Well before the 1900s, a temperance movement had been slowly gaining steam, powered by many in the Bible Belt who felt that drinking alcohol led to an increase in immorality, and also that it was generally sinful in their book. With the help of World War I and a little bit of luck, the temperance movement managed to prohibit the sale of alcohol nationally.
However, not only did prohibition have many ridiculous or unwanted side effects – apart from well known things like the increase in organized crime – it was also more of a joke rule in the first place. The law had a lot of different loopholes that people happily abused, giving birth to brand new industries and forcing liquor manufacturers to go to very creative lengths to stay in business.
10. Bootlegging Gave Birth to NASCAR Racing
While most people associate NASCAR solidly with the American South, many people don’t realize that, while it did originate in the region, it wasn’t just a Southern sport – it was a booze inspired sport. In the South, from Georgia to Virginia, many young men had decided to take up bootlegging both to make money and to make sure that they and their friends had a steady supply of booze. These young men would soup up their cars to be as fast and maneuverable as possible, and practice all kinds of crazy moves in order to be able to evade law enforcement when necessary. As they became more obsessed with the best cars and being the best drivers, they started to race each other for fun, and in time it became a full blown sport.
Some people still think that the involvement was only minimal, but recent research has shown that the roots of NASCAR are essentially soaked in booze. The founder of NASCAR was a good friend of nearly everyone in the early racing days, most of whom were bootleggers before they started racing. Investigation of many of the people in the early days before official NASCAR found that even the mechanics were involved indirectly in the bootlegging business; they may not have run it, but they worked on the cars of the people who did. NASCAR is inspired by the real life struggles of booze smugglers in the American South, many of whom really did have past problems with law enforcement that initially made public life as an entertainer difficult. However, despite those hiccups in the past, NASCAR has gone on to become a nationally accepted sport and most people have forgotten its booze fueled origins.
9. Government Showed its Willingness to Go to Insane Lengths to Enforce Rules
While many people feel that the government’s experiment in banning alcohol was ludicrous, most people would stop short of accusing them of callously causing the poisoning of their own citizens. However, like all governments, you never know when they are going to do something completely untrustworthy. People were violating the law whenever possibly, circumventing it entirely with loopholes if they could, and if that didn’t work, they would buy it from illegal black market vendors. These vendors were often stealing alcohol meant for industrial use and selling it to the public. This may sound instantly dangerous now, but at the time the alcohol made for industry wasn’t denatured the way it is now – until the government decided to take drastic action. They decided to put in additives that made industrial alcohol super dangerous to drink.
Many people started to die as soon as the experiment began. The government felt that if people died because of drinking, then the general public would be less likely to imbibe. While the alcohol was being stolen and sold illegally, they knew full well what the consequences of this experiment would be and gladly waited it out to see the results. Unfortunately, estimates today suggest that as many as 10,000 people died because the government wanted to make sure that their citizens weren’t misbehaving and flouting the rules set out for them. As a consequence, organized crime saw a huge rise that has never really flattened out since, and many people will never trust their government again.
8. It Helped Walgreens Become a Powerhouse
As we have mentioned, before the law had fully taken effect, people were already searching for loopholes, and luckily there were a lot of them. One of the biggest loopholes is one taken advantage of today by stoners hoping to get a legal high. They go get a prescription from a doctor, and then go to a “pharmacy” to have the prescription for their booze filled. While a traditional pharmacy may not always have the booze in stock, one man had a set of convenience stores with a pharmacy inside, and his name was Charles Walgreen. Initially, he only had 20 stores from which he ran his business, but in just a few short years, he expanded to 525 stores. While some of this can be attributed to other good business decisions that he made, there is no doubt that booze was mostly responsible for such a huge and sudden explosion of growth.
Walgreen claimed that it was his new milkshakes that allowed him to make so much money (side note: this is believed to be the first time someone claimed his milkshake brings all the boys to the yard), however, we would point out that Walgreens still have pharmacies and in some localities they sell beer, but you don’t see milkshake machines in them anymore. However, perhaps some of Walgreen’s denial has to do with how much unwanted attention and annoyance being one of the only purveyors of booze could be in that day and age. He remarked that he feared having fires, because when the firemen showed up, a case of booze was usually missing from the back afterwards. Whether he was being entirely serious or not, it is clear that Walgreen was willing to sell it and get rich from the profits, but he was never entirely comfortable with the fact that he built his drugstore empire selling prescription booze.
7. Basically Everyone was Openly Flouting the Law
When prohibition began, many people were basically going through a form of shock. Being without their precious booze was simply unacceptable and they would not allow it to be taken from them. However, some people found the idea of going to a doctor to get a prescription to be somewhat shameful or below them, and many people didn’t like the idea of openly breaking the law by buying alcohol from black market vendors. What this left them with is the option to make their own booze at home and hope that it worked out well, and didn’t end up poisoning them. There were also many companies who were left in a bad position: they had equipment and supplies for making wine and beer, but they couldn’t make it or sell it.
Then, the wine and beer manufacturers figured out a perfect way to meet these people both ways, and fulfill the letter of the law while allowing the enterprising and law conscious to safely make their own booze at home, and keep the major vendors in business. To this end, wine companies sold special “wine bricks,” and beer manufacturers sold a special malt extract that could easily make homemade beer. These packages usually came with instructions that came about as close as you possibly can to actually saying “wink wink, nudge nudge” on an actual package without doing so, telling you in detail what not to do if you don’t want your concentrated extract to turn into delicious booze. It seems like today such an open violation of the law would not be allowed, but in prohibition era America, this was a perfectly acceptable way to avoid the restrictions and buy excellent booze supplies to produce your own at home.
6. Many Counties Still Completely Prohibit Alcohol Sales
In 1933, the 21st amendment was ratified and, finally, booze was free to flow from every tap in every bar in the country again. It was a joyous day for many, and allegedly Franklin Delano Roosevelt drank a dirty martini to celebrate the occasion, and then stated that what America needed was a drink. Before long the need to buy possibly dangerous booze, or consort with criminals to get it, was a thing of the past. However, for some parts of the country, the nightmare was not yet over. While the amendment did allow once again for the sale and manufacture of booze, it actually did nothing to prevent states from making their own rules in that regard. During the prohibition era, many states in the Bible Belt had managed to pick up steam and put in their own extra state rules prohibiting alcohol. Many counties across the country had also put together their own patchwork rules.
When prohibition officially ended, many of the Southern states actually didn’t lift their bans at first, and Mississippi was the last one to finally come limping across the finish line in 1966, roughly 30 years after the end of federal prohibition. While that was the end of the last statewide ban, there are still 200 counties in the United States, mostly in the South, that completely prohibit the sale of alcohol within their borders. Not only that, but there are countless more counties that have a mix of laws that make them at least partly dry, having various levels of restriction on alcohol sales. The truth is that prohibition never really ended, because states and counties have always had the power to make their own laws as they see fit. It’s simply no longer illegal for states to allow people to buy and sell booze, but that doesn’t mean they have to allow it, either.
5. It Allowed for Jazz to Flourish
Many people don’t realize it, but the original rise of jazz music can actually be attributed largely in part to the prohibition era. Now, we aren’t suggesting that jazz was inspired by booze, the way some people suggest that certain types of music are inspired by psychedelia like marijuana. It wasn’t the booze itself that directly helped jazz, or even so much the lack of it, but rather the culture that sprang up around a world where you weren’t allowed to go to a local liquor store and just buy some beer.
It was the 1920s, and along with city life being more common, people were also looking for a way to get a drink when they needed. They also wanted to enjoy the socialization of being in a bar, like back when drinking was legal. This need was filled by speakeasies, the establishments that spread like wildfire in the prohibition era, wherein you would say a secret code to be allowed access and then buy booze and enjoy some form of entertainment. Jazz became a popular form of music for speakeasies, and it also allowed many jazz musicians to make connections that helped them greatly with their future careers. Unfortunately, the rise of jazz music was often associated with crime as well, since many a jazz musician befriended gangsters involved in the business. Sometimes this was to the benefit of the musician, but sometimes they ended up with extremely dangerous enemies.
4. It Empowered and Emboldened the KKK
Many people don’t realize that the beginnings of the prohibition movement and a large part of its enforcement were the work of a hooded group of hoodlums who like to refer to themselves as the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan felt that most drinkers were actually Catholics, Irish, or immigrants – or worse, Irish Catholic immigrants – and felt that taking away drinking would be a good way to punish them for existing. They began working well before the 1900s on pushing for a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol, and began insinuating themselves whenever possible with legitimate groups. They did their best to associate themselves with the Anti-Saloon League, in order to bolster their own image, even though the Anti-Saloon League liked to claim publicly that they had no involvement with the KKK.
However, while they claimed this as a matter of public image, some of their leadership was also decidedly anti-immigrant as well, and there is some reason to believe that there was some overlap in group membership despite official protests. Klan members were also known for working as vigilantes to attempt to stamp out drinking as much as their fascist little hearts could manage. They would tip off the police, get into shootouts, raid buildings, and generally hurt people because they enjoyed it. The Klan even admitted that the prohibition movement and their activism during it gave them a huge membership spike, and at least at the time, it increased their prestige in the world and normalized them to a certain degree. Some communities, or even policemen, were turning a blind eye and essentially allowing the Klan to get away with being vigilantes, because they secretly approved of what they were doing. As we all know, however, this spike in popularity was short lived and they are now the farthest out of fringe hate groups.
3. Modern Cruise Lines Were Inspired by Booze Cruises
As we have mentioned, before prohibition officially began, people were already doing their best to think of ways to circumvent the law – and many enterprising businesspeople were already trying to find ways to profit from the new restrictions. Some of them, like Al Capone, made a fortune selling bootleg booze, but other people decided that they wanted to profit off it in a completely legitimate and long-term way. To this end they came up with something called a “booze cruise,” which was pretty much exactly what it sounded like. A bunch of rich people would board a really nice boat, it would go out on a route that went just far enough away from shore that you could sell alcohol as much as you want, and then sell drinks to the passengers and just cruise back and forth, making a mockery of the law.
While it can’t be said to be the only contributing factor, it is likely that this was one of the major contributors to the popularity and existence of modern cruises today. At the time, despite the Great Depression, cruise ships were making a profit due to the ability to buy booze on board, and they are still popular today, in a very similar form. After all, most modern cruises are essentially just an extended route and an excuse to drink lots of fine alcoholic drinks while being away from any annoying responsibilities. Also, while the farcical booze cruises have mainly been replaced by longer, more scenic cruises, there still exist a different form of booze cruise in Europe today, where people take a short cruise across the water to take advantage of lower liquor prices in other European countries.
2. Temperance Paved the Way for the Suffrage Movement
It may be a rather surprising fact to some, but the women’s suffrage movement actually benefited greatly from the temperance movement. At the time, many people felt that drinking in the USA and public drunkenness were more prevalent than, for the sake of comparison, how many today view Russia, and wanted to do something about what they saw as the decay of the moral fabric of society. While banning alcohol may have been misguided, a huge part of the movement was led by a group called the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU. This group of women was instrumental in bringing about the banning of the sale of alcohol, and in doing so actually gave a start to the careers of multiple female activists. Two of the more famous members of the group were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frances Willard, who went on to be very important in the women’s suffrage movement a short while later.
This was actually not the very beginning of the suffrage movement. Many historians say that the abolitionist movement was the first time a major group of women got together to fight politically for something they believed in. However, it is a certainty that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was also a huge step for women’s suffrage as well. Many scholars contend that suffrage would have occurred much later without it, because the movement allowed women of the generation to band together and learn to bring their political power to bear as a movement. Ironically, shortly after women’s suffrage became the law of the land, the next generation of women had much more progressive ideals and were perfectly fine with legal drinking.
1. Banning Booze Led to Huge Growth in the Candy Industry
If you’ve ever researched trying to quit anything, you may have come across the concept of addiction switching. The theory is that if you quit one vice you will likely end up replacing it with another, perhaps without even realizing it. Many smokers deal with this when, after they decide to quit cigarettes, they find themselves eating massive amounts of sweets and putting on weight.
Many Americans found themselves with a similar problem when prohibition took effect – many people simply ended up turning their addiction to booze into an addiction to sugary foods, especially cheap and easy to acquire candy. While there were certainly some other factors involved in the candy industry’s growth, there can be no doubt that the banning of booze was a huge contributor to the spike in candy sales.
One newspaper from the early 1920s stated that in pool halls, where people were once able to drink booze, they essentially wanted something that come close to mimicking the habit and started turning to candy. Pool halls were apparently going through large amounts of candy on a regular basis after prohibition. The article explains that, where candy was once considered for women, the desperation to find a replacement for their previous addiction had led men to abandon that belief. If nothing else, despite all of the trouble it caused, prohibition made eating candy socially acceptable for men.