Prohibition: Was it A Successful Endeavor


Was Prohibition of alcohol in the United States a good idea? Mark Twain once said,

“Evidence…proves that prohibition only drives drunkenness behind closed doors and into dark

places, and it does not cure it or even diminish it”. Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional

ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages that remained

in place from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition was thought to be a good thing because alcohol was bad

for you. However, could it have been bad for the U.S.? Prohibition has been called one of

America’s most misremembered deeds. The Eighteenth Amendment, ratified by the vote of the

thirty-sixth state, Nebraska, on January 16, 1919, prohibited the manufacture, sale or

transportation of “intoxication liquors”, defined as any beverage with more than 0.5 percent

alcohol (beer had 3 to 8 percent, wine 10 to 20, spirits 40) (American Century, Harold Evans



There are quite a few reasons why Prohibition was not a good idea. It created a lot of

underground-organized criminal activity. Criminals like Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and John

Dillinger were big criminals who made their money through alcohol-related crimes. Bootlegging

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of alcohol is what fueled the work of organized crime. Prohibition of alcohol was very

expensive. Distilleries, breweries, and saloons all closed due to Prohibition. The loss of income

from alcohol sales lead to money loss for individuals and effected the taxes the government

collected. There was a decline in amusement and entertainment industries and theatre revenues

went down because of this. Prohibition did not deal with the drinking problems of some people.

People were afraid to admit if they had a drinking problem because it could land you in jail. The

quality of alcohol made underground could not be verified. And, ironically, Prohibition increased

the amount people drank.


Prohibition created underground criminal activity. Al Capone expanded the bootlegging

business (illegally producing, distributing, and selling of alcohol), and organized crime now

became the main supplier of booze. Capone would bribe police and politicians so they would not

prosecute him for his crimes and illegal activity. Al Capone took over what was once a legal

industry that provided thousands of legal jobs and gave the jobs to his friends. His friends would

produce and distribute the alcohol. Bootlegging of alcohol is what fueled the work of organized

crime. In addition to this, young members of gangs would start bootlegging because it was

highly profitable.

Illegalizing the production, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages only

made organized crime much worse. "Not only did the number of serious crimes increase, but

crime became organized. Criminal groups organize around the steady source of income provided

by laws against victimless crimes such as consuming alcohol or drugs, gambling and

prostitution. ( There was such a large demand for alcohol, but it was illegal. People

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still wanted to get alcohol and they went underground to get it. The gangsters controlled the

alcohol and made all the money off of it. Al Capone said, “All I do is supply and demand . . .

somebody had to throw some liquor on that thirst. Why not me? (Sullivan, 111)

Since Prohibition closed down bars and saloons, people were looking for alcohol in other

places. This is where speakeasies came alone. Speakeasies are an illicit liquor store or nightclub.

They called these places “speakeasies” because people had to speak quietly when talking about

them and were supposed to be quiet when in them, so as not to alert the police. This was people’s

way of coming up with ways to get around the law. The gangsters that ran the speakeasies used

things such as hip flasks, false books, coconut shells, hot water bottles and garden hoses to

transport illegal liquor. It was said that one man drained the egg out of an eggshell and refilled

the shell with liquor. Another example of a speakeasy follows. On a city street, a drawer could be

found in a wall, a person would drop change in the drawer and call for what drink they want.

They would pull the drawer back and receive the drink they wanted. This method was called the

“Blind Tiger” (Prohibition and Repeal). These secret places could be found all over town and did

not stop people from getting liquor. It only made it easier to get. There were so many more

places to get liquor than previously, they were just illegal. “By 1925 there were, for instance, at

least 15,000 “blind pigs” in Detroit, and by the end of the late 1920’s at least 32,000

“speakeasies” in New York, and countless stores sold liquor as a sideline to get additional

income”. (Prohibition in the 1920’s-

Many innovative Americans will do anything in their power to get what they want. In

1920’s, resourceful people created moonshine distilleries to home brew their hard alcohol. This

era saw the rise of bootlegging, rumrunners and speakeasies. Moonshine stills were created

across the country and it was an easy way to make a living during the depression. The

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moonshiners also used their alcohol to fuel the cars and trucks that carried the alcohol when they

went on liquor runs. It seems crazy that you can fuel a car with the same liquid that people were

drinking. The rum-running lead to police chases when the drivers tried transport the liquor.

“Rum-running also saw a revival as a trade in the United States. Liquor was smuggled in station

wagons, trucks, and boats from Mexico, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean.” (The Rebellion

Against Prohibition).

Prohibition of alcohol was very expensive. It caused distilleries, breweries, and saloons

all to close. Employees who worked at these places now were out of work and sometimes could

not find jobs based on the past work experience. It also cost $300 million to enforce the

prohibition laws. The cost to the federal government was $11 billion in lost tax revenue. The

government needed to spend money to manage the increased number of prisoners that were in

prison because prohibition crimes. In New York Almost 75% of the state’s income came from

liquor taxes (The American Century p.16). “Some estimate the total cost was about a billion

dollars in a time when a Ford factory worker made $5 a day. The government also lost a

significant amount of tax revenue because alcohol sales went underground. This made the price

of alcohol artificially inflated, and people spent a lot for a little liquor.” (12 Bad Effects of

Prohibition That You Should Know. The police and courts were busy catching

people who broke the law and putting them in jail. The money spent on their salaries could have

been used to stop other types of crimes.

In addition, police officers were known to take bribes from the speakeasy owners and

operators. Sometimes, the police were able to afford luxury homes because they made so much

money off bribes paid to keep bootleggers from going to jail.

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Prohibition had a huge economic impact in the United States. The US government could

not collect tax from and industry that generated billions of dollars in revenue. This all occurred

during the Great Depression when millions of people lost their jobs and struggled to put bread on

the table for their family. “The main point of Prohibition was to prevent people from drinking

and thereby bringing down the rates of crime, death, and poverty in the country. However, when

the 18 th amendment was implemented, instead of having a positive effect on the society and

country, the opposite occurred” (Us history graphic illustrated). Organized crime had flourished

therefore bootlegging increased.

Prohibition did not deal with the drinking problems of some people and drinks became

unhealthy or even fatal. Drinkers and drunks were basically lumped into the same category and

were treated the same. If you were caught drinking you could go to jail. So, now when people

went out to drink they often got drunk. You couldn’t be seen with a bottle of liquor so you had to

finish it before you left the bar because it was illegal. This is where hard alcohol came in, it was

less alcohol and easier to smuggle. In addition, people who were heavy drinkers or alcoholics

and wanted help could not get the help they needed. The self-help groups became pretty much

non-existent during Prohibition. Nobody wanted to be seen at a meeting.

Production of moonshine (named that because people often made the drinks in the under

the “moonshine” to avoid getting caught) during Prohibition was undertaken by amateurs who’s

product could harm or kill the consumer. The trade in illegal alcohol increased significantly after

Prohibition leading the alcohol quality to drop significantly. In 1925, the nation had lost 4,154

people as compared to 1,064 in 1920. On average thousands of Americans had died every year

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during prohibition due to the effects from drinking tainted liquor. (Millennium 20 th century Day

By Day) Prohibition “heightened the attractiveness of alcohol to the young by making it a

glamorous product associated with excitement and intrigue ( This increased the

availability of alcohol by 10 times, a New Jersey businessman claimed.

Making alcohol at home became very common. Now people would take grape

concentrate and allow it to ferment into wine. In addition, people made “bathtub gin” at home.

Prohibition was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce

the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America.

Based on the examples given above, you can see that it accomplished none of its goals.


Because Prohibition created underground criminal activity, was very expensive, did not deal with

the drinking problems of people, and non-regulated alcohol was not verified to be safe, it was a

bad idea for the United States.


Was Prohibition a successful endeavor? I believe it was not, and Prohibition was repealed

on December 5 th, 1933 with the ratification of the Twenty-first amendment to the U.S

constitution. Prohibition of Alcohol seemed to be a good idea at the time, but it never worked.

Prohibition was very expensive, lead to organized crime and did not deal with the drinking

problems of people. The consumption of alcohol is now legal in the United States.