22 Staggeringly Weird Facts About Prohibition

RealClear Staff


95 years ago, on January 17, 1920 the 18th amendment was made law and America went dry. The "noble experiment" went into action and the country was never the same. By most accounts, the 13 year dry spell in our history was a flop. 

Crime rose, jobs were lost and a whole lot of wacky stuff happened. 

Here are the most notable: 

1. What's Behind the Green Door?

During the dark days of prohibition, if you saw a green door on a business, chances are there was a good time hiding behind it. For many speakeasies, the only advertisement they needed to attract thirsty patrons and hide from police was a green door. 

A green door was a wink and a nod that booze lied behind it. Some popular speakeasies, like Chicago's Green Door Tavern are still in operation. 

2. Goodbye Jail Time!

Many towns were convinced that alcohol was the root of all their crime, so when prohibition went into effect, many tried selling their jails.

Thanks to the mafia, this time period was actually a boon for crime.  

3. The No-Booze Bible

During prohibition religious scholars were actually hired by some temperance leaders to rewrite the Bible by removing all the references to alcohol.

4. Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Some seriously harsh punishments were suggested for those who violated the 18th amendment, including branding, tattooing, being forbidden to marry and public shaming. 

Wisely, law enforcement just stuck with jail time and fines. 

5. Bathtub Gin

It's a common misconception that the term "bathtub gin" comes from batches being brewed inside an actual tub. However, the term actually comes from the large bottles the elixir was made in. Combining grain alcohol, juniper berries and other flavorings with water, a standard faucet was not tall enough to fit the bottle, so bootleggers would use the bathtub spigot to water down their hooch. 

6. The Original Booze Cruise

Prohibition helped create the first booze cruise. Many port cities offered a "Cruise to Nowhere" in which a boat would take passengers out to international waters where they could drink without repercussion and return several hours later. 

7. Capone the Big Winner

Since he wasn't paying income tax it's hard to get an exact number, but many believe Al Capone and his mob-related bootlegging business made more money than nearly anyone else at the time, an estimated $60 million-per-year!

(That would be roughly $630 million today)

8. Technically, it Wasn't Illegal to Drink Alcohol

If you like to read between the lines, it was only illegal to manufacture, sell and ship alcohol. If you could find a way around those (such as for religious or medicinal use) the buzz kept rolling. 

9. The Blind Pig

One quasi-legal way around the law was opening a "blind pig." A blind pig was a dive bar that had a floor show or just an animal on display, which is what you were supposed to be paying an entry fee for. However, each entry fee came with a complimentary drink. 

10. Don't Forget About Beer

While bootlegged liquor and moonshine get a lot of attention, the homebrew revolution really started during prohibition. Many people simply made their own beer at home, since the ingredients were all legal and only took a few days to produce. 

11. The Birth of the Cocktail

Cocktails were invented during prohibition as a way to mask the awful flavor of homemade hooch and bathtub gin. 

12. Prohibition was Bad for the Economy

According to History.com, prohibition was awful for the economy. Thousands of jobs were instantly lost in distilleries and breweries, but restaurants also failed when they couldn't sell alcohol. Even theaters were said to hit hard time due to the ban.

In addition, the US government lost out on $11 billion worth of excise taxes, too. 

13. Prohibition was Deadly

History.com also tells us that about 1,000 Americans per year died during prohibition due to the consumption of sub-standard or tainted liquor. 

14. "What Took You So Long?"

That's what temperance loving people in Maine wondered when the 18th amendment was passed in 1920. They were actually the first state to ban alcohol way back in 1846.

15. At First, it was a Success

After prohibition became the law of the land, it actually looked like a great success. Reports state a 30% drop in alcohol consumption (but really, shouldn't it have been closer to 100%?) and a steep drop in arrests. 

The good times, however, wouldn't last. As any speakeasy patron or blind pig lover would tell you. The American liver began craving cognac and more until the country hit its boiling point in the 1930s.

16. Political Motivations

While avoiding drunkeness and crime were said to be main factors in enacting the 18th amendment, the motivations were also political. According to Wikipedia

Saloons frequented by immigrants in these cities were often frequented by politicians who wanted to "buy" the immigrants' votes in exchange for favors such as job offers, legal assistance, financial help, and trade union memberships. Thus, saloons were seen as a breeding ground for political corruption


However, toward the tail end of prohibition, the amount of political corruption and graft present in America made those pre-1920 days seem downright innocent. 

17. Another Huge Loophole

Another odd prohibition loophole was that it was perfectly legal to drink at home. This meant many wealthy families purchased large stockpiles of alcohol prior to the ratification of the 18th amendment and were able to freely imbibe in their living room. 

In fact, President Warren G. Harding moved his entire inventory of alcohol to the White House prior to prohibition. 

18. Welcome, "The Wets"

By 1930, 10 years after prohibition's introduction, it was estimated that over 80% of congress drank. It was clear the nation was tiring of prohibition. Those on the side of alcohol were called "wets" and they were gaining momentum. 

19. Roosevelt to the Rescue

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. One of his major promises was the repeal the 18th amendment and bring booze back to America. 

20. Goodbye Prohibition

On December 5, 1933 Roosevelt proved good on his word. The 21st amendment repealed the 18th and libations were legal once again. 

21. The Wet White House

FDR lore claims he signed the 21st amendment into action by declaring, "America needs a good drink" and that he, himself, made a dirty martini for the occasion. 

In addition, patriotic-leaning brewery, Abner Drury, who once offered such beers as "Old Glory" and "Congress Lager" delivered to President Roosevelt the first legal bottle of beer produced in the US on April 14, 1933. 

22. The Late Bloomer

While the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933, it was up to each state to lift the ban on booze. Some, like North Carolina, dragged their feet for a few years. But nobody held on to sobriety as long as Mississippi. It wasn't until 1966 that alcohol was made legal in the Magnolia State. 



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