You guys remember when all the pubs, bars and off-licences had to shut and there was a nasty virus on the loose which originated in another country? And when the city was full of hidden speakeasies but drinking at home was the safest way of avoiding the long arm of the law? When everyone walked around looking like an extra from peaky blinders? When the country was recovering from the ravages of a world war? When everything was in black and white?!?!
No you don’t remember. Because I’m talking about 100 years ago! Damn, History… Am I right?
There’s an old and oft-repeated saying: “sometimes the past is really like the present, and this happens on a regular basis. And we’ve all noticed this phenomenon, but don’t like to talk about it.” Or something along those lines.
What’s really interesting in this case (case to be revealed shortly), is that none of the above is relevant. As an increasingly-reluctant citizen of a country that cannot get enough of rose-tinted nostalgia, I understand the attraction of drawing parallels between our lives 100 years ago and today. But that’s just lazy journalism. And THIS my friend, isn’t journalism.
But it is a blog about Prohibition. Or more accurately, The Prohibition.
I covered this topic at school in some depth and have forgotten all of it, but it’s referred to in enough popular culture that I think most people can give you a one-sentence summary of what Prohibition was: Booze is illegal, so everyone makes their own, especially Al Capone. But this isn’t an entrance exam at All Soul’s College, Oxford, so a one-sentence answer won’t do.
The Prohibition refers to the period in United States history when the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol was banned. This was according to the 18th Amendment to the constitution, which went into effect on the 17th January, 1920 in the form of the Volstead Act. As you might expect, there was a mixed reaction to the enforcement of prohibition across the various states, but the nationwide ban remained in effect for 13 years nonetheless! On a state level, some places held onto the ban much longer - In Mississippi they only dropped it in 1966. And some counties remain dry to this day.
Here is a helpful map of dry counties in the USA should you be planning a trip (remember planning trips? sob.). I don’t mean to imply that you should either avoid or aim for the dry ones. But I must insist that you avoid the moist counties. Ewwwwww.
The idea that alcohol should be banned was not a new one. In the states, the 19th Century saw the rise of anti-drinking groups which relentlessly campaigned for a ban. Religious groups and teetotaller organisations like the American Temperance Society and Anti-Saloon league were at the vanguard of this movement; they claimed to be fighting a ‘nationwide scourge of drunkenness’.
Quick shout-out to one of the lovely pubs that stock our Caper Lager - The Temperance Pub in Fulham - It did strike me as an odd name, but now I get it.
These organisations were well-funded and politically well-connected. An early victory saw the state of Maine introduce a Prohibition in 1851, followed by a dozen other states. But this initial wave of dry-mania was met with serious opposition and even riots which resulted in a swift repeal.
The teetotaller groups were not easily quieted though, and continued to exert influence on Capitol Hill into the early 20th Century. It was global events which eventually tipped the balance in favour of prohibition: When the US entered WW1 in 1917, dry advocates argued that the barley used in brewing beer could be made into bread to feed American soldiers. And the war allowed them to paint America’s largely German brewing industry as a threat. The cover photo for this blog is an example of a poster circulated at the time.
Over in little old Blighty, there was a smaller, concerted effort to get us to follow in the footsteps of our American cousins. The end.
There were early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, but equally there were scores of inventions that people adopted to drink on the sly. Aside from the lackadaisical approach that some state legislators took toward the enforcement of prohibition - step forward Maryland - there are a few figures which reflect the staggering extent of the resistance experienced in some states:
Over 30,000 speakeasies appeared in New York alone
Detroit’s second largest industry was alcohol production, after cars
Al Capone cleared $60million dollars annually from his alcohol operations (that’s about $800m today)
Just as larger forces had helped to usher in the Prohibition, the Great Depression contributed to its eventual Demise: anti-Prohibition activists argued that potential savings and tax revenue from alcohol were too precious to ignore. The public agreed. After Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a repeal during the 1932 presidential campaign, he won the election in a landslide. Prohibition was dead a year later.
Phew! I hope you learnt something there. The economy is in trouble yet again, and Friendship Adventure is answering the call. We’re going to make £800 million this year, and use it to fund our NHS.