If you’re reading this blog post, it is highly probable that you drink wine, and possibly other alcohol as well. While some religions abstain, or encourage extreme alcohol limitation, most Americans drink alcohol, and most of the world’s population indulges in liquor, too. Many wouldn’t question that drinking wine and spirits is part of daily American life, and sometimes is even considered a “rite of passage.” Yet it was not always so. Thankfully, very few of us were alive to experience Prohibition, the “Noble Experiment” of 1920 to 1933.
I can’t imagine a world without wine. Thirteen very dark years in American history when the Temperance Movement sought to reduce general villainy by restricting, and ultimately prohibiting the manufacture, sale and transportation of any alcoholic beverages.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Thomas Jefferson in his day even had to push back against temperance types who sought to reduce alcohol consumption by taxing it. (Some fights just go on and on!) However, after the Civil War — possibly due to the fatigue and stress of a post-war America — drinking was on the rise, and after a few decades, Prohibition was enacted: January 16, 1920 to be exact.
While their motives were noble (reduce crime, debauchery, wasting families’ precious money on alcohol, murder, theft, etc.) and initially only moderation was called for, the Temperance movement grew to enslave the entire nation into forced “teetotaling.”
Instead of reducing crime, however, Prohibition actually caused some of the worst crime-filled years in America’s history. Gangsters like Al Capone, recognizing Americans’ penchant for drink, was only too happy to oblige. Vast mob webs encouraged rumrunners, speakeasies and other dens of iniquity. In fact, my friend told me of a story of her grandmother, who as a young married woman lived in San Francisco in the early ‘20s. She opened her apartment door one day only to find herself face to face with a Tommy gun rigged in the apartment across the hall, pointing out of its doorway!
Next time: The Volstead Act, and how did American wine survive?