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  • On January 17, 1920, six armed men robbed a Chicago freight train.

  • But it wasn't money they were after.

  • Less than one hour after spirits had become illegal

  • throughout the United States,

  • the robbers made off with thousands of dollars worth of whiskey.

  • It was a first taste of the unintended consequences of Prohibition.

  • The nationwide ban on the production and sale of alcohol in the United States

  • came on the heels of a similar ban in Russia

  • that started as a wartime measure during World War I.

  • But the view in the Western world of alcohol

  • as a primary cause of social ills was much older.

  • It first gained traction during the Industrial Revolution

  • as new populations of workers poured into cities

  • and men gathered in saloons to drink.

  • By the 19th century, anti-drinking groups called temperance movements

  • began to appear in the United States and parts of Europe.

  • Temperance groups believed that alcohol was the fundamental driver

  • behind problems like poverty and domestic violence,

  • and set out to convince governments of this.

  • While some simply advocated moderate drinking,

  • many believed alcohol should be banned entirely.

  • These movements drew support from broad sectors of society.

  • Women's organizations were active participants from the beginning,

  • arguing that alcohol made men neglect their families and abuse their wives.

  • Religious authorities, especially Protestants,

  • denounced alcohol as leading to temptation and sin.

  • Progressive labor activists believed alcohol consumption

  • harmed workers' ability to organize.

  • Governments weren't strangers to the idea of prohibition, either.

  • In the United States and Canada, white settlers introduced hard liquors

  • like rum to Native communities,

  • then blamed alcohol for disrupting these communities

  • though there were many other destructive aspects of their interactions.

  • The American and Canadian governments banned the sale of alcohol

  • to Native populations and on reservation land.

  • American temperance movements gained their first victories

  • at the state and local levels,

  • with Maine and several other states banning the sale and production of liquor

  • in the 1850s.

  • In 1919 the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution

  • banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation

  • of all alcoholic beverages.

  • The amendment took effect a year later under the Volstead Act.

  • Since the act did not ban personal consumption,

  • wealthy people took the opportunity to stock up while restaurants and bars

  • rushed to sell their remaining supply.

  • Workers lost their jobs as distilleries, breweries, and wineries closed down.

  • Meanwhile, organized crime groups rushed to meet the demand for alcohol,

  • establishing a lucrative black market in producing, smuggling,

  • and selling illicit liquor.

  • Often they worked side-by side with corrupt policemen

  • and government officials,

  • even bombing the 1928 primary election for Illinois state attorney

  • in support of a particular political faction.

  • Tens of thousands of illegal bars, known as "speakeasies,"

  • began serving alcohol.

  • They ranged from dingy basement bars to elaborate dance-halls.

  • People could also make alcohol at home for their own consumption,

  • or obtain it legally with a doctor's prescription or for religious purposes.

  • To prevent industrial alcohol from being consumed,

  • the government required manufacturers to add harmful chemicals,

  • leading to thousands of poisoning deaths.

  • We don't know exactly how much people were drinking during Prohibition

  • because illegal alcohol wasn't regulated or taxed.

  • But by the late 1920s,

  • it was clear that Prohibition had not brought the social improvements

  • it had promised.

  • Instead it contributed to political corruption and organized crime

  • and was flouted by millions of citizens.

  • At one raid on an Detroit beer hall, the local sheriff, mayor and a congressman

  • were arrested for drinking.

  • With the start of the Great Depression in 1929,

  • the government sorely needed the tax revenue from alcohol sales,

  • and believed that lifting Prohibition would stimulate the economy.

  • In 1933, Congress passed the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th

  • the only amendment to be fully repealed.

  • Members of the temperance movements

  • believed that alcohol was the root of society's problems,

  • but the reality is more complicated.

  • And while banning it completely didn't work,

  • the health and social impacts of alcohol remain concerns today.

On January 17, 1920, six armed men robbed a Chicago freight train.

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B2 US TED-Ed alcohol prohibition temperance amendment believed

Banning alcohol was a bad idea

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