dedicated to temperance. It was an appealing cause because it sought to end a phenomenon that directly affected many women’s quality of life. Temperance was painted as a religious and moral duty that paired well with other feminine responsibilities. If total abstinence was achieved, the family, its home, its health and even its salvation would be secure. Women crusaders, particularly middle-class Protestants, pointed toward the Christian virtues of prudence, temperance and chastity, and encouraged people to practice these virtues by abstaining from alcohol. </span><span class=”s1″>The Civil War put an immediate, if temporary, end to early temperance efforts. States needed the tax revenue earned through alcohol sales, and many temperance reformers focused on bigger issues such as abolition or the health of soldiers. As the United States returned to life as usual in the 1870s, the next wave of temperance advocates set to work – this time with an aim at changing laws along with hearts. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was one such group.</span><span class=”s1″>The WCTU was founded in 1873, and it became a national social reform and lobbying organization the following year. Its second president, Francis Willard, helped to grow the WCTU into the largest women’s religious organization in the 19th century. Willard was known for her self-proclaimed “Do Everything” policy. She was concerned with temperance as well as women’s rights, suffrage and international social justice. She saw alcoholics as mentally weak and unstable, and she believed temperance could help improve the quality of life of individual alcoholics as well as their families and communities.</span><span class=”s1″>Willard also saw the value of the WCTU for its ability to increase opportunities for women. The organization trained women in important skills for a changing world – leadership, public speaking and political thinking. The way she shaped the WCTU perfectly summarizes the multifaceted goals of the female-dominated temperance movement. By using temperance as a rallying cry, they sought to improve the lives of women on many different levels.</span><span class=”s1″>Willard was a strong president, but her “Do Everything” policy became the WCTU’s greatest downfall. By tackling so many issues, it made little concrete progress on alcohol reform. One exception was the influence it had on public education. In 1881, the WCTU began to lobby for legally mandated temperance instruction in schools. By 1901, federal law required “scientific temperance” instruction in all public schools, federal territories’ and military schools. These lessons were similar to the anti-drug programs that exist in schools today, but they perpetuated anti-drinking propaganda and misinformation. Lessons stressed that a person could become an alcoholic after just one drink and that most drinkers died because of alcohol. They also perpetuated racist stereotypes, including the belief that African Americans could not hold their liquor.</span><span class=”s1″>As the temperance movement waged on, advocates became more extremist, none more so than Carrie Nation. Nation’s first husband, a doctor in the Union army, was an alcoholic. They married in 1867 and had one daughter before separating, due in part to his alcoholism. Nation and her second husband settled in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, in 1889, where she was involved with the local WCTU chapter. At the time, Kansas was a dry state, but the law was generally not enforced. Nation believed something must be done, and in June 1900 she awoke from a dream in which God suggested that she go to Kiowa, Kansas, and break down a saloon. Nation did just that, and for the next 10 years she used axes, hammers and rocks to attack bars and pharmacies – smashing bottles and breaking up wooden furniture. She was arrested 30 times.</span><span class=”s1″>Nation referred to these attacks as “hatchetations,” and justified her destruction of private property by describing herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.” One of the most radical components of Nation’s hatchetations was that she smashed pharmacies as well. She believed alcohol was evil regardless of use and thought the practice of prescribing alcohol for a host of ailments was as disturbing as the use of alcohol as a social lubricant.</span><span class=”s1″>Carrie Nation was a polarizing figure, but many people appreciated her actions and sent her gifts of hammers and hatchets. Companies also commemorated her efforts, and she sold souvenirs alongside her autobiography at lectures and other public appearances as she toured the country with her temperance message. </span><span class=”s1″>As the 20th century progressed, a final shift occurred in the Temperance Movement when groups such as the Anti-Saloon League began applying more political pressure and urging for state and federal legislation that would prohibit alcohol. As a shift toward legal action became the dominant approach to temperance, women, who still did not have the right to vote in most states, became less central to the movement. The early efforts of female temperance advocates no doubt shaped the movement, and the road to Prohibition was paved by their desire for a safer and healthier community.</span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/speakeasies/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/speakeasies/”><u>Next Story: Speakeasies Were Prohibition’s Worst-Kept Secrets ></u></a>
Read More The Speakeasies of the 1920s
<span class=”s1″>Speakeasies Were Prohibition’s Worst-Kept Secrets</span><span class=”s1″>When Prohibition took effect on January 17, 1920, many thousands of formerly legal saloons across the country catering only to men closed down nationwide. People wanting to drink had to buy liquor from licensed druggists for “medicinal” purposes, clergymen for “religious” reasons or illegal sellers known as bootleggers. Another option was to enter private, unlicensed barrooms, nicknamed “speakeasies” for how low you had to speak the “password” to gain entry so as not to be overheard by law enforcement.</span><span class=”s1″>The result of Prohibition was a major and permanent shift in American social life. The illicit bars, also referred to as “blind pigs” and “gin joints,” multiplied, especially in urban areas. They ranged from fancy clubs with jazz bands and ballroom dance floors to dingy backrooms, basements and rooms inside apartments. No longer segregated from drinking together, men and women reveled in speakeasies and another Prohibition-created venue, the house party. Restaurants offering booze targeted women, uncomfortable sitting at a bar, with table service. Italian-American speakeasy owners sparked widespread interest in Italian food by serving it with wine. </span><span class=”s1″>Organized criminals quickly seized on the opportunity to exploit the new lucrative criminal racket of speakeasies and clubs and welcomed women in as patrons. In fact, organized crime in America exploded because of bootlegging. Al Capone, leader of the Chicago Outfit, made an estimated $60 million a year supplying illegal beer and hard liquor to 10,000 speakeasies he controlled in the late 1920s. </span><span class=”s1″>The competition for patrons in speakeasies created a demand for live entertainment. The already-popular jazz music, and the dances it inspired in speakeasies and clubs, fit into the era’s raucous, party mood. With thousands of underground clubs, and the prevalence of jazz bands, liquor-infused partying grew during the “Roaring Twenties,” when the term “dating” – young singles meeting without parental supervision — was first introduced. </span><span class=”s1″>Speakeasies were generally ill-kept secrets, and owners exploited low-paid police officers with payoffs to look the other way, enjoy a regular drink or tip them off about planned raids by federal Prohibition agents. Bootleggers who supplied the private bars would add water to good whiskey, gin and other liquors to sell larger quantities. Others resorted to selling still-produced moonshine or industrial alcohol, wood or grain alcohol, even poisonous chemicals such as carbolic acid. The bad stuff, such as “Smoke” made of pure wood alcohol, killed or maimed thousands of drinkers. To hide the taste of poorly distilled whiskey and “bathtub” gin, speakeasies offered to combine alcohol with ginger ale, Coca-Cola, sugar, mint, lemon, fruit juices and other flavorings, creating the enduring mixed drink, or “cocktail,” in the process. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>As bootlegging enriched criminals throughout America, New York became America’s center for organized crime, with bosses such as Salvatore Maranzano, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. At the height of Prohibition in the late 1920s, there were 32,000 speakeasies in New York alone. The most famous of them included former bootlegger Sherman Billingsley’s fashionable Stork Club on West 58</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th </sup></span><span class=”s1″>Street, the Puncheon Club on West 49</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> favored by celebrity writers such as Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, the Club Intime next to the famous Polly Adler brothel in Midtown, Chumley’s in the West Village and dives such as O’Leary’s in the Bowery. Harlem, the city’s black district, had its “hooch joints” inside apartments and the famed Cotton Club, owned by mobster Owney Madden, on 142</span><span class=”s2″><sup>nd </sup></span><span class=”s1″> Street. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Owners of speakeasies, not their drinking customers, ran afoul of the federal liquor law, the Volstead Act. They often went to great lengths to hide their stashes of liquor to avoid confiscation – or use as evidence at trial — by police or federal agents during raids. At the 21 Club on 21 West 52nd (where the Puncheon moved in 1930), the owners had the architect build a custom camouflaged door, a secret wine cellar behind a false wall and a bar that with the push of a button would drop liquor bottles down a shoot to crash and drain into the cellar. </span><span class=”s1″>Near the end of the Prohibition Era, the prevalence of speakeasies, the brutality of organized criminal gangs vying to control the liquor racket, the unemployment and need for tax revenue that followed the market crash on Wall Street in 1929, all contributed to America’s wariness about the 18</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> Amendment. With its repeal via the 21</span><span class=”s2″><sup>st</sup></span><span class=”s1″> Amendment in 1933 came an end to the carefree speakeasy and the beginning of licensed barrooms, far lower in number, where liquor is subject to federal regulation and taxes.</span> <a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/bootleggers-and-bathtub-gin/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/bootleggers-and-bathtub-gin/”>Next Story: Bootleggers and Bathtub Gin</a>
Read More Queens of the Speakeasies
Texas Guinan, Helen Morgan and Belle Livingstone lit up speakeasy culture and exemplified the liberated woman during Prohibition.
Read More Bootleggers and Bathtub Gin
Bootleggers and Bathtub Gin<span class=”s1″>In the early 1920s, the Genna brothers gang provided hundreds of needy people in the Little Italy section of Chicago with one-gallon copper “alky cookers,” or stills, to make small batches of homemade liquor in their kitchens. The Gennas furnished the corn sugar and yeast. When the Gennas’ henchmen made the rounds to these family enterprises, they paid a nice return of $15 (about $188 in 2016) each day for gallons of pure alcohol. The Gennas made a tidy profit – the illegal liquor cost them only 50 to 75 cents per gallon, and they sold it to speakeasies for $6. In New York, gangster Frankie Yale also paid Italian-Americans $15 per day to run alky cookers in Brooklyn. </span><span class=”s1″>These family moonshiners were among countless small- and big-time illegal alcohol producers during Prohibition. Some of these moms and pops bottled their own liquor at home. They used a small still to ferment a “mash” from corn sugar, or fruit, beets, even potato peels to produce 200-proof alcohol, then mix it with glycerin and a key ingredient, a touch of juniper oil as a flavoring. To turn this highly potent liquid into a rank “gin,” they needed to water it down by half. But their bottles often were too tall to fit under the spigot in the kitchen sink, so they used the one in the bathtub.</span><span class=”s1″>But few could tolerate the bad taste of this “bathtub gin.” Bartenders in speakeasies blended ounces of it with various mixers from bitters to soda pop, juices and fruit garnishes, to hide the flavor of the poorly made alcohol. While mixed drinks certainly predated Prohibition (the origins of the rum drink “Mojito” may date back to the 16</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> century), they were necessary during Prohibition. The Prohibition era’s speakeasies made the cocktail fashionable.</span><span class=”s1″>In large cities and rural areas, from basements and attics to farms and remote hills and forests across America, moonshiners and other bootleggers made it virtually impossible for Prohibition Bureau agents to enforce the Volstead Act’s national ban on making and distributing liquor. The bureau seized almost 697,000 stills nationwide from 1921 to 1925. From mid-1928 to mid-1929 alone, the feds confiscated 11,416 stills, 15,700 distilleries and 1.1 million gallons of alcohol. The bigger stills were known to churn out five gallons of alcohol in only eight minutes. Commercial stills in New York could put out 50 to 100 gallons a day at a cost of 50 cents per gallon and sell each one for $3 to $12. By 1930, the U.S. government estimated that smuggling foreign-made liquor into the country was a $3 billion industry ($41 billion in 2016). </span><span class=”s1″>Grocery and hardware stores legally sold a laundry list of what home distillers and beer brewers needed – the gallon stills, bottles, malt syrup, corn sugar, corn syrup, hops, yeast and bottle cappers. Americans, based on Prohibition Bureau estimates, brewed 700 million gallons of homemade beer in 1929. Chain grocery markets such as Kroger and A&P sold the popular beer-making ingredient malt syrup in cans. By 1927, national production of malt syrup hit nearly 888 million pounds – enough to make more than six billion pints of homemade beer. </span><span class=”s1″>Many Americans were able to use Prohibition’s exemptions to their advantage. The person largely responsible for writing the Volstead Act in 1919 was Wayne Wheeler, head of the powerful, pro-dry Anti-Saloon League. Wheeler was instrumental in persuading Congress to vote for the law. Yet Wheeler, to get Volstead through Congress, had to permit some loopholes in the law that would loom larger than he had envisioned. </span><span class=”s1″>Licensed doctors were permitted to prescribe whiskey, other distilled spirits (from government-licensed distilleries) and wine as treatments for aliments, limited to one pint every 10 days. The law also allowed the manufacture and sale of wine used in sacraments or other religious rituals by rabbis, priests, “ministers of the gospel” and their designees. Both loopholes were abused. Doctors and pharmacists made a lot of money issuing the expensive prescriptions to patients for colds and sore throats. Bonded distillers and winemakers (with government permits) who provided the liquor also made out. Wineries such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer and Louis M. Martin owed their rise as big businesses to making sacramental wine for clergymen, who essentially became bootleggers for their congregations. </span><span class=”s1″>One of the largest exceptions to Volstead concerned winemaking at home. In October 1920, eight months after Prohibition took effect, the Treasury Department issued a statement clarifying Section 29 of Volstead concerning manufacturing fruit juices at home without a federal permit. The statement specifically addressed winemaking: “the head of a family who has properly registered may make 200 gallons [of wine] exclusively for family use without payment of tax thereon.” That meant families could generate — but not sell or transport — the equivalent of 1,000 bottles of wine a year, or 2.7 bottles per day for home consumption, without paying taxes. </span><span class=”s1″>The regulation – certainly not what Wheeler had intended — led to a nationwide surge in home-fermented wines and related businesses during Prohibition. From 1925-29, 679 million gallons of homemade wine passed through the lips of Americans – triple the amount they drank in the five years leading up to Prohibition. The acreage farmers in California devoted to growing wine grapes expanded from 97,000 to 681,000. The price for a ton of grapes, only $9.50 in 1919, rose to an astonishing $375 by 1924.</span><span class=”s1″>Grape producers made concentrates from crushed grapes, with the stems and skins, in liquid form in multi-gallon cans or dehydrated and compressed into solids known as “grape bricks” or “raisin cakes.” The concentrates were ostensibly for making non-alcoholic grape juice, but both the businesses and consumers knew they were really for winemaking. Under Prohibition laws, these businesses could face federal penalties for knowingly providing the makings of alcoholic beverages, but they did it anyway, selling them in a variety of wine grapes, including port, sherry, Riesling and Burgundy. A San Francisco company touted its liquid concentrate product, Vine-Glo, as “legal in your home under the provisions of Section 29, National Prohibition Act,” but warned that the wine “must not be transported.” One wine brick company, with a barely disguised hint, wrote on the packages of its product: “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn to wine.”</span><span class=”s1″>Meanwhile, racketeers, in addition to buying whiskey and other liquors smuggled from Canada, Great Britain and Mexico, manufactured alcohol. Some racketeers bought up closed breweries and distilleries and hired former employees to make the same products illegally. Others corrupted brewers otherwise engaged in the production of legal “near beer.” Under Volstead, owners of breweries were allowed to make beer containing less than one half of one percent alcohol by volume. To do that, legal brewers had to brew the beer and then remove the three or more percent of leftover alcohol to reach the legal level. Some brewers switched to soft drinks, “cereal” drinks and other legal beverages, while others gave in to the temptation to deal with gangsters, who paid cash for the higher-percentage alcohol beer. Chicago racketeer Johnny Torrio, in the weeks after Prohibition began in 1920, partnered with two other mobsters and legitimate brewer Joseph Stenson to manufacture for sale illegal beer in nine breweries. Torrio convinced hundreds of street criminals they could become wealthy by cooperating in the secret beer distribution racket to speakeasies, organized within agreed-upon and strictly enforced territories in the city. He and his partners took in $12 million a year in the early 1920s. Torrio later turned control of his Chicago bootlegging racket over to his successor, Al Capone.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Racketeers also stole millions of gallons of industrial grain alcohol and redistilled it for sale in speakeasies. But it could be unsafe to drink. Industrial alcohol, undrinkable and thus exempted by the Volstead Act, was used in cleaning products, paints, cosmetics, gasoline, tobacco, scientific research and other legal uses. To rendered it undrinkable, the liquid was “denatured” with chemical additives such as wood alcohol, ether or benzene. Industrial alcohol, unlike drinkable alcohol, was not taxed, but the government required manufacturers to blend a small amount of the additives to give the alcohol a terrible taste and smell to deter people from drinking it.</span><span class=”s1″>One common early additive, approved by the U.S. government, was wood alcohol, which was poisonous if swallowed and could cause nerve damage, blindness and death. Bureaucrats surmised that since wood alcohol could not be completely boiled and removed from industrial alcohol, no one would drink it. But profit-hungry gangsters who stole industrial alcohol thought they could do it with their own chemists. They heated it and removed some of the additive, but dangerous traces of wood alcohol remained. This “rotgut” liquor used in mixed drinks poisoned thousands of speakeasy customers. As many as 50,000 drinkers died from tainted alcohol during Prohibition. Amid public outrage, by 1927 the government sought to deter bootleggers further, ordering industrial alcohol producers to double the added wood alcohol content and add kerosene and pyridine to make it taste far worse and nearly impossible to remove. But the damage was done, to both the population and the government’s political standing with the public. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/queens-of-the-speakeasies/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/queens-of-the-speakeasies/”>Next Story: Queens of the Speakeasies</a>
Read More Alcohol as Medicine and Poison
<span class=”s1″>Alcohol as Medicine and Poison</span><span class=”s1″>The intent of Prohibition was to deter the consumption of alcohol, which was seen as unhealthful and a public nuisance. Not only would that prove nearly impossible to achieve, but the government’s zeal to block the consumption of industrial alcohol would lead to the unintentional but disastrous poisoning, paralysis and deaths of thousands of drinkers at the hands of bootleggers. And in 1930, a pair of men in Boston would concoct an illegal and toxic alcoholic beverage, “Ginger Jake,” that was responsible for crippling up to 100,000 people across America.</span><span class=”s1″>The Volstead Act contained two significant exceptions to its ban on the sale of alcohol – liquors dispensed by doctors as prescription medicine (typically whiskey and other hard liquor) and liquors produced and used for religious sacraments (usually wine) by priests, rabbis and ministers.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Section 7 of the Volstead Act permitted alcoholic beverages as a treatment by a doctor who “in good faith believes that the use of such liquor as a medicine by such person is necessary and will afford relief to him from some known ailment.” The law also left itself open to misuse by letting doctors prescribe alcohol even if they could not physically examine the patient, as long as their off-site diagnosis was based “upon the best information attainable.”</span><span class=”s1″>That Volstead made the exception for doctors to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense “medicinal liquor” as therapy for the sick went against even the prevailing view of the medical profession at the time. In 1917, the American Medical Association issued a declaration stating that alcohol had no “scientific value” as a tonic or stimulant for healing and “should be further discouraged.” Still, the dubious and outdated view of alcohol as a remedy — a tradition going back thousands of years — was codified in the law and would prove lucrative for both doctors and druggists and an excuse for “patients” to score booze from 1920 to the end of Prohibition in 1933. </span><span class=”s1″>Volstead specified that doctors had to obtain a permit from the U.S. Treasury Department to prescribe alcohol, which was manufactured for pharmacies by government-approved distilleries. The department issued pads of numbered and watermarked forms to doctors who could then sign prescriptions allowing patients up to one pint of liquor (usually whiskey) every 10 days. The medicine was costly – the patient had to pay about $3 ($37.50 in 2016 dollars) to the doctor for the diagnosis and another $3 to the pharmacist. Volstead specifically prohibited refills (although not separate prescriptions) and made druggists write in a date that “canceled” the prescription immediately after filling it. </span><span class=”s1″>Doctors typically prescribed one ounce of whiskey to adults (less for children, who also were treated with liquor) every few hours for maladies with formal names such as “la grippe” (the flu), “coryza” (the common cold) and “pharyngitis” (sore throat) but also for serious ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, tuberculosis and cancer, with the rationale that liquor promoted digestion and physical vigor.</span><span class=”s1″>The legal exemption led to a windfall for doctors and pharmacists. Even the AMA, just two years after Prohibition started, rescinded its objection to the medicinal value of liquor, endorsing it as a treatment for a laundry list of nearly 30 maladies. For the Walgreens drug company of Chicago, the popularity of medicinal alcohol sent profits through the roof – the chain grew from 20 drugstores in 1920 to 525 stores across the country in 1929. But Walgreens to this day insists its rapid growth was due to a combination of effective management, its tasty brand of ice cream made in Chicago that was served in its stores’ soda fountains, and specifically the invention of the malted milkshake by its employee, Ivar “Pop” Coulson, in 1922.</span><span class=”s1″>For years before Prohibition, industrial-grade (and undrinkable) alcohol was used in factories as a solvent and cleaning fluid, and to manufacture detergent, flavoring extracts and perfumes.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>Alcohol had been subject to excise taxes as a beverage in the United States until 1906, when a process borrowed from Europe added “denaturants,” or substances that made grain-based (ethyl) alcohol taste or smell bad, to deter its use in drinks. The “denatured” alcohol could then be used, tax free, in manufacturing. </span><span class=”s1″>By the start of Prohibition in 1920, tens of millions of gallons of denatured ethyl alcohol were made for industrial use and considered legally exempt by the U.S. government because it contained toxic additives rendering it dangerous to drink. The alcohol was denatured by mixing it with wood (methyl) alcohol, a harmful liquid that could cause blindness or death if ingested. But bootleggers started using denatured industrial alcohol disguised as whiskey – what would be called “rotgut” for its effect on the drinker’s internal organs – even in the months before Prohibition took effect. The magazine <i>Literary Digest</i>, in its January 10, 1920 issue, reported that scores of people had recently died, including 57 in Hartford, Connecticut, and hundreds of others blinded after drinking “alleged whiskey” containing wood alcohol. Authorities arrested some bootleggers after tracing the tainted alcohol to New York City. </span><span class=”s1″>By about 1922, supplies of authentic whiskey distilled prior to Prohibition, and targeted for theft by bootleggers, were gone. With industrial alcohol being made on a large scale, bootleggers starting hijacking it, figuring they could redistill and sell it as drinkable alcohol. By 1923, the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Bureau was already focused on preventing organized crime from reconditioning industrial alcohol for sale to drinkers. The government instructed makers of the industrial-use liquid to denature it by adding four percent wood alcohol, poisonous to humans in very small amounts.</span><span class=”s1″>But bootleggers nonetheless succeeded in stealing large quantities to recondition it into cheap booze for unsuspecting drinkers, often those in the lower classes who could not afford high-quality liquor. The government reported that by the mid-1920s, about 90 million gallons of alcohol for industrial use had been distilled nationally with about 6 million reserved for medical and research purposes and the rest meant for hundreds of commercial businesses. However, the government estimated that bootleggers had grabbed about 10 million gallons. Bootleggers, knowing full well it contained wood alcohol, attempted to remove the toxins by boiling the grain and wood alcohol mixture in illegal stills. The wood alcohol boiled and started to evaporate into a condenser at 151 degrees Fahrenheit, while it took 173 degrees to boil the grain liquid. Some of the poisonous wood liquid evaporated but as the public would later learn, it was not chemically possible to take out all the wood alcohol. Even a small amount of wood alcohol remaining, if ingested, attacked the nervous system, for instance, the optic nerve, causing blindness. </span><span class=”s1″>In the mid-1920s, bootleggers sold large amounts of the poisonous alcohol mixed with other liquids, represented it as whiskey and other beverages, and people started dying. In New York in 1926, about 750 perished after imbibing the wood alcohol-laced bootlegged liquor. That New Year’s Eve, as people drank in 1927, many jammed Bellevue Hospital on New Year’s Day and 41 died. Hundreds more New Yorkers died later that year. In Philadelphia, 307 died that January, and 163 in Chicago. About 15,000 people were reported poisoned in just one county in Kansas. Up to 50,000 people may have died from the repurposed industrial alcohol nationwide and thousands of others were stricken by crippling paralysis. In 1927 in New York alone, of the 480,000 gallons of liquor seized by Treasury’s Prohibition agents, 98 percent contained poisonous additives, and liquor seized from 55 of the city’s speakeasies proved to contain traces of wood alcohol. </span><span class=”s1″>Critics, including anti-Prohibition “wets,” blamed the deaths and injuries on reckless government policies, such as the absence of warning labels on containers of industrial alcohol. Dr. Nicolas Murray Butler of Columbia University accused the U.S. government, which approved the wood alcohol denaturant, of “legalized murder.” The government acted by passing a new law lowering the maximum wood alcohol content in industrial alcohol to two percent. In the weeks after the disaster in 1927, J.M. Doran, head chemist for the Prohibition Bureau, worked on perfecting a new, less harmful but still foul-smelling and tasting denaturant, such as kerosene. The feds later approved the addition of ingredients such as iodine, ether, nicotine and formaldehyde to try to make industrial alcohol too horrible to drink. </span><span class=”s1″>By 1930, when the earnings of America’s bootleggers hit an estimated $3 billion, criminal distributors had for some time shifted from industrial alcohol to distilling their own raw alcohol with sugar, yeast and other ingredients, producing yields considered good enough and safe to drink. But also that year, another national wave of alcohol poisoning loomed, this time without government involvement.</span><span class=”s1″>Starting in 1928, a pair of Boston bootleggers, brothers-in-law Harry Gross and Max Reisman, started manufacturing an illegal alcoholic beverage based on an extract of Jamaican ginger, an old patented medicinal remedy of a powder mixed with alcohol. But to hide the alcohol from Prohibition agents, the men added as adulterant the chemical tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate, known as Lindol. The odorless, tasteless chemical was a plasticizer used to make celluloid film and explosives. Gross and Reisman said they were assured by the manufacturer that Lindol was safe. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>The men marketed the mixture as “Ginger Jake,” a fluid extract of ginger used as a medicine for colds, cramps and malaria. They circulated about 1,000 gallons of the stuff from 1929 to 1930. Thousands of bottles of Ginger Jake were sold as “liquid medicine” with a wink and a nod as a cheap alcoholic drink. It was shipped into Rhode Island and Georgia and eventually sold from coast to coast. But Lindol proved to be toxic to nerve cells, causing paralysis – mostly permanent – below the waist, including impotence in men. It quickly produced an epidemic of damage to the legs of drinkers. From 35,000 to 100,000 people were afflicted with a pronounced, slow limp called “jake leg” or “jake walk.” Many of the injured were poor, immigrants and African-Americans.</span><span class=”s1″>Gross and Reisman were prosecuted not under Volstead Act but the Agriculture Department’s food and drug laws for producing a fake product. Both were convicted of felony crimes and sentenced to two years in prison. Gross went to prison but Reisman’s sentence was suspended. For decades to come, those with “jake leg” could be seen limping and begging on the streets of large cities. But they received little sympathy as many believed what happened to them was their own fault. </span><span class=”s1″>Within months of the tragedy in mid-1930, music groups started writing songs about the sorry, lasting effects of Ginger Jake. In June 1930, the Allen Brothers, a Tennessee country band, recorded “Jake Walk Blues,” which started this way:</span><span class=”s1″><i>I can’t eat, I can’t talk, </i></span><span class=”s1″><i>Been drinkin’ mean jake, Lord, now I can’t walk, </i></span><span class=”s1″><i>Ain’t got nothin’ now to lose, </i></span><span class=”s1″><i>’Cause I’m a jake walkin’ papa, with the jake walk blues. </i></span><span class=”s1″>That same month, the Mississippi blues group Bo Carter and the Mississippi Sheiks recorded a protest song, “Jake Leg Blues.” The song ends with this stanza: </span><span class=”s1″><i>He could be named Charley, and he could be named Ned, </i></span><span class=”s1″><i>But if he drank this jake, it will give him the limber leg, </i></span><span class=”s1″><i>Oh well, it’s here he comes, I mean to tell you here he comes, </i></span><span class=”s1″><i>He’s got those jake limber leg blues.</i></span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-rise-of-organized-crime/the-mob-during-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-rise-of-organized-crime/the-mob-during-prohibition/”> Next Story: Prohibition Profits Transformed the Mob</a>
Read More Prohibition Profits Transformed the Mob
Prohibition Profits Transformed the Mob<span class=”s1″>Before Prohibition started in 1920, members of criminal gangs in large American cities existed on the periphery of society. Since the 19th century, there was, as sociologists call it, a social hierarchy with big-city “bosses” of political machines financing their control of votes in neighborhoods with payments from criminals running gambling and prostitution rackets and bribing police to look the other way. Under them were many local gangs of various ethnic groups, such as Irish, Italian, Jewish and Polish, focused on street-level crimes such as extortion, loansharking, drugs, burglary, robbery and contract violence.</span><span class=”s1″>In cities such as New York and Kansas City before 1920, the Sicilian Mafia, whose members were among the four million people who immigrated from southern Italy to America starting in about 1875, made money through the “Black Hand” racket — sending cryptic letters demanding payments from ethnic Italians with threats of violence or death. New York’s Tammany Hall political machine sanctioned gambling and brothel rackets by crime groups such the Five Points gang before Prohibition. But activities by the Mafia and criminal gangs generally were not coordinated under an organization, and in fact terms such as “organized crime” and “syndicate” would not enter popular use until after Prohibition began.</span><span class=”s1″>Prohibition practically created organized crime in America. It provided members of small-time street gangs with the greatest opportunity ever — feeding the need of Americans coast to coast to drink beer, wine and hard liquor on the sly. Organized racketeers dominated the illegal “bootlegging” industry as well as the urban machine “bosses” and the vice kings. They understood banking and other legitimate business and bribed policemen, judges, juries, witnesses, politicians and even federal Prohibition agents as the cost of doing business. </span><span class=”s1″>By the early 1920s, profits from the illegal production and trafficking of liquor were so enormous that gangsters learned to be more “organized” than ever, employing lawyers, accountants, brew masters, boat captains, truckers and warehousemen, plus armed thugs known as “torpedoes” to intimidate, injure, bomb or kill competitors. They bought breweries closed because of Prohibition and hired experience brewers. They ran boats out into oceans and lakes to buy liquor from Great Britain and Canada, leading to the term “rum running.” They paid individual citizens to operate stills at home to make gallons of bad-tasting booze. They sold illegal beer, watered-down whiskey and sometimes-poisonous “rotgut” booze in thousands of Mob-owned illegal bars known as “speakeasies.” Often, to screen customers at these illegal bars, a bouncer would look through a peephole in the front door before refusing them or letting them in. </span><span class=”s1″>The new alcohol trafficking gangs during Prohibition also crossed ethnic lines, with Italians, Irish, Jews and Poles working with each other, although inter-gang rivalries, shootings, bombings and killings would shape the 1920s and early ’30s. More than 1,000 people were killed in New York alone in Mob clashes during Prohibition. The period sparked a revolution in organized crime, generating frameworks and stacks of cash for major crime families that, though far less powerful, still exist to this day. </span><span class=”s1″>Bootleggers operated across the United States, from Boston to St. Louis to Miami, Seattle and San Francisco. In Detroit, the Purple Gang smuggled liquor on the Detroit River. In Cleveland, Moe Dalitz’s Mayfield Road Gang’s speed boats shipped liquor across Lake Erie from Canada. But the largest syndicates born out of Prohibition were based in New York and Chicago, both port cities with considerable populations of downtrodden immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Poland and other parts of Europe. Many of these mobsters were part of a generation born in the 1890s and early 1900s that came of age with Prohibition. The infamous Italian-American “Five Families” of New York (Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Bonnano and Colombo) would emerge from the wealth produced by Prohibition. </span><span class=”s1″>The main instigator of modern American organized crime was Charles “Lucky” Luciano, an Italian immigrant (from Sicily) who at the outset of Prohibition, at age 23, began working for illegal gambling boss Arnold Rothstein, an important early investor in bootlegging. Other mobsters who rose as Rothstein’s protégés included Dutch Schultz, Owney Madden and Waxey Gordon. Schultz’s gang featured triggerman Jack “Legs” Diamond and brothers Vincent and Peter Coll.</span><span class=”s1″>By the mid-1920s, Luciano was a multimillionaire and New York’s top bootlegger, making and importing alcohol with other Prohibition-rich associates including Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Louis “Lepke” Buckhalter and Abe “Longy” Zwillman. Luciano also partnered with Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, who like him served their Sicilian boss, Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria. In 1930, Masseria’s operation ran up against that of another boss, Salvatore Maranzano, for control of organized crime in New York’s Italian community. The bosses engaged in a conflict known as the Castellammarese War. Luciano, who liked Maranzano’s flexibility and willingness to welcome in Lansky and Siegel, who were Jewish, left the old-school Masseria for Maranzano’s camp. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>The year 1931, two years before the repeal of Prohibition, would be a formative one for Luciano in New York and the future of American organized crime. Luciano arranged for the death of his longtime boss Masseria, in April, 1931, fearing that Masseria was out to get him. Maranzano, who succeeded Masseria as “the boss of bosses,” allowed Luciano to run one of New York’s five families. But five months later, after finding out that Maranzano was plotting to kill him, Luciano had his new boss killed, giving Luciano the role of undisputed leader of the New York Mafia. But Luciano rejected the traditional position of “boss of bosses.” He instituted a new organization for crime family chiefs across the nation, known as the Commission, which operated something like a corporate board of directors and met to talk over and settle disputes peacefully and agree on courses of action. The Commission would last into at least the late 1950s. </span><span class=”s1″>In Chicago, Johnny Torrio and Al Capone created their criminal group, the Outfit, just after Prohibition started. Torrio, who toiled under brothel racketeer Big Jim Colosimo before 1920, had Colosimo killed after the boss refused his pleas to get into bootlegging. The Outfit under Torrio, with Capone as his right-hand man, ran bootlegging, brothels and illegal gambling in the Windy City’s downtown and South Side. Torrio made deals with other Chicago gangs to share the spoils of bootlegging to avoid bloodshed. But gang shootouts flared during the Chicago “Beer Wars” from 1922 to 1926, when mobsters killed 315 of their own and police officers killed another 160 gangsters. The Outfit was a mostly Italian-American group that would fight violently in the 1920s with gangsters of Irish and Polish extraction, including Dion O’Banion, Hymie Weiss and George “Bugs” Moran, who controlled the illegal liquor trade on the city’s North Side. </span><span class=”s1″>The Outfit gunned down O’Banion in 1924. Torrio, nearly killed in a retaliatory shooting planned by Weiss in 1925, retired and turned over the business to Capone. Weiss was murdered in public by Capone’s men in 1926. Huge sums were at stake. Capone made as much as $100 million a year (equal to $1.3 billion in 2016 dollars). At one point in the 1920s he paid out $500,000 per month (worth about $6 million today) to police to let him operate his illegal booze trade.</span><span class=”s1″>In 1929, seven of Moran’s associates were shot dead in a garage in Chicago during the storied St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Moran, Capone’s target, luckily avoided the area moments before the shooting. Capone was immediately suspected of orchestrating the massacre, but never charged. The murders stunned the country, greatly eroded national support for Prohibition and influenced President Herbert Hoover to order federal authorities to “get” Capone. By 1930, Capone still ran about 6,000 speakeasies and made more than $6 million a week. His powerful cohorts, who met with Chicago and Illinois pols to negotiate deals, included Paul “the Waiter” Ricca and Murray “the Camel” Humphreys. But Capone finally met his downfall in 1931, when he was convicted of federal income tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison. </span><span class=”s1″>Some individual entrepreneurs turned criminal and made a fortune by exploiting loopholes in the Volstead Act. One such bootlegger was George Remus, a well-known lawyer in Chicago who at first defended bootleggers in court and figured almost right away that he would be better off being one. Remus took advantage of the Act’s exemption for the manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks for “medicinal” reasons. A person was allowed a quart of wine or a pint of whiskey every 10 days if prescribed by a doctor for treatment of an illness. The Volstead law also exempted alcohol used by clergy for sacraments — in order not to violate constitutionally protected religious rights — and undrinkable industrial alcohol. Remus had bought up 14 distilleries in Cincinnati by 1924 and earned a fortune estimated at $50 million from selling liquor supposedly for medicinal use to illegal liquor dealers and speakeasies. But an undercover agent exposed him and Remus received a three-year stretch in prison. Famously, while out of prison in 1927, Remus killed his wife but was acquitted at trial.</span><span class=”s1″>After Prohibition’s repeal on December 5, 1933, organized crime, with its top unlawful moneymaking racket gone, was forced to regroup and focus on other things. While some gangsters entered the legal and licensed liquor business, the laws made it harder to earn as much cash and as fast. But all was not lost. There were still the lucrative vice rackets of prostitution and gambling, as well as drug trafficking and labor racketeering. Organized crime had to be more organized, but many former rumrunners still had plenty of money saved from the Prohibition days. Luciano, for one, continued to enjoy the high life as New York’s crime kingpin, living at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel, until his prostitution rackets led to convictions and prison in the mid-1930s. For others, such as Lansky, Siegel, Costello and Dalitz, Las Vegas and its legal casinos awaited, starting in the 1940s. </span><span class=”s1″>While organized crime groups made infamous during Prohibition remain today, they earn only a fraction compared with the proceeds of bootlegging. </span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-rise-of-organized-crime/rum-running/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-rise-of-organized-crime/rum-running/”>Next Story: Rum Runners Delivered the Good Stuff to America’s Speakeasies</a>
Read More Rumrunners Delivered the Good Stuff to America’s Speakeasies
<span class=”s1″>Rum Runners Delivered the Good Stuff to America’s Speakeasies</span><span class=”s1″>Rum running, the organized smuggling of imported whiskey, rum and other liquor by sea and over land to the United States, started within weeks after Prohibition took effect on January 17, 1920. People still wanting to wet their whistles in illegal speakeasies and at home were rejecting foul-tasting and dangerous locally made industrial alcohol being passed off as the real thing. They were demanding quality, authentic Scotch and other liquor “right off the boat.” Among the customers for imported booze from Europe, Canada and the Caribbean were the nation’s bootleggers who ran and supplied thousands of speakeasies. Tops among them were Big Bill Dwyer (dubbed “King of the Bootleggers” by the press) and Mob bosses Charles “Lucky” Luciano in New York and Al Capone in Chicago.</span><span class=”s1″>Shipments of whiskey from Great Britain traveled to Nassau in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean for illicit importation to America’s East Coast and New Orleans. Whiskey distilled in Canada was smuggled by ship or across land to the West Coast from British Columbia, to the Midwest from Saskatchewan and Ontario, and to the East from Nova Scotia and the French island of St. Pierre, a liquor smuggler’s hotspot off Newfoundland. Loads of rum from the Caribbean, imported champagne and other alcohol also made it ashore. Soon, captains of boats loaded with liquor bottles in false bottoms beneath fish bins anchored offshore at designated areas and waited for “contact boats,” small high-speed crafts with buyers who tossed aboard a bundle of large-denomination bills bound by elastic bands, loaded their liquor orders onto their boats and sped to shore to load it onto trucks headed for New York, Boston and other cities. One such stretch of ocean for liquor-selling boats, famously called “Rum Row,” ran from New York to Atlantic City, 12 miles out in international waters to avoid the U.S. Coast Guard.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>The “golden years” of rum running were the early 1920s — before Bureau of Prohibition agents, local police and the Coast Guard knew just what liquor smugglers were up to. On the Detroit River, Detroit’s vicious Purple Gang used speed boats to run liquor into town from Windsor, Ontario. They also hijacked the loads their competitors. One infamous Western rumrunner was Roy Olmstead, who shipped Canadian whiskey from a distillery in Victoria in southwestern Canada down the Haro Strait, stashing it on D’Arcy Island on its way to Seattle. Olmstead was making $200,000 a month before Prohibition agents tapped his phone, leading to his arrest and end as a rumrunner in 1924.</span><span class=”s1″>Individual bootleggers transporting booze by land to Seattle would hide it in automobiles under false floorboards with felt padding or in fake gas tanks. Sometimes whiskey was literally mixed with the air in the tubes of tires. To fool authorities at the border, a smuggler might have a woman and child inside his car with hidden liquor or even stow it inside a school bus transporting children.</span><span class=”s1″>Out at sea or on the Great Lakes, rumrunners in wind-sailed schooners or motor boats contended with the Coast Guard, rough weather and frozen water. Even worse were the “go-through guys,” hoodlums armed with pistols and Thompson machines guns in speed boats who hijacked the ships, stole cargos and cash and at times killed rumrunners’ crews and sank their ships. </span><span class=”s1″>The fast-moving rumrunners frustrated the Coast Guard so much by 1923 that Commandant William E. Reynolds asked the federal government for 200 more cruisers and 90 speed boats for patrols to catch up with the contact boats. The agency would add 36 World War I naval ships to enforce Prohibition and employ 11,000 officers and crew. </span><span class=”s1″>Another famous rumrunner was William “Bill” McCoy on the East Coast. McCoy, an enterprising former merchant sailor, had lost his Jacksonville, Florida, motorboat transport business to onshore buses in early 1920 when a well-healed gentleman offered him the chance to smuggle liquor. McCoy agreed and soon became one of the earliest and most successful rumrunners. The quality of the name-brand Scotch and whiskey he provided was so revered that bootleggers on Rum Row used the term “the real McCoy” to describe good liquor.</span><span class=”s1″>McCoy started hauling Great Britain-made liquor from Nassau harbor in the Bahamas to the East Coast, then, with the heat on, moved for a time up north to St. Pierre Island. He could store 5,000 cases of liquor on his schooner the <i>Arethusa</i>. The “cases” were unique – not wooden ones but far-lighter, consisting of six paper-covered bottles stacked in a pyramid, covered in straw and tied into a burlap sack. McCoy installed a machine gun on the deck of the <i>Arethusa</i> in case he had to deal with go-through guys. One of his fellow booze smugglers was Gertrude Lythgoe, known as the “Queen of the Bootleggers” in Nassau. </span><span class=”s1″>While floating at sea on Rum Row, boats like McCoy’s would post handwritten signs on the riggings, showing the names of their liquors and prices. McCoy’s customers, up to 15 at a time, drove their contact boats up to his schooner, keeping their motors running while buying cases of his products such as Johnny Walker and Dewer’s. He was popular for his fair prices, offers of free samples and a free case per order to paying customers. </span>McCoy’s time as the brash, romantic rumrunner, however, came to an end in 1923, when a Coast Guard cutter spotted his flagship schooner, renamed the <em>Tomoka</em>, on Rum Row about six miles off the coast of New Jersey. McCoy ordered his crew to sail away, but he surrendered after the Coast Guard fired a six-pound cannon shell at his vessel. In the mid-1920s, he pleaded guilty to smuggling, served nine months in jail and later moved to Florida where he and his brother Ben started a business building ships.<br />
<span class=”s1″>Rum running became much more difficult after the Coast Guard obtained fast “six-bitter” patrol boats and by 1926 could block the contact boats from making it ashore, forcing many runners to dump their liquor into the ocean to avoid arrest. Rum Row was pushed farther out, making it difficult to make a profit. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American-flagged ships with illegal liquor could be seized up to 34 miles from shore.</span><span class=”s1″>Meanwhile, Olmstead was serving a four-year prison sentence for bootlegging. Three leaders of the Purple Gang were sentenced to life without parole on illegal weapons charges in 1930. Capone got 11 years in prison for tax evasion in 1931. And when Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, McCoy’s old customers no longer needed a bootlegger’s help to buy a good bottle of Scotch.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/enforcing-the-prohibition-laws/law-enforcement-during-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/enforcing-the-prohibition-laws/law-enforcement-during-prohibition/”> Next Story: Prohibition Agents Lacked Training, Numbers to Battle Bootleggers</a>
Read More Prohibition Agents Lacked Training, Numbers to Battle Bootleggers
Prohibition Agents Lacked Training, Numbers to Battle BootleggersIn January 1919, two-thirds of America’s state legislatures officially approved the 18th Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor. Prohibition was set to begin one year later, on January 17, 1920.
<span class=”s1″>But the new constitutional amendment did not specify how the law would be enforced, so Congress passed a separate law, the National Prohibition Act. The law was also known as the Volstead Act, named after Congressman Andrew John Volstead of Minnesota, a prohibition supporter who guided the bill as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.</span><span class=”s1″>While the 18th Amendment was only a few pages long, the Volstead Act took up 17 pages singled spaced in Congress’ legislative record for 1919. In language that some found confusing, the act called for the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (in the Treasury Department) to oversee enforcement and make adjustments to the regulations as needed. The IRS subsequently established the Prohibition Unit, staffed by agents who were not required to take Civil Service exams, leaving the door open for members of Congress and local pols to appoint their cronies, including applicants with questionable backgrounds. The government provided funds for only 1,500 agents at first to enforce Prohibition across the country. They were issued guns and given access to vehicles, but many had little or no training.</span><span class=”s1″>Effective enforcement of Volstead was almost doomed from the start. The country’s 48 states at the time were not inclined to help much, preferring to have federal agents shoulder the burden. Available operating funds were inadequate – the federal government and states together spent less than $500,000 to enforce Prohibition in 1923. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Prohibition agents and cooperative local law enforcers throughout the country seized warehouses full of whiskey, busted up stills, smashed countless bottles of liquor, took axes to beer barrels and dumped the contents into gutters and sewers. Their brethren in the Coast Guard, after a slow start in the early ’20s, used speed boats and retired military ships to pursue, board and seize the vessels of rumrunners smuggling whiskey into the country on the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. </span><span class=”s1″>The escapades of Prohibition officers – nicknamed “Prohis” (pro-hees) — were covered in newspapers and magazines, on radio and in movie theater newsreels. Some attained national fame. Early on, the biggest Prohi stars were Isidore “Izzy” Einstein and Moe Smith, known as “Izzy and Moe,” in New York City. Not only were Izzy and Moe truthful and law-abiding, they took their jobs to a level no one could match. </span><span class=”s1″>Izzy, a rotund, 5-foot, 5-inch Austrian Jewish immigrant and former postal worker, was a wiz at foreign languages. He spoke German and three other tongues, knew words in Russian, Spanish, French, Italian and Chinese, and could imitate foreign accents in English. He also played the violin. To bust violators of Volstead, Izzy dressed as a woman, a Texas oil man, a Southern colonel, a football player in a muddy uniform or a horse wagon driver, then he might fake the accent of his choice to create a diversion. He would go up to a speakeasy, innocently order a legal “near-beer,” then ask for a pint of illegal whiskey from the unsuspecting barkeep, and upon receiving one say, “There’s sad news here. You’re under arrest.” Izzy, “the man of a thousand disguises,” arrested more than 4,900 people, sometimes as many as 30 in a night.</span><span class=”s1″>Izzy one day convinced his friend Moe, a cigar store owner and small-time boxing manager who was flabbier than Izzy, to join him as a Prohibition agent. The pair soon went on scores of “undercover” capers without anyone discovering their tricks until it was too late. Working together they posed as everything from firemen to farmers, gas meter inspectors, street cleaners, gravediggers and truck drivers. One of their two-man shows in New York was for Moe to masquerade as an out-of-towner and Izzy as his loudmouthed sidekick. While at a restaurant, Izzy would quietly tell the waiter his traveling friend was looking for some liquor, then arrest the server when he produced it. They also arrested bootleggers who obtained wine meant for Jewish sacraments and for industrial alcohol sold for manufacturing tobacco. They even blackened their faces to raid a deli in the African-American district of Harlem. </span><span class=”s1″>They used a device Izzy invented, a rubber hose hidden in a small coat pocket leading to a flask sewn into another pocket. They would buy a bottle of illegal liquor at a speakeasy and discretely pour the contents into the hose, catching the liquor for use as evidence, then arrest the seller. Izzy never packed a gun, but Moe did, although he never fired it at anyone. Some speakeasy owners posted press pictures of Izzy on the wall with the message, “Look out for his man.” Though famous, Izzy took even to posing as himself. He would ask a bartender to sell him a pint of whiskey and say, “I’m Izzy Einstein,” which the barkeep would laughingly repeat to his patrons. After the barman produced the liquor, Izzy would arrest him. </span><span class=”s1″>Izzy and Moe traveled and made arrests in cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cleveland. In Hollywood, California, they dressed in suits of armor as “extras” for a movie set in medieval times to enter and bust a speakeasy used by actors. But the pair’s more straight-laced superiors in the Prohibition Unit complained about the publicity they generated and dissolved their partnership “for the good” of the unit in 1925. While Izzy and Moe were the most famous, there were other agents whose actions garnered them nicknames in the press – M. T. Gonzaulles, known as “the Lone Wolf of Texas,” Daisy Simpson, “the Woman of a Hundred Disguises,” and Al “Wallpaper” Wolff.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>As the years went by, what Prohibition agents and state and local police found daunting to enforce would evolve into a virtually impossible task later, even after the feds expanded to 3,000 agents late in the era. First was the sheer scope of the challenge. Prohibition agents were tasked with keeping watch for bootleggers on the country’s 12,000 miles of shoreline, as well as the borders with Canada and Mexico that reached close to 3,900 miles. The unit received assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard on seas and lakes and Customs and Immigration agents at borders, but they still could not keep up with bootleggers. Agents had to police the 170 million gallons of industrial alcohol – exempted by Volstead – produced in the national annually, tens of thousands of commercial stills making spirits and potentially 22 million American households able to churn out home-fermented wine, beer and hard liquor.</span><span class=”s1″>Yet another challenge was greed in the ranks of agents. Their salaries ranged from only $1,200 to $3,000 per year. Many agents could not resist the opportunity to accept payoffs from cash-rich bootleggers. As early as the end of 1921, the Prohibition Unit terminated 100 of its agents in New York alone for taking bribes after issuing permits to obtain legal alcohol. Some had direct ties to bootleggers or were bootleggers themselves. Making the jobs of honest Prohis harder were the many local police officers who took payoffs from bootleggers in exchange for looking the other way and tipping them off about federal raids. </span><span class=”s1″>With so many Prohis tainted by graft, and Al Capone having his way with the liquor rackets in Chicago, the Hoover administration shook things up in what would be a two-pronged attack on bootleggers, using Volstead and federal tax laws.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>In 1927, Elmer Irey, the head of the Enforcement Branch of the then-named Bureau of Internal Revenue, started investigating criminal evasion of federal incomes taxes by Capone and other booze runners. The U.S. Supreme had ruled in May of that year that a bootlegger, Manly Sullivan, could not claim income from illegal activity was untaxable, nor that to file a federal tax return on income earned from criminal acts would violate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Irey created a Special Intelligence Unit of revenue agents, led by Frank Wilson, to go after bootleggers for tax evasion and money laundering in the nation’s hotbed for illegal liquor, Chicago. Capone controlled 20,000 speakeasies and employed 1,000 hoodlums. There were 300 Prohibition agents in Chicago. </span><span class=”s1″>In 1930, the Prohibition Unit was transferred from Treasury to the Justice Department and renamed the Bureau of Prohibition. The increase in violent crime investigated by Prohibition agents had exceeded Treasury’s core duty of collecting taxes, and Justice was better suited to probe organized crime. George E.Q. Johnson, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, took charge of overseeing the efforts by Irey and Wilson to get Capone on criminal tax charges and those of the Bureau’s new investigative chief in Chicago, Special Agent in Charge Eliot Ness. A 26-year-old graduate of the University of Chicago, Ness was assigned to coordinate a special detail of Prohis to take on Capone’s liquor rackets and build criminal cases against him for Volstead Act violations. Ness handpicked nine of the bureau’s best agents, all under age 30, whom he determined were incorruptible and uniquely skillful (later dramatized in the TV series and movie, “The Untouchables,” based on Ness’ ghost-written memoir). Ness used his special unit to take aim at Capone’s breweries, but learned early that he could not trust the Chicago police. While planning a raid on a brewery, he informed Chicago’s finest and an officer on Capone’s dole informed the Mob boss. Ness brought reporters along to a building to view the raid, but was embarrassed to see there was no illegal liquor inside. He kept information on subsequent raids to within his special unit. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>But the new Bureau of Prohibition had a lot to answer for. By 1930, 1,587 out of 17,816 federal Prohibition employees had been fired for everything from lying on their applications to perjury, robbery, bribery, embezzlement and contempt of court. Critics of Volstead complained that the corruption resulted because the law exempted Prohibition agents from Civil Service rules. Volstead’s advocates contended that Congress might not have passed the law without the exemption.</span><span class=”s1″>Many Prohi agents, however, did their jobs on the up and up. As John Kobler wrote in his 1973 book <i>Ardent Spirits</i>, for most of Prohibition, from 1920 to 1930, agents took about 577,000 suspects into custody, and prosecutors won convictions from almost two in three. Agents confiscated 1.6 million stills and other liquor-making devices, 9 million gallons of hard liquor, one billion gallons of malt liquor, a billion gallons of wine, hard cider and mash, plus 45,000 cars and 1,300 boats. The value of the property federal agents seized was set at $40 million ($550 million in 2016 dollars), and state and local officials likely seized about the same amount. But the caseload for arrestees on liquor charges overburdened the court system and most suspected bootleggers pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for lighter sentences and fines.</span><span class=”s1″>In the meantime, Irey’s Intelligence Unit started obtaining convictions and prison sentences for tax evasion against some of Chicago’s liquor racketeers, first Terry Druggan and Frank Lake, then Al’s brother Ralph Capone, who got three years in prison in 1929. </span><span class=”s1″>It took longer for Wilson and his agents to crack the case against Al Capone. By mid-1930, they had reviewed 1.7 million financial documents thought related to the gangster’s rackets, which aside from liquor included gambling and brothels. Then Wilson happened on three ledgers showing illegal gambling profits to Al Capone, Ralph Capone and others in Cicero, a suburban of Chicago, from 1924 to 1926. Wilson tracked down the man who wrote some of the entries in the ledgers, Leslie Shumway, and convinced him to testify before a grand jury against Al in March 1931. On June 5, the panel indicted Capone on more than 20 counts of evading taxes — on $123,000 in income in 1924 and about $1 million (a small percentage of his actual income) from 1925 to 1929. </span><span class=”s1″>The following week, the grand jury considered evidence in cases Ness and his special unit pursued on alleged Volstead violations against Capone. The jury returned indictments on 69 people, including Capone, based on 5,000 counts. The case was based mainly on Capone’s $13 million brewery business. Before going to trial, prosecutors decided to keep the Volstead charges in reserve in favor of the tax evasion case, thinking a jury might be less inclined to convict Capone for bootlegging than for cheating on his taxes. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>They were right about the tax charges. The jury at Capone’s 1931 trial found him guilty on five of the counts. The judge sentenced Capone to up to 11 years in prison and made him pay a record $80,000 in fines and court costs. Capone’s gang continued to run his rackets while he sat in prison, but they lost their main source of income with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Capone served time in a number of federal prisons, including Alcatraz, until his release in 1939. He died of a brain hemorrhage in 1947.</span><span class=”s1″>After the demise of Prohibition, the Bureau was changed to the Alcohol Beverage Unit, under the supervision of J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. But then the agency was sent back to Treasury to handle tax revenue collected on legal alcohol and renamed the Alcohol Tax Unit.</span> <a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/enforcing-the-prohibition-laws/the-supreme-court-and-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/enforcing-the-prohibition-laws/the-supreme-court-and-prohibition/”>Next Story: Key Court Rulings Enhanced Prohibition Enforcement</a>
Read More Key Court Rulings Enhanced Prohibition Enforcement
Key Court Rulings Enhanced Prohibition Enforcement<span class=”s1″>The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions as a result of Prohibition that would make legal history. Both cases in the late 1920s centered on the prosecution of liquor law violators who claimed the government violated their constitutional rights. One case would be used to bring down America’s premiere bootlegger, Al Capone, and the other produced an influential opinion challenging the use of wiretaps and contending that citizens have a “right to be left alone.”</span><span class=”s1″>The first case, United States vs. Sullivan, reached the high court in 1927. The defendant, Manly “Manny” Sullivan, appealed his 1922 conviction for evading federal taxes on income from running illegal whiskey, in violation of the National Prohibition Act. Sullivan, who claimed the liquor transported by boat to Charleston, South Carolina, was not his, appealed his conviction claiming that filing a tax return on gains from criminal activity violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. A federal court of appeals sided with Sullivan, stating that while his ill-gotten income was subject to federal taxes, the Fifth Amendment protected him because in filing a return he would be admitting he committed a crime. Mabel Willebrandt, the assistant U.S. attorney general assigned to enforce federal tax and Prohibition laws, asked the Supreme Court to review the case on appeal.</span><span class=”s1″>Willebrandt herself stood before the Supreme Court to argue the government’s case against Sullivan. She insisted that Sullivan’s income from the criminal sales of liquor was taxable by the IRS, that Sullivan violated tax laws by not reporting that income and that the Fifth Amendment was no defense. On May 16, the court overruled the appeals court, deciding that gains from the illicit liquor business are subject to the income tax and that the Fifth Amendment did not protect someone who willfully refused to file a return.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>“It would be an extreme if not an extravagant application of the Fifth Amendment to say that it authorized a man to refuse to state the amount of his income because it had been made in crime,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for the majority.</span><span class=”s1″>The Supreme Court ruling emboldened the IRS in its investigation of Al Capone, the nation’s top racketeer. Now they had a high court decision to help them target Capone — who had save for some minor crimes been able to avoid prosecution. IRS officials pored over Capone’s own ledgers and other sources to estimate his income at more than $1 million from 1924 to 1929. In failing to file any federal tax returns, they claimed he evaded about $219,000 in federal taxes. With penalties adding up to $164,000, Capone owed the IRS $383,000. In 1931, a jury convicted Capone of tax evasion and a judge sentenced him to 11 years in federal prison, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to pay $215,000 in back taxes. Capone remained in prison until 1939.</span><span class=”s1″>The second case, Olmstead vs. U.S., reached the Supreme Court a year later in 1928. Seattle bootlegger Roy Olmstead filed an appeal of his 1926 convictions for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act. Prosecutors alleged that Olmstead, a former Seattle police lieutenant, led a gang that used boats and trucks to smuggle liquor from Canada and supply as many as 200 cases per day within Seattle. His operation made an estimated $2 million a year. Olmstead contended that federal Prohibition agents gathered evidence of the alleged conspiracy in part through wiretaps on his gang’s phone conversations. The agents intercepted conversations of people using Olmstead’s phone service to order illegal liquor for delivery. Two allegedly corrupt Seattle police officers were also charged. </span><span class=”s1″>During the trial in 1926, prosecutors did not enter as evidence the transcripts of the wiretapped phone conversations but used them to help Prohibition agents refresh their memories while testifying. The agents and members of Olmstead’s gang used as government witnesses detailed how the rumrunning ring sold liquor. Defense attorneys said that evidence obtained by government wiretapping violated their clients’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and the transcripts of conversations used in court violated their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. Still, Olmstead and 20 defendants were found guilty in 1926.</span><span class=”s1″>After losing at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Olmstead and the other defendants took their case to the Supreme Court. Again they maintained that the evidence and testimony used against them should be suppressed because Prohibition agents used wiretaps, which were illegal under Washington state law, and should not be admissible in court.</span><span class=”s1″>This time, Willebrandt, who opposed the use of wiretapping, stepped aside and had another federal attorney make the oral argument for the government. A divided high court decided 5-4 against, therefore upholding the convictions of Olmstead and his co-defendants. </span><span class=”s1″>Writing for the majority, Justice William Howard Taft compared wiretaps to legitimate undercover investigations by law enforcement. Since agents placed the wiretaps in the street outside of Olmstead’s home and did not enter his home or office to perform the wiretaps, they did not trespass to search a constitutionally protected area, and so obtained the evidence legally, Taft said. </span><span class=”s1″>Those against the ruling included Justices William Brandeis, Pierce Butler, Harlan Fiske Stone and Holmes. Brandeis’ written dissent in Olmstead vs. U.S. famously advocated that the Constitution guaranteed a right to privacy, or “a right to be let alone,” from government intervention. Brandeis asserted that the intent of the Fourth Amendment was to prohibit infringement of an individual’s privacy and liberty and that wiretaps amounted to illegal seizures of phone conversations. “There is, in essence, no difference between a sealed letter and the private phone message,” he wrote. The justice also concluded that the Olmstead case defendants were denied their Fifth Amendment rights.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Even though Olmstead and his cohorts lost, the case changed federal law. It brought the issue of wiretapping conversations to the fore. After the repeal of Prohibition, public opinion turned against wiretapping. Taft himself in his opinion mentioned that Congress could outlaw it if it wanted to. Congress did just that with the Communications Act of 1934, which made wiretapping a criminal offense and evidence obtained from it inadmissible in federal court. </span><span class=”s1″>Olmstead vs. U.S. remained the Supreme Court’s dominant case law on wiretapping until 1967, when the court in Katz vs. U.S. ruled that eavesdropping on a suspect’s phone conversation by law enforcement, even without physical trespass, still violated the person’s Fourth Amendment right to a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded space,” that is, unless the law officer first obtained a warrant to do it. </span><span class=”s1″>Willebrandt, in her book <i>The Inside of Prohibition</i>, addressed her disapproval of wiretapping but acknowledged that it “disclosed an illegal liquor business of amazing magnitude” in the Olmstead case. </span><span class=”s1″>“Although personally I would still use my influence to prevent the policy of wiretapping being adopted as a Prohibition enforcement measure, I nevertheless recognize that the interpretation of the United States Constitution against the lawbreaker and in favor of the government’s right to catch him is a Prohibition victory of no small proportions,” she wrote.</span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/how-prohibition-changed-american-culture/womens-rights/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/how-prohibition-changed-american-culture/womens-rights/”> Next Story: Women’s Rights Advanced During Prohibition</a>
Read More During Prohibition, Mob Bosses Tripped Up By Tax Laws
Although liquor enforcement was ineffective in many cities during Prohibition, the federal government eventually found a more successful way to attack organized crime: targeting tax evaders.
Read More Women’s Rights Advanced During Prohibition
During Prohibition, women gained the right to vote, but they also enjoyed greater autonomy in their private lives: at home, in the workplace and in relationships.
Read More The Rise of Jazz and Jukeboxes
<span class=”s1″>The Rise of Jazz and Jukeboxes</span><span class=”s1″>While jazz music predated Prohibition, the new federal law restricting liquor advanced the future of jazz by creating a nationwide underground nightclub culture in the 1920s. This competitive club culture had mobsters such as Al and Ralph Capone of Chicago and Owney Madden of New York vying for the best performers for their drink-swilling customers. That culture advanced the careers of major jazz performers such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke and jazz itself as an art form. It also would lead to millions in profits for organized crime bosses.</span><span class=”s1″>Prohibition forced tens of thousands of saloons throughout the country to shut down, but the demand for drink remained, and thousands of illegal bars, or speakeasies, soon opened. Gangsters, who manufactured or transported liquor in violation of the federal Volstead Act, supplied the liquor, owned the speakeasies, or both. At first some speakeasy owners offered live music by bands linked to vaudeville stage acts. But jazz was a better fit for the era’s party mood. Bar owners soon were hiring small jazz bands with local players to furnish background or dance music.</span><span class=”s1″>The decade that F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the 1925 novel <i>The Great Gatsby</i>, hailed as “the Jazz Age” began when jazz was already the pop music of its time, especially among members of the younger generation in the 1920s. Women, given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment, were welcomed in the new underground lounges. Many young women rebelled against the restrictions on “ladylike” behavior and dress of the Victorian age, becoming liberated “flappers” or what Fitzgerald would call “good-time girls.” The combination of jazz and liquor-infused partying by men and women characterized this period known as the “Roaring Twenties,” inspiring dance crazes such as the “Charleston,” “Fox Trot,” “Shimmy,” “Toddle” and “Lindy Hop.”</span><span class=”s1″>Recordings of jazz and blues music had been sold as “race records” since 1917 and played on acoustic phonographs, both home models and the coin-operated variety in arcades. In 1920, Prohibition’s first year, Bessie Smith, a rising African-American jazz singer, sold one million records. Also that year, the first commercial radio stations went on the air. Soon, the popularity of jazz soared as more records were cut, top musicians performed in clubs in New York and Chicago and the music was broadcast on the airwaves. Within two years, more than 550 licensed radio stations operated across the nation. </span><span class=”s1″>Other technological advances would spur the growth of jazz during Prohibition. Coin-run phonographs playing low-fidelity acoustic records operated alongside louder, coin-run player pianos and band instrument machines as cheap entertainment in speakeasies. But coin-operated phonographs (known a decade later as “jukeboxes”) would take over with the introduction of 78 rpm records made with amplified electronic sound in 1926. The American Music Instrument Company of Michigan introduced the first “coin-op” electronic record machine, with ten 78 records and 20 song selections, in 1927. The new cultural phenomenon of listening to jazz on high-fidelity 78 rpm records on a nickel-per-play machine became a fast hit in speakeasies.</span><span class=”s1″>The marquee nightclubs serving liquor in New York and Chicago – known to police but frequently tolerated thanks to payoffs from club owners – became larger, noisier and more opulent as they competed for paying customers. Armstrong and Ellington were among the jazz acts in highest demand. Two of the best-known nightclubs of the era were Madden’s Cotton Club and Connie’s Inn, owned by Conrad Immerman, both in New York’s predominantly black Harlem district (Connie’s Inn closed its doors with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933).<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>The new opportunities for live musicians in higher-paying clubs would foster two types of jazz in the 1920s. From New Orleans, where Armstrong and Oliver originated, came a style in which musicians performed together as an ensemble. In Chicago, a free-form, improvisational style arose. Armstrong, who moved with Oliver to Chicago in 1922, became a big success as a jazz recording artist, as did Smith, who recorded 180 songs during the decade. Some of their jazz records openly referred to illegal booze. One of Smith’s songs, called “Me and My Gin,” included the refrain, “Any bootlegger sure is a pal of mine.” Armstrong recorded a popular song about drinking titled “Knockin’ a Jug.”<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Many Prohibition-era jazz players were African-Americans who often performed for exclusively white audiences. But the illicit club culture would go on to promote integration, leading to what were known as “black and tan” clubs with multiracial crowds. This Prohibition-inspired trend was nearly unprecedented for an age in America when segregation was not only the cultural norm but a common government policy. </span><span class=”s1″>As Armstrong, Oliver, Ellington and many top black jazz musicians attained national fame in the 1920s, they felt pressure from Mob-owned clubs. Some mobsters used enforcers to threaten players into signing performing contracts or extorted money from them. White jazz artists who also won national reputations during the era included Whiteman, a band leader nicknamed the “King of Jazz,” and Beiderbecke, the hard-drinking cornetist, pianist and recording artist.</span><span class=”s1″>By the late ’20s, Chicago was regarded as America’s jazz capital with its famous line of clubs on the city’s South Side. Its most infamous bootlegger of hard liquor and beer was Al Capone, leader of the crime syndicate known as the Outfit. Capone himself at one time owned 10,000 speakeasies in the city. He liked jazz and installed his brother, Ralph, to run their finest nightclub, the Cotton Club, in the Chicago suburb of Cicero. The club served white audiences and dignitaries such as Chicago Mayor Jim “Big Bill” Thompson. Al instructed Ralph to book only black musicians because he considered them as oppressed as his Italian immigrant relatives. </span><span class=”s1″>The devotion to jazz shown by the Capone brothers and other business-minded mobsters during Prohibition would benefit black jazz greats Armstrong, Ellington, Waller, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Ethel Waters, and with them, the future of jazz as an enduring genre of American music.</span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/how-prohibition-changed-american-culture/movies-during-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/how-prohibition-changed-american-culture/movies-during-prohibition/”>Next Story: Flappers and Gangsters Ruled the Silver Screen</a>
Read More Flappers and Gangsters Ruled the Silver Screen
The cultural revolutions of the Prohibition era were reflected in the movies produced by Hollywood, which made the flapper and the gangster into movie house mainstays.
Read More Prohibition Sparked a Women’s Fashion Revolution
Women during the 1920s abandoned the styles of their Victorian-era mothers and embraced bobs, beads and higher hemlines. The “flapper” eschewed corsets and floor-length gowns in favor of free-flowing, ornately decorated attire.
Read More Dating Replaced Courtship During Prohibition
The 1920s saw the demise of traditional courting rituals as newly empowered and liberated women danced, drank and mingled with men in public places without chaperones on their heels.
Read More Mixed Drinks Made Rotgut Liquor Palatable
Cocktails were invented before Prohibition, but they became particularly popular to soothe the burn of rudimentary liquors produced during Prohibition.
Read More NASCAR Rooted in Prohibition Bootlegging
NASCAR Rooted in Prohibition Bootlegging<span class=”s1″>From North Carolina to Spokane, Washington, bootleggers during Prohibition used “souped up” automobiles to stay to ahead of federal agents and local police while transporting illegal whiskey on back roads in the dark of night. </span><span class=”s1″>The idea was fairly simple – take a car that looked ordinary on the outside, modify the engine for greater speed, remove the floor boards, passenger and back seats to store as many cases of liquor as possible, install extra suspension springs to handle the weight, a dirt-protecting plate in front of the radiator and run the prohibited booze to customers by outsmarting or outrunning the authorities.</span><span class=”s1″>To elude federal Prohibition agents, sheriffs and cops on the road, these daring “runners” needed sharp driving skills to speed and maneuver along dirt, gravel, single-lane, and occasionally, paved roads after dark and at times with their headlights turned off. </span><span class=”s1″>Even before Prohibition came to an end in 1933, racing these high-performance cars became a popular pastime among the “runners” in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and elsewhere in the South. They raced each other’s cars, many of them Ford models, on weekend afternoons out in the country on makeshift dirt tracks. Such were the bootlegger roots of the stock car, and what would evolve into the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, in 1947.</span><span class=”s1″>Booze runners looked for good mechanics who knew how to make their engines run faster and handle better than police vehicles. This became even more important in 1932, when Ford introduced its flathead V-8, with eight cylinders, a powerful car that runners started using as did police departments to keep pace.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>By the nature of their illegal liquor business, veering fast along curvy, mountainous roads, runners taught themselves to be the best stock car drivers of the era and beyond. Although national Prohibition ended in 1933, production of illegal whiskey continued for years afterward to avoid taxes and regulations. Many future NASCAR drivers cut their teeth bootlegging illegal moonshine in the 1940s, such as NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, who won his learner’s permit by running corn mash hooch before his NASCAR debut in 1955. </span><span class=”s1″>Edmund Fahey of Spokane, Washington, who smuggled cases of Scotch whiskey from Canada inside his modified Buick across the border in the early ’20s, wrote in his 1972 autobiography that runners had to guard against getting flats in the era’s flimsy tubed tires and be good roadside mechanics, almost like a race car driver and crew in one.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>“The rum smuggler put his cars through mechanical tests as tough as those devised by test drivers,” he wrote. “Tires were put to the severest possible tests. Heavy loads, hauled over the toughest of roads often at reckless speeds, kept the rubber on your car always under the utmost strain. Therefore, the rum smuggler at all times used the best tires that could be bought. In fact, several companies developed tires especially for the rum-running trade. Many a runner served time in jail simply because his rubber failed him at some critical moment.”</span><span class=”s1″>Fahey dropped out of the runner’s racket after an arrest and six-month jail sentence in the mid-’20s and did not end up as a racer. </span><span class=”s1″>The legacy of the Prohibition runner went beyond casual backwoods racing in 1936, when the city of Daytona, Florida, held the first organized stock car race as a promotion. It lost money, but a Prohibition-era mechanic named Bill France, who placed fifth in the race, was determined to find a way to organize stock car racing. It took him more than a decade, but NASCAR’s organization set a single set of rules for racetracks and formalized the sport. The first NASCAR race was held in Daytona on February 15, 1948. The winner, in a modified Ford, was Red Byron, a former moonshine runner. </span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/prohibition-potpourri/prohibition-products/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/prohibition-potpourri/prohibition-products/”>Next Story: Brewers and Distillers Found Creative Ways to Survive</a>
Read More Brewers and Distillers Found Creative Ways to Survive
When Prohibition took effect, many brewers, distilleries and vineyards were put out of business. But some converted their operations to make other products, including cheese, ice cream and even pottery.
Read More Odd Facts and Stories from Prohibition
Odd Facts and Stories from Prohibition<span class=”s1″><b>Congress had its own bootlegger known as the Man in the Green Hat.</b></span><span class=”s1″>Members of Congress who wanted alcohol during Prohibition could turn to Capitol Hill’s top bootlegger, George L. Cassiday. Cassiday walked through the halls of Congress making up to 25 deliveries of illegal booze a day while Capitol Police allowed him in at all hours. Over five years he supplied bottles of whiskey, moonshine, Scotch, bourbon and gin from a sturdy leather briefcase. His politician friends got him a room to work out of in the House Office Building. In 1925, when he was arrested while ferreting six quarts of whiskey to a House member, he had on a light green hat, and from press accounts the “Man in the Green Hat” stuck. Cassiday pleaded guilty and simply switched to selling in the Senate Office Building. His infamy spread to the office of Vice President Charles Curtis, who set up a sting operation in 1930 with a Prohibition agent “dry spy” watching Cassiday from the Senate’s stationery store. Cassiday was arrested with six bottles of gin and his client list (which was never published). He was sentenced to a year in prison. Cassiday later wrote that he helped 80 percent of Congress violate Prohibition laws.</span><span class=”s1″><b>Herbert Hoover never referred to Prohibition as “a noble experiment.”</b></span><span class=”s1″>Many books and articles on Prohibition have quoted President Herbert Hoover describing Prohibition as “a noble experiment.” But Hoover himself complained that he was misquoted. Hoover was a confirmed supporter of Prohibition and campaigned for it the year he was elected president in 1928. He made this pro-dry statement at the Republican National Convention that year: “Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose.” But years after leaving office, Hoover said he was misunderstood. “This phrase, ‘a great social experiment, noble in motive,’ was distorted into a ‘noble experiment,’ which of course was not at all what I said or intended to say. It was an unfortunate phrase because it could be turned into derision. Moreover, to regard the Prohibition law as an ‘experiment’ did not please the extreme drys, and to say it was ‘noble in motive’ did not please the extreme wets.”<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″><b>Al Capone’s oldest brother was a Prohibition enforcement agent.</b></span><span class=”s1″>While his younger brother Al built a criminal empire based on illegal liquor in Chicago in the 1920s, James Vincenzo Capone enforced Prohibition laws for the federal Indian Affairs administration on reservations of the Winnebago and Omaha tribes in Nebraska. Vincenzo, the eldest of the six Capone brothers, had changed his name to Richard Joseph Hart to hide his identity and in tribute to the silent movie cowboy, William S. Hart. After a stint in the circus, Vincenzo settled in the small town of Homer, Nebraska. He served as Homer’s town marshal, wore Western-style garb and hat and a pair of six guns that garnered him the nickname of “Two-Gun” Hart. With Indian Affairs in 1922, he was a special officer assigned to investigate bootlegging. While in Sioux City, Iowa, he killed a suspected bootlegger. He was charged with manslaughter but beat the rap. Later, while on another term as marshal of Homer, he lost his badge on suspicion of theft. He reunited with the Capone family in 1940, met his ailing brother Al in Miami and started receiving financial aid from them. He died in 1952.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″><b>The end of Prohibition made U.S. constitutional history.</b></span><span class=”s1″>The repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) by the 21st Amendment was the first and only time the Constitution was amended by state constitutional conventions – instead of state legislatures – and the only time an amendment abolished a previous one. </span><span class=”s1″><b>The Prohibition Party still exists.</b></span><span class=”s1″>Among the early organizations to support prohibiting alcohol in the United States was the Prohibition Party, formed in 1869 with the intent to elect politicians opposed to alcoholic beverages. The Prohibition Party remains America’s oldest third party. It was the first political party to permit women as members. Thomas Nast, the famed cartoonist for <i>Harper’s Weekly</i> in the late 1800s who created the elephant to symbolize the Republican Party and the donkey for Democrats, settled on the camel for the Prohibition Party, since that animal drinks only water. The Prohibition Party is today little more than a curiosity with very little support left. Its platform remains opposed to alcohol as well as tobacco. Its candidate for president of the United States in 2012 garnered just 519 votes nationwide. In 2016, the party nominated James Hedges of Iowa for president and Bill Bayes of New York for vice president. </span><span class=”s1″><b>Some of the top leaders of women’s rights started out in the temperance movement that led to Prohibition.</b></span><span class=”s1″>Women’s rights activists of the 19th century such as Susan B. Anthony, Amanda Bloomer and Lucy Stone started out in the anti-alcohol, or temperance, movement. The unprecedented impact women had on the temperance movement led not only to Prohibition but to women’s suffrage. The drive that led to the 18th Amendment no doubt propelled the states, only a year after enacting Prohibition, to pass the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote nationally in 1920.</span><span class=”s1″><b>The term “speakeasy” did not originate during Prohibition.</b></span><span class=”s1″>It came from the two-word phrase “speak easy,” coined by American journalist Samuel Hudson back in 1889. Hudson, in his 1909 book <i>Pennsylvania and Its Public Men</i>, recalled that while in Pittsburgh in 1889, a new city liquor licensing law reduced the number of taverns there to only 96. That encouraged a rise in illegal bars all over town. Hudson asked Tim O’Leary, a local Democratic Party politician, to show him one. O’Leary explained that an elderly Irish widow who sold illegal beer and whiskey once warned her patrons, in her brogue, to “spake asy, now, the police are at the dure.” So, Hudson said, “Spake asy” became the moniker for the hundreds of unlicensed taverns in Pittsburgh. When Hudson returned home to Philadelphia, he wrote a column about the “speak easy” in the daily newspaper, <i>The Item. </i>“It is I who brought to Philadelphia and popularized the term ‘speak easy’ as applied to illicit liquor joints,” Hudson boasted in his book, published 11 years before Prohibition. “The term had an instantaneous success, being taken up by the people and police, and it has been in universal use ever since.” </span><span class=”s1″><b>Speakeasies often were located behind doors painted green. </b></span><span class=”s1″>During Prohibition, chances were that a door painted green meant it fronted a speakeasy. In Chicago, that tradition lives on with two of the town’s well-known bars dating from the 1920s. The Green Door Tavern on North Orleans Street is an Irish pub that opened in 1921 (a bar called The Drifter, also a former Prohibition speakeasy, is tucked away in the Green Door’s basement). On North Broadway, the famed Green Mill Cocktail Lounge once was a speakeasy part-owned by “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn of Al Capone’s Outfit. Capone, also a partner in the Green Mill, used to sit in a booth that is still inside the lounge. When comedian Joe E. Lewis refused to perform at the Green Mill in 1927, McGurn sent over three men who cut Lewis’ throat and face (he survived, and Capone paid for his medical work). McGurn was initially charged in the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but he beat the rap due to lack of evidence.</span><span class=”s1″><b>In addition to fighting the ill effect of drunkenness, Prohibition supporters were motivated by a desire to derail political corruption.</b></span><span class=”s1″>One reason the Prohibition cause caught fire in America in the early 1900s was the public’s resentment over the spread and corrupting influence of the saloon. Indeed, the most powerful pro-Prohibition organization, founded in 1893, was the Anti-Saloon League. Tens of thousands of saloons, most of them in the country’s expanding urban areas, sold beer and liquor to almost anyone, including teenagers, and became influential in the community as meeting places for political and fraternal groups. The surplus of saloons made public drunkenness a common sight on city streets. </span><span class=”s1″>Saloons operated based on local political corruption. Owners leased bars to managers who might have to bribe city officials to get a license and police avoid licensing problems. Major breweries – providing beer, the dominate drink in saloons — often owned many saloons, forcing managers to buy only their products. The liquor companies used their saloons as political meeting spots to deliver votes to candidates for political offices. To the communities around them, the ubiquitous saloons and the booze businesses supplying them represented the social and political scourges of alcohol. The “dry” movement sold the “prohibition” of manufacturing, transporting and selling alcohol as a way to eliminate the saloon, and the public pressured Congress and the states for it. Prohibition closed the saloons. Hundreds of breweries simply went out of business. Underground speakeasies – unlike saloons, friendly to female patrons — replaced them, but Prohibition put an end to the culture of the saloon that had dominated American city life.</span><span class=”s1″><b>In an age of segregation, Prohibition brought white and black patrons together in “black and tan” clubs.</b></span><span class=”s1″>In many parts of the United States in the 1920s, segregation of black and white was the rule, if not the law. But the peculiar circumstances of the Prohibition era challenged that. So-called “black and tans” referred to speakeasies and nightclubs where whites and blacks socialized and danced together as patrons. Ironically, Prohibition began right as jazz music was emerging as the pop music of America, mostly among the younger white set. In New York, the center of American jazz in the mid-’20s, many young whites went to the predominately black Harlem district to mingle and hear jazz performed by mostly African-American band members in small clubs. The same thing happened in the many jazz clubs on Chicago’s South Side. Dance crazes of the 1920s, such as the Charleston, Foxtrot, and Lindy Hop, were popularized by mostly the white crowd bopping to jazz music. </span><span class=”s1″>Among the more well-known “black and tan” clubs during Prohibition were Connie’s Inn (owned by bootlegger Conrad Immerman) and Small’s Paradise in New York, the Sunset Café (where jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway played) in Chicago, and the Alhambra – renamed the Black and Tan in 1933 – on Jackson Street in Seattle. Other speakeasies for the wealthy, such as the Cotton Club, owned by bootlegger Owney Madden, in Harlem, had whites as patrons with African-Americans as jazz performers and service staff. </span><span class=”s1″>The term “black and tan” for an integrated bar or place did not originate in the 1920s but was in use decades earlier. American journalist and photographer Jacob Riis coined the phrase repeatedly in his 1890 book, <i>How the Other Half Lives</i>. Riis’s book chronicled the lives of impoverished people of various ethnic groups living in New York’s cramped and dirty tenements in the 1880s. “The borderland where the white and black races meet in common debauch, the aptly named black-and-tan saloon, has never been debatable ground from a moral standpoint. It has always been the worst of the desperately bad,” Riis wrote.</span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/prohibition-potpourri/prohibition-slang/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/prohibition-potpourri/prohibition-slang/”>Next Story: Gold Diggers, Snuggle Pups and the Bee’s Knees</a>
Read More Gold Diggers, Snuggle Pups and the Bee’s Knees
Gold Diggers, Snuggle Pups and the Bee’s Knees<span class=”s1″>Do you find yourself longing for the good ol’ days of Prohibition, the 1920s and early ’30s when the sale of alcohol in America was prohibited? Or maybe you just admire the smooth way people talked in that era? Here’s a guide to popular slang terms coined by Prohibition-era Americans, so all you “cake-eaters” and “dolls” can “beat your gums” like a pro instead of a “bird.”</span><span class=”s1″><b>People</b></span><span class=”s1″>As far as general terms for people, a <b>cake-eater</b> is a real ladies’ man. He gets all the attention from <b>dolls</b>, attractive women, and probably catches the eye of a few <b>flappers. </b>Flapper and <b>“It”</b> girls are quintessential terms from this period for free-spirited young women with sex appeal. They typically wear the fashionable attire of the time — short dresses, or <b>knee dusters</b>, and a cropped coif. Another name that matches the flapper or It girl is a <b>bearcat,</b> a girl known to be hot-blooded. As for men, <b>gigolo</b>, a man paid by women for sex, <b>tom cat</b>, a promiscuous man, and <b>heartthrob</b> (attractive male movie actor) also emerged from the era. </span><span class=”s1″><b>Alcohol related</b></span><span class=”s1″>When discussing alcohol, some Prohibition slang terms are going to sound pretty familiar since many still exist in the American lexicon, such as <b>bent</b>, <b>canned</b>, <b>fried</b>, <b>plastered</b> or <b>blotto</b> to describe an intoxicated person. <b>Spifflicated, zozzled</b> and <b>boiled as an owl</b> are terms that mean the same but are no longer common. Those people may find that the <b>hair of the dog</b>, a shot of alcohol, will help cure a hangover. People typically got <b>hooch </b>or<b> giggle water –</b> alcohol– from a <b>barrel house </b>or<b> gin mill,</b> which were distribution places, and maybe kept it in their <b>hipflask </b>(which is pretty self-explanatory). During early Prohibition you would have to find a person who <b>knew one’s onions — </b>knew what they were talking about — if you wanted a drink. Those people could show a person where to find a good <b>blind pig</b> (business charging a fee for “a show” and serving illegal alcohol on the side). If you were visiting one of those establishments, you definitely did not want to get caught by a <b>Bull </b>(policeman). Who knows, the Bull himself may be visiting a <b>juice joint </b>(an illegal bar) himself on his day off.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>Or he might just come in and <b>crash</b> your party uninvited because he’s a <b>cellar smeller</b> (seeker of free drinks). You may have to tell that <b>goof</b> to <b>scram</b>, <b>beat it</b>, get back in his <b>jalopy</b> and <b>step on i</b>t.</span><span class=”s1″><b>The Mob</b> came into use in 1927, meaning those hospitable folks in organized crime responsible for supplying the illegal <b>bootleg</b> hooch, including the <b>bubbly</b> (Champagne) or <b>foot juice</b> (cut-rate wine) everyone was downing until they had a <b>dead soldier</b>, or empty glass. And everyone likes the good stuff, the <b>Real McCoy</b>, not the <b>rotgut</b>. Others might be outside smoking <b>weed</b>, <b>Mary Jane</b> or <b>Indian Hop</b>, otherwise known as marijuana, or worse, they might be a <b>junkie</b>, or drug addict.</span><span class=”s1″>Other terms for bootlegged or homemade alcohol<b>: coffin varnish</b>,<b> horse liniment</b>,<b> stuff</b> and<b> tarantula juice</b>. </span><span class=”s1″><b>Speakeasy</b> was a common term from this period to refer to an undercover bar. </span><span class=”s1″><b>Unsavory terms and pet names</b></span><span class=”s1″>Since Prohibition fueled the rise of the Mob, if a <b>caper </b>(robbery) did not go well, a <b>goon</b> (hoodlum) may have to worry about being <b>bumped off </b>by a<b> torpedo </b>(hit man). Young women coined the pet name <b>daddy</b> for their well-off lovers with lots of <b>dough</b>, but those men had to watch their wallets because the <b>dame</b> could be a <b>gold digger</b>. If a <b>fire extinguisher</b> (chaperone) said the <b>bank’s closed,</b> it meant he did not want to see any kissing or other public displays of affection from the <b>snuggle pups</b> (cuddly teens) he was watching. If they were <b>stuck on </b>(infatuated with)<b> </b>each other it was common for young people to <b>spoon</b> — neck or talk of love — in a <b>struggle buggy</b>, the back seat of a car.</span><span class=”s1″>Popularized again by the 2013 movie <i>The Great Gatsby</i>, <b>old boy</b> or <b>old sport</b> were terms men used to address one another. </span><span class=”s1″><b>General lingo</b></span><span class=”s1″><b>Beat your gums</b> means to engage in idle chatter. <b>Ab-so-lute-ly</b> means for sure, <b>baloney</b> and <b>all wet</b>, not at all for sure. </span><span class=”s1″>If you were a <b>dry </b>(against alcohol) during Prohibition, you might be scolded not to be a <b>wet blanket</b>. Nobody likes a <b>killjoy</b>, <b>flat tire</b>, a <b>drag</b> or a <b>pill</b>, either. </span><span class=”s1″>“<b>Ah</b> <b>horse feathers</b>!” <b>bushwa </b>or<b> applesauce</b> may sound funny now but they were used as expletives during Prohibition. </span><span class=”s1″><b>Cat’s meow </b>or<b> cat’s pajamas, </b>the<b> bee’s knees, </b>and the<b> eel’s hips </b>or<b> snake’s hips –</b> all these phrases are similar and mean something or someone is wonderful or cool. </span><span class=”s1″>“I’m just <b>razzing</b> ya” meant the person was just teasing. </span><span class=”s1″>“That one’s an odd <b>bird</b>” meant a man or woman who was a little strange.</span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/prohibition-potpourri/notable-names-of-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/prohibition-potpourri/notable-names-of-prohibition/”>Next Story: Notable Names of Prohibition</a>
Read More Notable Names of Prohibition
From jazz legend Louis Armstrong to temperance advocate Wayne Wheeler, the Prohibition era had a cast of important and unforgettable characters.
Read More In Las Vegas, Prohibition Was Sporadically Enforced
In Las Vegas, Prohibition Was Sporadically Enforced<span class=”s1″>On Election Day in November 1918, Nevada voters considered a ballot measure known as the “Wet and Dry” question, asking whether to prohibit alcohol in the state. Earlier that year, Congress had passed the proposed 18th Amendment, for national prohibition, and sent it to the state legislatures for ratification. But Nevada was considering its state law first with the referendum. The dry side won with nearly 60 percent of the vote. In December, Nevada’s Supreme Court certified the state’s vote and prohibition became Nevada law as of midnight on December 17, 1918. As a result, the state went dry a month before the 36</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> state ratified the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919.</span><span class=”s1″>Saloons across Nevada were ordered closed, including some historic ones from the 19</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> century in Reno. Most Nevadans then lived up north, and Reno was the state’s largest city. Down south in Las Vegas, Clark County Sheriff Sam Gay waited until after the holidays to issue a warning: “I am going to enforce the prohibition law to the letter. Mr. Bootlegger, this is your first and final notice from me. Your next notice will be a warrant for your arrest. All drugstore clerks should read this notice.”</span><span class=”s1″>But complicating the matter for law enforcers like Gay — and federal Prohibition agents – was the Nevada Legislature’s decision in 1923 to repeal the state’s four-year-old prohibition law. Since Nevada no longer had a prohibition statute, Gay and other police officers in the state were not technically duty bound to enforce national prohibition laws. Las Vegas did have a city ordinance against alcohol, but saloon owners operated openly, not like the underground “speakeasies” in other cities. A fine from a city violation or a federal Prohibition conviction was considered the cost of doing business. </span><span class=”s1″>So, after 1923, enforcement of Prohibition regulations in Las Vegas was more or less a federal matter, and local officers had the ready excuse of letting things slide. But Las Vegas would see many federal raids and investigations of illegal booze into the early 1930s. During national Prohibition, Las Vegas would produce one flashy bootlegger, James Ferguson; its Mayor Fred Hesse arrested for operating a still for two years to supply Ferguson; and the tale of ad-hoc Prohibition agent Ralph Kelly running an undercover operation in a fake speakeasy called Liberty’s Last Stand.</span><span class=”s1″>Las Vegas had 2,300 residents when national Prohibition took effect in 1920. The city was established in 1905 when a company building the Union Pacific Railroad from Salt Lake City to San Pedro, California, needed a station, repair yard, housing and businesses for its employees. To discourage the spread of intoxicating liquor among the residents, the company town confined alcohol sales to one square block, “Block 16,” a few blocks northeast of the railroad depot. </span><span class=”s1″>Early Las Vegas had a mixed experience with liquor. While the railroad company’s conservative managers opposed alcohol, they quietly conceded that booze provided economic activity from train passengers visiting a town surrounded by desert land that did not have much going for it beyond the railroad. Starting up first in canvas tents, then clapboard and brick buildings, a line of saloons on Block 16 included the Gem, Red Onion, Star, Arcade, Red Front and the finest in town, the Arizona Club. The bars were casually referred to as “resorts” because of the undisguised brothels inside where women serviced men in a number of small rooms known as “cribs.”</span><span class=”s1″>In early 1919, with Nevada’s state prohibition law already on the books, violations occurred in Las Vegas within weeks. In February, A.P. Chamberlain was the first convicted in town for having several bottles of liquor in his hotel room on Fremont Street. A local judge fined him $125, gave him a suspended sentence and ordered him to leave town and not return. On March 4, Sheriff Gay executed search warrants at the Arcade saloon and arrested three women after finding whiskey, vermouth, wine and brandy in their rooms and a man possessing 48 pints of whiskey. Two weeks later, in a show for the public covered by the <i>Las Vegas Age, </i>a local minister (appointed by a judge) stood on Fremont Street in the heart of downtown and ceremoniously poured out whiskey from about 10 bottles (seized from the raids) in front of what the <i>Age</i> described as “a large crowd of ‘uninterested’ spectators.” </span><span class=”s1″>“This is the first time in the history of the city that such a sight has been witnessed, and it being so unusual, pictures were taken of this occasion, which were very much in demand,” the <i>Age</i> reported.</span><span class=”s1″>Things progressed beyond petty offenses in January 1920 with the arrest of Lon Groesbeck, whom the <i>Age</i> described as the town’s “King of the Bootleggers” for bringing in whiskey “concealed in the false bottom of his car and other ways” and selling bottles from his room at the Northern Hotel on Fremont. Groesbeck was charged with having 23 pints of McBrayer brand America-made whiskey with U.S. government stamps from 1919, meaning the bottles were transported into the state. But amid allegations in the <i>Age</i> of Sheriff Gay’s “failure” to secure evidence of illegal alcohol in other recent bootlegging cases, District Attorney A.J. Stebenne, accompanied by two officers, himself raided Groesbeck’s hotel room, seized the bottles and put the man on house arrest. </span><span class=”s1″>What happened next to Groesbeck might have involved official corruption. On January 7, he pleaded guilty and a justice of the peace fined him, gave him 90 days in the county jail but suspended the sentence on the condition that he leave town. Stebenne refused to accept the suspension and at 2 p.m. that day took the case to District Court, where a judge reinstated the jail sentence. As the <i>Age</i> related, the judge’s order was handed to the first judge at 4 p.m., then to a sheriff’s deputy about an hour later. When the deputy arrived to pick up Groesbeck, the defendant and his car were gone. The <i>Age</i> lamented that his escape “is looked upon as a serious defeat of justice.”</span><span class=”s1″>Because of its small size and remote location, Las Vegas had no federal building, court or office space for Prohibition agents. The closest federal Prohibition agents were based in Los Angeles. Federal legal cases from Las Vegas were tried in U.S. District Court in the state’s capital, Carson City. But in November 1922, federal Prohibition agents from Los Angeles paid a visit to Las Vegas to arrest four men associated with Block 16 saloons on suspicion of illegal liquor sales. In 1923, Las Vegas police nabbed two men after recovering truckloads of beer and beer-making equipment in the basement of a downtown hotel. Federal agents returned in 1924 to arrest six locals for possessing whiskey and beer for sale and send them to Carson City to stand trial. </span><span class=”s1″>The laxity of Las Vegas law officers in enforcing Prohibition in its many saloons was apparent by the mid-’20s. The feds came to town again to make arrests in 1925. A U.S. marshal arrived from Carson City to pinch seven men and a woman on suspicion of selling liquor, and they padlocked (for one year) the doors to the Star, Nick’s Place, Jazz, Pastime, Colorado Club, Arizona Club, Lincoln, Arcade and Oxford Club saloons on Block 16. </span><span class=”s1″>Prohibition agents would uncover large-scale manufacturing of alcohol, likely to serve local customers and businesses. In 1926, agents working with deputy Prohibition administrator George Brady, based in San Francisco, arrested seven men in a series of raids, finding 850 gallons of whiskey and moonshine and four stills. One of the alleged bootleggers, R.C. McKay, had 350-gallon and 100-gallon stills on his ranch outside of town and 500 gallons of moonshine stored in his downtown home.</span><span class=”s1″>Federal raids targeting Las Vegas speakeasy operators intensified in the late ’20s. Most were charged with possession of alcohol for sale, conspiracy and maintaining a common nuisance. In early 1928, federal agents arrested proprietors of the Arcade, Star, Blue Lantern, Tip Deal’s Place, the Senate and the Pastime Dance Hall saloons. On the night of February 6, 1928, agents stormed the Arizona Club, Green Lantern, Honolulu Inn, Big Four, Miners Club, Jazz Bar, the Pastime and Double G. The 12 men and women arrested were permitted to plead guilty in local municipal court and together pay $4,800 in fines. </span><span class=”s1″>Those nabbed in the raid included an unusual pair – Las Vegas Mayor Fred Hesse and local bootlegger James Ferguson. Each faced serious charges of conspiracy to violate Prohibition laws for bootlegging. Hesse operated his own still to produce the alcohol. Ferguson was the more ostentatious of the two. He dressed in expensive clothing and drove around town in a yellow luxury car like a big shot. Hesse would escape jail, but not Ferguson.</span><span class=”s1″>In June, after two federal agents spent two weeks sampling illegal alcohol while posing as farmers on ranches outside Las Vegas, the feds pounced, took six men into custody, seized nine stills, more than 3,000 gallons of liquor mash, 300 cases of beer and a truck loaded with corn sugar.</span><span class=”s1″>By 1930, the feds stepped up enforcement of Prohibition amid national criticism and the transfer of its anti-liquor agents to the new Bureau of Prohibition in the Justice Department. In Nevada, support for Prohibition had fallen considerably. The magazine <i>Literary Digest</i>, which published public opinion polls on Prohibition, stated that its latest poll showed Nevada having the highest rate of opposition to Prohibition in the country. </span><span class=”s1″>Still, as a result of its switch from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department, the Prohibition Bureau made Las Vegas a higher priority for enforcement. Las Vegas was well-known for its unfettered illegal liquor sales. During 1931, the Prohibition Bureau subjected Las Vegas to the longest series of raids ever. A force of 23 agents from Los Angeles descended on January 9, 1931, to bust nine liquor joints based on an undercover operation. To show the importance of the raid, C. H. Seavers, administrator of Prohibition in California, Nevada and the Hawaiian Islands, came with them. Seavers told the <i>Age</i> that he intended to open a permanent enforcement office in Las Vegas with two agents. </span><span class=”s1″>Later, agents raided speakeasies, hotels and a service station, arrested 56 people and turned the Brown Derby bar “into a fingerprinting bureau,” the <i>Age</i> reported. In the largest seizure of alcohol in Las Vegas, agents recovered 4,000 bottles of liquor, 30,000 gallons of mash and arrested four men. They padlocked the Arizona Club and served arrests warrants or subpoenas on 20 people. The <i>Age</i> declared Las Vegas a “bone dry city” and “it is doubtful whether Southern Nevada will boast of the ‘wide open’ again during Prohibition.”</span><span class=”s1″>In February 1931, Special Agent Wayn Kain of the Justice Department in San Francisco traveled to Las Vegas to meet Ralph Kelly, a friend of a federal agent, to show him the illegal liquor spots around Las Vegas. As Kelly would relate later in a book, Kain told Kelly that construction of Boulder Dam project (30 miles from Las Vegas) “and the reported wide open conditions of the liquor traffic, were bringing Las Vegas nationwide reputation.” Kain said he was “anxious to get in on the publicity and that it would be a feather in his cap to have the credit for getting the facts and procuring the convictions.”</span><span class=”s1″>So started Kelly’s foray into working as an unofficial undercover agent for the Prohibition Bureau. Kelly took Kain on a short tour of Las Vegas bars and clubs, which operated in the open. One unsuspecting roadhouse owner told the men Nevada was the best state because “the Prohibition Department was powerless” there. The next day, Kain offered to pay Kelly a flat $900 and a future job to open up “a Wild West saloon” in town for the bureau to use to learn about the local liquor business. Kain also wanted to gather the names of officials taking payoffs from saloons and roadhouses. Kelly agreed. Kain then told him he wanted the saloon to be called “Liberty’s Last Stand” in order to generate publicity and attention.</span><span class=”s1″>Kelly, without letting on about his intentions, arranged to rent a small building on Stewart Avenue at Block 16 that was owned by W.W. “Bill” Cantrill, seen as “boss of the red light district” and whose “Fish and Shrimp” bar on the block had 10 rooms in the rear used by prostitutes and their managers.</span><span class=”s1″>They opened the bar on April 1, 1931, with two bartenders, who were kept in the dark about the operation. People crowded in right away. Kain – a pretty good drinker himself — directed Kelly to buy products from multiple liquor distributors to maximize arrests and pay them with bank checks to form a paper trail. Kelly easily bought whiskey, gin and absinthe, and he made a deal with the owner of a brewery. For evidence, Kelly poured samples into small bottles and labeled them. An investigator from San Francisco came in to collect the evidence.</span><span class=”s1″>Kain had a recording device then known as a Dictaphone installed in the bar’s back office (and linked to Kain’s hotel room) to pick up conversations with unknowing local government officials about graft. The stage was set. The local U.S. Commissioner W.H. Hooper in came in and asked for a payoff, and they got it on the Dictaphone. A saloon owner sold them he was paying the chief of Las Vegas Police $100 a month for protection from the city ordinance. Within only three weeks, they figured they had evidence on 30 people. They sold Liberty’s Last Stand and prepared to make a raid on local bootleggers. The bureau assigned 55 agents from San Francisco, Reno and Los Angeles. Kelly and Kain bought another bar on Boulder Highway four miles from Las Vegas and ordered liquor delivered there from 12 dealers. As the dealers arrived in the morning, the 20 Prohibition agents with Kelly and Kain took in 35 suspects. The other 35 agents raided area saloons. In all, the agents made 108 arrests that day. The corrupt Commissioner Hooper worked on the security bonds for the suspects’ release. “This was by far the largest raid in Nevada,” Kelly wrote in his book. “The surprise was complete and action perfect.” </span><span class=”s1″>Many of the defendants pleaded guilty in Carson City and received prison sentences, other lighter sentences and fines. News of the big Las Vegas raid made headlines in newspapers and magazines, garnering the publicity Kain craved. Hooper was not arrested but resigned. Kelly later became a Prohibition agent in San Francisco, where his book, titled <i>Liberty’s Last Stand</i>, was published in 1932. </span><span class=”s1″>That same year, Las Vegas police investigated a brief “rum war” that erupted among rival bootleggers in Las Vegas, during which two people were killed and a “pineapple” bomb made of three sticks of dynamite blew up outside a planned new saloon near Block 16. Federal agents also made a number of raids in Boulder City.</span><span class=”s1″>In October 1933, with the repeal of national Prohibition only weeks away, federal Judge Frank Norcross in Reno, who was about to leave to join the 9</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, boasted that based on court records, Nevada led the nation in the enforcement of Prohibition. The judge said that 90 percent of arrests on Prohibition violations in the state resulted in convictions, that its rate of padlocking illegal clubs was 1,200 percent over the national average and that its rate of Prohibition enforcement was 100 percent to 1,000 percent higher than in other states. Kelly’s “Last Stand” may have had something to do with that. </span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-end-of-prohibition/repeal-of-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-end-of-prohibition/repeal-of-prohibition/”>Next Story: The Repeal of Prohibition</a>
Read More The Repeal of Prohibition
<span class=”s1″>The Repeal of Prohibition</span><span class=”s1″>By 1929, after nine years of Prohibition, many Americans were discouraged. They had long seen people openly drinking illegal alcoholic beverages that were available almost everywhere. They read news stories of murders and bombings in the big cities, perpetrated by organized crime members made rich from bootlegging liquor, wine and beer and smuggling it by land, sea and air.</span><span class=”s1″>In Chicago, on February 14, 1929, cohorts of infamous racketeer Al Capone lined up and gunned down seven associates of rival gangster George “Bugs” Moran in what reporters nicknamed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The news of the brutal mass slaying shocked the country, including proponents of Prohibition. Meanwhile, Capone held news conferences and dressed in flashy suits at public sporting events. He was taking in as much as $100 million a year from bootlegging while corrupting police, judges and politicians through cash payoffs.</span><span class=”s1″>The public started having second thoughts about Prohibition not long after it started. As early as 1922, 40 percent of people polled by <i>Literary Digest</i> magazine were for modifying the National Prohibition Act (regulating alcohol, also known as the Volstead Act), and 20 percent backed repealing the 18th Amendment. In 1926, 81 percent of people polled by the Newspaper Enterprise Association favored modifying the Prohibition statute or outright repeal of the amendment.</span><span class=”s1″>Just a few weeks after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, on March 4, 1929, President Herbert Hoover, himself a committed “dry,” took office and right away requested that Congress meet in a special session on a long list of issues. At the new president’s request, Congress passed a bill to create a special commission chaired by former U.S. Attorney General George Wickersham to study what Hoover said was the problem of enforcement of prohibition and whether repeal was necessary. The new president told his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, “I want that man Capone in jail.” That October, the stock market crashed on Wall Street and so began, amid Prohibition, the Great Depression, the worst economic downturn in the nation’s history. </span><span class=”s1″>But Hoover’s decision to appoint a commission to study the problems of Prohibition was criticized as inadequate by Pauline Sabin, the first female board member of the Republican National Committee and a nationally known “dry” advocate. In April 1929, Sabin decided to switch sides and campaign for repealing the 18th Amendment. She was disillusioned with it, having seen many people drinking and flouting Prohibition in New York, notorious for its hundreds of speakeasies. She resigned from the Republican committee and launched a repeal advocacy group, the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. She quickly found that many other American women – who like Sabin once favored Prohibition but were discouraged about it – agreed with her about repeal. Sabin’s pro-repeal movement caught fire and her organization had more than one million members by 1932.</span><span class=”s1″>The Wickersham Commission met over 18 months, hearing testimony in closed session from U.S. attorneys, state district attorneys, high-level police officers, economists, doctors, social workers and labor leaders, and reviewed reports from its investigators, statements from members of Hoover’s cabinet and large amounts of books, papers and surveys. </span><span class=”s1″>The 11-member panel released its findings and recommendations about Prohibition in a lengthy report in January 1931. To Hoover’ s satisfaction and praise, the commission unanimously opposed both repealing the 18th Amendment and the return of legalized saloons, once prevalent across the country and run by politically powerful liquor producers. The commission also advised against changing the Volstead Act to permit low-alcohol beer, even with only 2.75 percent alcohol content, and light wines. </span><span class=”s1″>But beyond its recommendations, the commission’s findings were bluntly critical of the actions of federal and state law officers during Prohibition, saying the Bureau of Prohibition and other federal agencies got off to a “bad start” and “were badly organized and inadequate” from 1920 to when Congress adopted reforms in 1926. Commissioners said that even after the reforms, “there is yet no adequate observance or enforcement” of the Volstead Act. </span><span class=”s1″>One major problem was lack of cooperation from the states. Few states were assisting federal agents in investigating and prosecuting violations of Volstead. Further, corruption was rampant among law enforcement officers in cities and states and among Prohibition agents themselves. Organized gangs of liquor racketeers corrupted local politics through “tribute” payments or bribes to allow the transport of illegal liquor. Added to that was the difficulty of effectively patrolling almost 12,000 miles of shoreline on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast with many inlets and hiding places for smugglers, about 3,000 miles in the Great Lakes region, plus rural areas with mountains, swamps and forests. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″> “The facts stated and discussed in the report of the Commission can lead only to one conclusion,” wrote member Henry W. Anderson. “The 18th Amendment and the National Prohibition Act have not been and are not being observed. They have not been and are not being enforced. We have prohibition in law but not in fact.”</span><span class=”s1″>The commission cited a series of damning statistics, provided by the Bureau of Prohibition, revealing just how unbridled bootlegging was and the difficultly of controlling illegal liquor in the 48 states. The number of liquor-producing stills seized went from 32,000 in 1920 to 261,000 in 1928. The bureau estimated that 118 million gallons of illicit wine and 683 million gallons of beer were produced in 1930. At least nine million gallons of industrial alcohol meant to be non-drinkable were diverted by gangsters, for cocktails served in speakeasies, in 1930. Meanwhile, the bureau had only 1,786 agents, investigators and special agents. The commission recommended that be raised to at least 3,000 personnel.</span><span class=”s1″>But importantly, the Wickersham panel advised Congress and the states to pass a modified version of the 18th Amendment, reducing it to a simple paragraph, giving Congress the right to regulate or prohibit manufacturing, transportation of intoxicating liquors within the United States. It also called for Congress to establish a National Commission on Liquor Control. However, in a suggestion that perhaps concerned Hoover and the drys, the commission said Congress should have the option “to remit the matter in whole or in part to the States” — thus giving states against prohibition the right to legalize alcohol within their borders.</span><span class=”s1″>When the Wickersham Commission’s report came out, the nation was well into the Depression. In 1930, unemployment more than doubled to 3.2 million. Some farmers lost their farms, others were affected by crippling droughts. There were food riots, an increase in suicides and military veterans and poor people living in tent cities called “Hoovervilles.” Hoover and Congress struggled to pass urgent bills to aid farmers and provide emergency funds for public works projects. Meanwhile, the Anti-Saloon League, the lobby group most responsible for winning over Congress to pass Prohibition laws in 1919, had lost its clout and could no longer raise funds from the public to pay its bills. </span><span class=”s1″>Congress took up some of the Wickersham recommendations in 1932, but the drys in both the House and Senate remained a powerful force. They blocked consideration of the commission’s advice to send a revised 18th Amendment to the states. The drys also obstructed proposals to legalize and tax beer with 2.75 percent alcohol. But many of the drys would be in for a drubbing in the next election. </span><span class=”s1″>Just how much longer Prohibition would have remained had the nation’s economy not collapsed in 1929 will never be known. With unemployment high and tax dollars down, many believed repeal would mean new jobs, business expansion and tax revenues. Hoover faced a more than difficult re-election campaign in 1932. He did win his battle against Capone with the gangster’s imprisonment for tax evasion in 1931. Still, with polls showing majority support for repeal, even the longtime dry Hoover had to pivot and declare himself in favor of repeal, to the disappointment of the “dry vote” that was part of his voter base in 1928, when he ran against Democrat and avowed wet Al Smith. </span><span class=”s1″>During the 1932 general election, New York Governor and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt (who had vacillated for years on Prohibition) took advantage of both the apparent failures of Republican policies before the Depression and the rising opposition to Prohibition. Roosevelt’s party had a pro-repeal plank on its platform and he campaigned for it, stating that legalizing beer alone could raise “the federal revenue by several hundred million dollars a year.” For Pauline Sabin, repeal transcended party identification. The Republican got her million-strong Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform to endorse Roosevelt.</span><span class=”s1″>Roosevelt defeated Hoover in a record landslide – 22.8 million votes to 15.7 million – and voters installed large Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate. Congress, still in the lame-duck session, started considering a draft of the 21st Amendment that would repeal the 18th. The House and Senate passed it in February 1933 and sent it to the states for final approval. Under the amendment, each state had to vote on the issue by referendum, and if repeal won the popular vote, the state’s legislatures had to appoint and send delegates to a state convention where delegates would vote up or down on repeal. The purpose of that requirement was political — to prevent the Anti-Saloon League lobby and “dry” legislators from bottling up the amendment in the state legislatures. </span><span class=”s1″>While pundits predicted the state conventions might take years to convene and vote, it didn’t happen. The conventions took up it swiftly and delegates cast their ballots for repeal as if in a race for time. Meanwhile, less than two weeks after taking office, Roosevelt was hosting a dinner at the White House when he remarked to guests, “This would be a good time for a beer.” He wrote a brief message, with language from the Democrats’ wet convention platform, and had an aid take it to the House of Representatives. He asked for a bill to rewrite the Volstead Act to legalize beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content and light wines. Prominent dry leaders made statements to reporters to take a last swipe at Roosevelt’s bill, the Beer-Wine Revenue Act. But the act would serve to elevate national morale by legalizing beer and wine and raise badly needed tax money for the government.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>Congress passed the act nine days later, Roosevelt signed it on March 22, 1933, and it went into effect on April 7. States that wanted to maintain Prohibition were allowed to. The country celebrated by drinking beer and wine that, while low in alcohol, was finally legal after 13 years. </span><span class=”s1″>In the meantime, state conventions, one by one, ratified the 21st Amendment, starting with Michigan. On November 7, 1933, only nine months after Congress sent the repeal vote to the states, Utah became the 36</span><span class=”s2″><sup>th</sup></span><span class=”s1″> to approve it, the last required out of the 48 to place it into the Constitution. National prohibition was over. The new amendment barred transportation or importation of intoxicating liquors into any state of the United States in violation of the state’s laws. Control of licensing and regulating alcoholic beverages was now mostly a matter of state law. It was the first time in U.S. history that the country amended the Constitution to repeal a previous amendment. </span><span class=”s1″>Today, federal law makes it legal to drink beer and wine made at home for personal and family use only. But you can’t distill spirits — hard liquor like whiskey or moonshine – at home. Stills are still illegal, a potential felony crime. If you want to distill any hard liquor, to brew beer or make wine in order to sell it commercially, you need a federal permit from the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department, and pay the federal taxes on what you produce. </span><a href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-end-of-prohibition/the-remnants-of-prohibition/” data-mce-href=”http://prohibitionhi.wpengine.com/the-history/the-end-of-prohibition/the-remnants-of-prohibition/”> Next Story: The Remnants of Prohibition</a>
Read More The Remnants of Prohibition
<span class=”s1″>The Remnants of Prohibition</span><span class=”s1″>National Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, with passage of the 21</span><span class=”s2″><sup>st</sup></span><span class=”s1″> Amendment. But while prohibition was repealed at the federal level, state and local restrictions on liquor continue to this day.</span><span class=”s1″>Section 2 of the 21st Amendment allowed the states to write their own laws governing alcohol. It states that the “transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.” Subsequent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that each state could regulate the sale of alcohol within its borders. </span><span class=”s1″>Today, Prohibition’s legacy is a collection of archaic and unusual liquor laws that vary from state to state,<b> </b>county to county, city to city, town to town. Some states kept prohibition alive for some time after 1933, with Mississippi the last to hold onto it until 1966. For decades following repeal some states had so-called “blue laws” on liquor until relatively recently. In 2002, 16 states repealed laws banning alcohol sales on Sundays. </span><span class=”s1″>Still, in more than a few jurisdictions, alcohol prohibition still exists. About 16 million Americans live in areas where buying liquor is forbidden. Dozens of “dry” counties in the United States – or “moist,” with some of their cities wet – remain today, mainly in the Midwestern and Southern Christian “Bible Belt.” </span><span class=”s1″>Many states permit counties and cities to decide for themselves, by local vote or ordinance, whether to be “wet” or “dry.” In Kentucky, 31 of its 120 counties are dry, where selling or possessing booze is a “class B” misdemeanor. Thirty-seven of Arkansas’ 75 counties are dry. In Alabama, 24 of 67 counties are dry, with all but one having at least one “wet” city. In Texas, voters in 450 dry municipalities voted to become “wet” between 2004 and 2012, leaving 126 where you still can’t buy alcohol. In Nevada, the small town of Panaca is the state’s only dry jurisdiction.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span class=”s1″>Some states allow beer to be sold but not with more than 3.2 percent alcohol content (such as Utah), or a maximum of 6 percent content (West Virginia), even as high as 17.5 percent (South Carolina). Many states cap the alcohol levels in wines sold (in Vermont, consumers may buy wines with less than 16 percent alcohol at supermarkets). Some states, such as Alaska, do not permit alcohol sales in grocery stores. Twelve states still prohibit the sale of spirits (beer and wine are exempted) on Sundays. Indiana doesn’t allow any alcohol to be sold on Sundays. Some don’t allow sales of beverages on major holidays. Kansas bans it on Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.</span><span class=”s1″>Also, there are 18 states with Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) laws, regulating the wholesale or retail sales of alcohol, except for beer and wine. Some ABC states sell state-produced spirits to independent stores and some only will sell liquor from state-owned stores with limited hours of operation.</span><span class=”s1″>One state with a unique history with Prohibition after national repeal is Oklahoma. The state repealed Prohibition only in 1959, but kept strict limitations. Beer above 3.2 percent alcohol content, or “high point beer,” is categorized as liquor and may be sold only at room temperature in state-regulated liquor stores. The same went for wine. In 1984, the state finally granted its counties the option to sell liquor by the drink in bars and nightclubs. Later, the state relaxed some laws. Wineries are allowed to sell wine on site. In 2016, the state permitted small “craft” beer breweries to sell their brews with alcohol content higher than 3.2 percent on site without having to use a wholesaler. While four other states also have the 3.2 percent beer law, Oklahoma accounts for about 50 percent of the nation’s sales of 3.2 beer. </span><span class=”s1″>The variety of state laws shows not only that the Prohibition era has had a lasting effect on society but that people still disagree about regulating alcoholic beverages. Every state has specific laws at least specifying the age people may buy alcohol, hours and locations where alcohol may be sold, the kind of licenses required to sell alcohol in bars, stores, restaurants and to manufacture and transport beer, wine and hard liquor (distilled spirits such as whiskey, vodka and gin). </span><span class=”s1″>While it’s legal today to make wine and beer at home for personal or family use, running an old-fashioned “still” to concoct spirits or making gin in a bathtub remain felony crimes under federal law. The U.S. government since the end of Prohibition has legal jurisdiction and oversight over the manufacturing of liquor intended for sale. Owners of breweries, wineries and hard liquor-making distilleries seeking to sell their wares must obtain a federal permit from the U.S. Treasury Department before making anything, and then pay federal taxes on every gallon they produce. States, counties and cities also set their own taxes on liquor sales. </span><span class=”s1″>In fact, liquor taxes are an important source of government revenue. The industry is among the highest taxed in the country along with tobacco. The federal tax is $7 to $18 per barrel for beer, $1 to $3.40 per gallon for wine and $13.50 per proof gallon of spirits. The combination of federal, state and local taxes adds a hefty premium to the price of a bottle of alcohol. In Chicago, for instance, the tax rate on a 750-milliliter bottle of distilled liquor (such as vodka), including federal, state, city and county taxes, plus state and local sales taxes, would amount to 28 percent. </span><span class=”s1″>In 2014, the U.S. government levied $7.9 billion in federal excise taxes on liquor, which by federal estimates is a $400 billion to $500 billion per year industry employing about four million people. The states received about $6.1 billion in alcohol taxes that year. </span><span class=”s1″>Another legacy of Prohibition is that Americans are drinking less. Before Prohibition began in 1920, the average American drank 2.6 gallons of alcohol each year. That average, even with speakeasies and the bootlegged liquor, dropped by more than 70 percent in the early years of Prohibition. After its repeal, Americans did not return to the pre-Prohibition drinking level until 1973. Since the mid-1980s, annual consumption has fallen to about 2.2 gallons per person. The United States does not even make the list of the top ten countries with the highest consumption of liquor. Number one is the small nation of Luxembourg, at 4.11 gallons per capita, then Ireland at 3.62 gallons and Hungary with 3.59 gallons.</span><br />