Although National Prohibition took effect in 1920, there were a series of laws in the states that attempted to restrict alcohol consumption. These are some of the laws before Prohibition and also the 18th amendment and Volstead Act.
In 1697, the first American alcohol law was put into effect in New York. The law said that all saloons must close on Sundays because Sunday is a day for worship not drinking.
In 1735, the first statewide prohibition began in the state of Georgia. This was a complete failure and was quickly abandoned seven years later, in 1742.
In 1851, Maine was the 2nd state in the history of America to attempt a statewide prohibition, and it turned out to be a major success. By 1855, 12 other states had joined Maine in becoming dry. These were the first successful alcohol Prohibition laws passed in the United States.
In 1880, after the Civil War, women joined the dries and soon the temperance movement was back in full force. The WCTU was formed and the Prohibition Party became more powerful. All sorts of Prohibitions, including alcohol, tobacco, and closing all theaters were proposed, but the only one that ever caught on was the alcohol Prohibition.
By 1900, more than half of the States had become dry. The prohibitionists thought that there was no possible way for any person to get liquor in a dry state. Unfortunately for the dries, there was a loophole, the postal service. Because the postal service was run by the federal government instead of the state government, liquor could be mail ordered from a wet state. This infuriated the dries and in 1913, the Interstate Liquor Act was passed. This act made it illegal to send liquor to a dry state. This was actually a loss for the dries, because this effectively got rid of all possible legal methods of getting alcohol. The government got taxes and the liquor industry was soon hand in hand with crime.
In 1917, the 18th amendment was proposed to ban the sale and manufacture of liquor. Many states did not agree with this view, so it remained in debate for 2 years. By 1920, 33 states had voted themselves dry, and the movement for national prohibition was passed. The prohibition party had finally won its' biggest victory yet.
January 29, 1919. The 18th Amendment was ratified and all hard liquor with over 40% alcohol content (drinks over 80 proof) were banned. Officially, it banned the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors…for beverage purposes.” Many people supported this act, thinking that it was only banning hard liquors, and thinking that a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work would be fine. The Amendment took effect one year later on January 29, 1920.
However, in October of 1919, the Volstead Act was passed. The Volstead Act banned all alcohol that had more than 1/2% alcohol content. This effectively banned all forms of alcoholic beverages, with the exception of some non-alcoholic beers. After the 18th amendment was ratified, the Volstead Act was brought into the light by the Prohibition supporters. Many of the original supporters of the 18th amendment who just wanted a little wine now and then were left empty handed. Many of these supporters felt betrayed, as anyone would be.
Another group that felt betrayed was the World War I Veterans, returning home from the war. Many of these had been stationed in France and had seen first hand that alcohol in modest quantities could be mixed with everyday life. Coming home from the war and finding out that the evangelists, reformers, dries had won a total victory added to bitterness of the veterans.
All in all, the dries came out of the woodwork and won the battle for prohibition. The fatal mistake was to ban all types of alcohol, which lost the Prohibition Party most of its’ followers.
This site was last updated 04/14/05