Prohibition

(n.) Many governments have enacted periods of prohibition, a law that forbids alcohol. In the United States, the term is most commonly associated with the period from 1920 to 1933 in which the federal government passed the 18th amendment, banning the production, transportation and sale of alcohol, and the Volstead Act, which enforced the law.

The temperance movement, which cited alcohol consumption as a root cause of social ills such as domestic violence, had been gaining popularity since the late 18th century in religious and progressive circles. The movement helped successfully pass 19 statewide alcohol bans before the federal government enacted prohibition. The push to ban alcohol nationally gathered momentum during World War I, as anti-German sentiment targeted breweries founded by Germans (which was most of them), agricultural products used for making alcohol were thought to be better used in support of the war, and the women’s suffrage movement adopted the cause.

Alcohol production and consumption famously did not stop with the ban going into effect—it merely went underground, where a new black-market economy starring moonshine, bootleggers and speakeasies sprang up to accommodate drinkers. With a thriving illegal market, however, also came violence. Homicide rates spiked, and gang wars threatened cities. Growing unpopularity of the law inspired president Roosevelt to sign the repeal of the 18th amendment in 1933.

Still, by the time of repeal, great damage had been inflicted to the once-thriving alcohol industry in the United States. Where there were 1,345 breweries in the United States in 1915, post-prohibition the number dwindled to 776, and continued to fall after, as operations consolidated to survive. The number of licensed distilleries in 1896 topped 8,000, a number that would drop to below 100 after prohibition and stay there for the next 80 years. In 2012, the American Distilling Institute reported that 400 craft distilleries were operating in the United States.

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