Hear the word “Prohibition” and the chances are you’ll immediately think of the United States in the Twenties and Thirties, gangsters, bootlegging, and speakeasies. Prohibition can relate to prohibiting anything but because the USA’s prohibition was so famous for its failings, this is what we immediately think of. But, why was Prohibition seen as such a failure, and realistically was it really a huge failure?
Why Was There Prohibition in the United States?
The USA wasn’t the first or the last country to try to prohibit alcohol but it’s gone down in history as the most famous. It was mandated under the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the ban came into effect on January 17, 1920.
The federal ban actually didn’t make the country entirely “dry”, allowing for private ownership and consumption of alcohol in your home, but it was state and local laws that really pushed prohibition to the extreme as they could enforce a ban on the consumption and ownership of any alcohol.
Prohibition in the United States: National Ban of Alcohol
But why was it decided that they would have Prohibition in the first place? Well it all stemmed from a large group of people who believed that alcohol was bad for the health and bad for social morals.
Of course, in certain respects they were right – drinking too much beer, wine or spirits isn’t good for your health, but rather than trying to limit consumption or passing a law that reduced the number of saloons that had shot up everywhere, they decided a full blown prohibition would be best. This was the mistake.
Why was the USA Prohibition Seen as Such a Failure?
The problem when you prohibit something that people enjoy is that they will always find a way to do it, regardless of the law. This was quickly recognised by numerous entrepreneurs across the country who did everything they could to keep places from going completely dry.
They brewed their own alcohol, illegally imported alcohol from Canada, and set up “speakeasies” where alcohol was illegally sold. One of the biggest negatives to come out of Prohibition was organised crime and the rise of the American Mafia, which was a result the dry activists had never considered.
Even so, there were some good things to come out of America’s Prohibition: it did cut consumption in half during the 1920s, though considering alcohol was supposed to be banned is this really such a great achievement?!
It also caused consumption to remain lower than pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s but considering the country had been going through the Great Depression in the 1930s and then war in the 1940s it wasn’t surprising that alcohol consumption was down anyway, but maybe that’s just me being sardonic!
Prohibition ended with the approval of the Twenty-First Amendment on December 5, 1933. Enforcing the prohibition had been next to impossible, and the public were just plain exasperated with the law so the federal government realised it was a losing battle.
The United States has come a long way since then but some cities and states do still have fairly strict drinking laws, and the legal drinking age varies across the country. If you’re thinking of heading to the USA for some fun and festivities, be sure to check the laws where you’re going or you could find yourself in a whole heap of trouble!
by Claire Bolgil, Travel Writer Extraordinaire
More people drank during the 1920s than before prohibition