The 18th Amendment All About Prohibition, Bootlegging, and Speakeasies A Brief History of American Prohibition The nutshell version of the American Prohibition starts with American citizens in the late 1700s who fell into two groups: those who felt drinking alcohol was a sin (religious groups) and families weary of men spending money at saloons drinking while women and children were left at home penniless and starving. They believed that alcohol was a contributing factor in the rise in crime, health issues, relationship issues, and extreme poverty. Thus, the temperance movement was born. For America, Prohibition officially started at one minute past midnight on January 17, 1920. However, Prohibition can be compared to a hurricane today in that you have plenty of warning before it hits, so large amounts of alcohol had previously been hoarded for years. When the supply ran out, alcohol was smuggled from Canada and Mexico, and bootleggers began making moonshine. People also took booze cruises twelve miles out (the legal distance) to international waters. Hidden secret bars called speakeasies opened, often hiding in a room behind a legal storefront business, or entrances were in alleys or in basements. It is believed that in New York City alone, there were over 100,000 speakeasies. All of this created a booming business for bootleggers, but it also created a booming business for a new dark world of organized crime called the Mafia, which spread to all the large cities with many gangs and gangsters. The Mafia made and sold “bathtub gin” to speakeasies (and to whoever wanted it) by purchasing moonshine from bootleggers, or legally through medical suppliers by infusing it with juniper berries and other herbs in an effort to get the smell and taste of pre-ban gin. (They used large containers such as barrels—not bathtubs.) After bottling, they would cut the moonshine with water by placing the bottles and jugs under bathtub faucets. (The bottles would not fit under a sink faucet.) Around 1,000 people would die yearly because it is said that sometimes they would obtain cheap (and poisonous) industrial alcohol, which was used for fuels, polishes, etc., and use that in the cutting process as well. As for cocktails, more mixers and ingredients were added to the Mafia’s bathtub gin to mask the nasty burn, such as the Bee’s Knees, made with lots of lemon juice and honey. Cocktails made with smuggled rum, whiskey, and brandy included the Twelve Mile Limit, Mary Pickford, and Between the Sheets. But the average middle-to-lower-class Americans just mixed—any booze they could get—at home with ingredients as simple as plain juices, herbs, and homemade syrups. These recipes will always remain a mystery. The Top Ten Things to Know About Prohibition 1. Prohibition (the noble experiment) did not outlaw the drinking of alcohol—it outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. 2. Prohibition did not only occur in America. It has happened at different times all over the world and still exists in some countries (and US counties) today. 3. To date, the American Constitution has twenty-seven amendments. The Eighteenth Amendment is when American Prohibition began (Tuesday, January 20, 1920) and the Twenty-First Amendment is when Prohibition ended (Tuesday, December 5, 1933) for a total of thirteen years, ten months, and fifteen days. 4. The Eighteenth Amendment did not happen in one fell swoop. Many states banned alcohol before, starting in 1851. It was the same for the Twenty-First Amendment; many states did not lift the ban for years and, today, there are still counties that have alcohol bans resulting in “dry” counties. The Twenty-First Amendment left the decision up to the states. 5. The fight for nationwide American Prohibition was not something that happened in a few years. It began in the late 1700s with the Temperance Movement (a movement to subdue the widespread drunkenness in America). 6. Legal alcohol during Prohibition included sacramental wine for churches; patented medicines; use in scientific research; industrial development of fuel, dye, and other things industries might need; and use in hospitals for cleaning. Homemade beer, wine, and cider, and pre-banned alcohol could be drunk in the privacy of one’s own home. 7. Up until the 1920s, the only American women allowed into the large main rooms of saloons/bars were prostitutes and madams. In nice bars there were small “Ladies’ Rooms” where prominent women could drink. The speakeasies from 1920 to 1933 were the first drinking establishments where women could patronize the whole bar. 8. Cocktails and drinks in speakeasies were known to be expensive, so you saved up for a special night on the town, had plenty of money (or were with someone with money), or just partied at home. 9. Out of necessity, Appalachian mountain bootleggers tinkered with their vehicle engines to make them faster than police cars. This lead to what we know today as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). 10. If you happen to be traveling through Kansas today, then feel lucky because they win for having the longest alcohol ban (sixty-eight years between 1880 and 1948). The alcohol ban was lifted by a new Kansas state law that was passed in 1965. However, it put all public bars out of business because only private bars were allowed. Twenty-one years later, in 1986, the private bar ban was lifted and within a year, 400 public bars opened. However, there was a stipulation—30 percent of bar sales must be from food. On a side note and to open the crazy Kansas box even more, in the 1970s—unbelievably—5’5” Vern Miller (ex–police officer, deputy sheriff, and county marshal who then went on to graduate law school) was elected as the Kansas attorney general in 1970. His job was to aggressively enforce Kansas’s liquor laws. Examples of his hostile assertiveness included raiding Amtrak trains that were passing through Kansas and forcing airlines to stop serving liquor while traveling through Kansas’s airspace. Miller made headlines and a book about him was published in 2008.