Prohibition: Unintended Consequences cover

Prohibition: Unintended Consequences

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When the 18th Amendment passed it was expected that the social ills of the country would dry up and that the laws would be relatively easy to enforce. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Organized crime as we know it today is tied to the development of crime families during Prohibition. Explore the unintended consequences, corruption, and the critical role played by women.





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Prohibition: Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequenses

When the 18th Amendment passed it was expected that the social ills of the country would dry up and that the laws

would be relatively easy to enforce. Nothing could have been further from the truth. A number of unintended consequences resulted from the new laws. As saloons closed and speakeasies opened women found venues for drinking alcohol that had been previously unavailable to them.

The Roaring Twenties saw the rise of jazz music and dancing as men and women socialized together. Cocktail recipes such as the Mary Pickford, the Sidecar, and the French 75 were developed to mask the taste of poor-quality liquor.

James E. Pepper Company

James E. Pepper Company

James E. Pepper Company (bourbon whiskey distillery); L&N (Louisville & Nashville) Railroad box car, 1932.

Courtesy of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library.

Organized Crime

The huge amounts of money tied to the import and distribution of illegal liquor fueled crime

and led to the organization of criminals into a national syndicate. Organized crime as we know it today is tied to the development of crime families during Prohibition. Corruption of police officials was rife as organized crime figures paid off police and enforcement agents to either look the other way or to actively participate in protecting their activities.

New Opportunities

As Prohibition became law of the land in January 1920 the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol became illegal.

Those in favor of Prohibition predicted that enforcement of the law would be easy and inexpensive, but this quickly proved not to be the case. Gangs who before 1920 limited their activity to gambling and thievery found new opportunities as they organized into groups of bootleggers supplying illegal liquor brought into the country for those wanting to drink. Bootlegging gangsters became very wealthy. Infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone’s income was estimated to be more than $100 million a year.

Jack

Jack "Legs" Diamond

Jack "Legs" Diamond and attorneys, leaving federal court in New York.

Convicted of owning an unlicensed still and conspiring to violate the Prohibition laws. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

National Syndicate

By the late 1920s the gangs were so organized they held a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

They discussed creating a national crime syndicate. At a subsequent meeting in Atlantic City in 1929 the country was divided into nine territories with a national Commission made up of representatives from each territory. When the profitable bootlegging period ended with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 the gangs focused on other crimes including gambling, prostitution, and drug distribution.

Corruption

Instead of solving problems of criminality as originally intended, the prohibition of alcohol gave rise to widespread crime and corruption.

Within the first hours of the Volstead Act taking effect there were already liquor robberies and hijackings and within the following month the first federal agents were arrested for liquor law corruption. Bootleggers routinely paid off police officers to allow their illegal activities to continue. America was facing a dark decade in which corruption became routine, and crime more profitable.

"Attacks New Bone-Dry Law"

"Attacks New Bone-Dry Law," 1921 article discussing class issues related to the Volstead Act.

Courtesy of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library.

The Wickersham Commission

The Wickersham Commission, organized by President Hoover in 1929, studied the problems associated with Prohibition

and found it had caused a number of social and political problems. The Commission recognized that Prohibition was unenforceable and provided great potential for police corruption. The commission released a second report in 1931 that supported prohibition but found that the average American held the law in contempt and that enforcement was impossible. The report documented corruption in police ranks, local politics and problems in every community that attempted to enforce prohibition laws.

"Another attack on the dry laws...."

"Another attack on the dry laws...." 1926 article mentioning the class issues related to the Volstead Act.

Courtesy of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library.

Women

The major women's political activity of the late 19th and early 20th century was not organized around political rights or feminism

but around the temperance movement. Prohibition of alcohol was a major reform movement from the mid-1800s through the 1920s. Women were at the heart of the movement that was rooted in Protestant denominations such as Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians.

Before Prohibition, temperance activism by women was fueled by heavy-drinking husbands. Saloons were generally for men, the only women typically found there being prostitutes. Prohibition became law in 1920, but it did not stop people from drinking. Saloons were replaced by speakeasies, and women joined men in frequenting the illegal establishments. A new era of freedom was ushered in for women as the vote for women was ratified in August of 1920.

Heineken Gal!

Heineken Gal!

Woman stands holding Heineken Beer at unidentified bar, 1968.

LBSCB08-105b, Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers Photographic Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library.

Team Spirit

Team Spirit

Cheerleaders carrying beer barrel at football game, 1957.

Courtesy of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library.