Back | Print

America officially went dry on January 16, 1920. This was the day the Volstead Act enforcing the 18th Amendment went into effect. The Amendment itself had been ratified a year earlier by 46 of the 48 states. It was now unlawful to manufacture, transport or sell alcohol anywhere in the United States.

The advocates of Prohibition had waged a 50-year campaign to ban alcohol and had high hopes for this "The Noble Experiment." Supporters anticipated that alcohol's banishment would lead to the eradication of poverty and vice while simultaneously ennobling the common man to achieve his highest goals. The reality of Prohibition was to prove quite different.

For the next fourteen years much time, money and manpower would be devoted to enforcement, however, the task was impossible. "Rum fleets" filled with liquor from Europe appeared off the Atlantic coast. As many as sixteen ships at a time would lie at anchor just outside U.S. territorial waters while smaller boats made the run to safe harbors. The Canadian border was a sieve through which liquor easily flowed. Clandestine distilleries grew like mushrooms in the city and countryside alike. Speakeasies flourished and the liquor flowed, even finding its way into the White House during Harding's administration. Alliances between politicians and gangsters assured the public would not want for alcohol.

By 1926, it was apparent the Noble Experiment was not working. Polls indicated the majority of Americans favored the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Repeal was not to come until 1933. The end was quick. On February 20, 1933, Congress proposed the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealing the 18th Amendment. On December 5, Utah became the thirty-sixth state to vote for ratification assuring acceptance of the 21st Amendment. Prohibition was dead.
      Coffey, Thomas, M., The Long Thirst: Prohibition in America 1920-1933 (1975)

How To Cite This Article:
"Prohibition," EyeWitness to History, (2000).