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
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
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. (Albany.edu). There was such a large demand for alcohol, but it was illegal. People
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- prohibition.8m.com).
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
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
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. Patheos.com). 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.
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
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 (cato.org). 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.