Prohibtion Goes into Effect


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach, right, watching agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of prohibition

On January 16, 1920 Prohibition went into effect. It was now illegal to sell produce, or import liquor into the United States. The Congress had passed the 18th amendment and the States had ratified it.

The movement to outlaw alcohol in the United States began the earliest day of American history. A temperance society was founded in Connecticut in 1789. Within two decades there were temperance societies in many states. The goal of the organizations was not the elimination of all consumption of alcohol use the temperance drinking in moderation. The American Temperance Society was founded in 1825. By 1935 it had 1.5 million members many of whom were women. Overtaking the temperance movement was the Prohibition movement led by some Christian religious denomination especially the Methodists. The campaign had some initial success convincing Maine to ban the manufacture or distribution of liquor in 1851. Some other states followed, but the Civil War caused the movement to lose steam.

In the aftermath of the Civil War the Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 and in 1873 the Women’s Christian Temperance Society was founded. The organization believed that production would lead to less abusive husbands. The organization expended extra effort in education hoping to create a young generation that favored prohibition.

In 1881 Kanas became the first state to outlaw alcoholic beverages as part of its constitution. The moment to outlaw grew, with alcohol consumption tied to violence and political corruption. As industrialization spread so did neighborhood saloons were workers went to after a long day in the factory. The Anti Saloon League was founded in 1893 and within two years had become a national organization that became the leading organization advocating prohibition.

By the time World War I had arrived the push for prohibition was strong. One of the significant blocks opposing prohibition were the German Americans, but with World War, I waging their voice was muted. During the election of 1916, both President Wilson and the Republican challenger Charles Evan Hughes avoided taking a position on prohibition since both parties had supporters and opponents of prohibition.

In March 1917 the 65th Congress convened, and a majority existed in favor of a constitutional amendment to outlaw liquor. Both houses passed the Eighteenth amendment in December 1917. On January 16, 1919, the 36th state ratified the amendment thus making it law. However, it was up to Congress to create enabling legislation to enforce the act which they did by passing the Volstead Act which was passed on October 28, 1919.

The Eighteenth Amendment went into effect on January 16, 1920. 1,520 Federal Prohibition Agents began enforcing the act. Under the bill the manufacture, import or sale of alcohol became illegal. However, it allowed up to 200 gallons of wine or cider to be made at home. Religious disputations were also given as was the medicinal use of alcohol. The illegal sale and smuggling of liquor became one of the largest industries in the US during this period.