Prohibition is the ban of making, selling and transportation of alcohol. It was enforced in the USA between 1920 and 1933.
Prohibition was the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. It was proposed near the end of 1917, and became law on January 16th, 1920.
It was a continuation of an anti-alcohol drive during World War 1.
However, the origins are much older and more general: a large amount of religious groups have, since America’s formation, seen alcohol as a vice needing banned. Many countries have ‘Temperance Movements’, looking to ban alcohol or decrease its use. In the 19th century, the US’s temperance movement had between 1 and 2 million members.
Meanwhile, heavy drinking was very popular in the 19th century.
Prohibition was immensely unpopular with many Americans, particularly working class people who felt richer bosses could drink private supplies, but poorer people had no access (the Washington Post newspaper suggested 80% of US Congressmen and Senators drank, whilst bootlegger George Cassidy said he had illegally supplied Congress for 10 years).
More famous, however, is the rise in organised crime caused by prohibition. With no legal way to get alcohol, ‘Speakeasy’ bars became common (called ‘speakeasy’ because they were supposed to be secret). There is debate as to how effective prohibition was: some say it did cut drinking, but others say it did not.
Gangsters also saw an opportunity to make a lot of money selling illegally made alcohol. Legal clubs were replaced by those run by gangsters.Some of America’s most famous gangsters, such as Al Capone, made fortunes selling alcohol.
Government and senior figures also believed the unpopularity of prohibition made many people dislike and ignore the government more than before.
Finally, the need for alcohol for religious reasons (sacramental wine) created a loophole that allowed people to buy wine.
National prohibition was ended by Franklin Roosevelt on March 22nd 1933 with the 21st Amendment. New law allowed drinks of a 4% alcoholic volume, although states and counties could still impose prohibition.
Upon repealing the act, Roosevelt declared ‘I think this would be a good time for a beer’.
21st Century Opinion
Although there are still some people who believe that alcohol should be banned (often citing religious reasons), most Americans see prohibition as a mistake: as well as stopping people getting drink, it also helped boost organised crime.