The 1920s brought a grand newness to America. New inventions, like car radios, enriched the social lives of American citizens. Along with such things came about a new lookout on drinking of intoxicating beverages. An act by the U.S. government, called the Volstead Act, prohibited the selling and production‍ of alcoholic drinks. The intention was to end crimes and violence, but Prohibition did the exact opposite. Americans wanted to drink, therefore, no law was going to stop them. They found ways to obtain and drink alcohol by bootlegging, and social clubs called speakeasies. Drinking became a fabulously stylish new way to socialize.

1920s Prohibition

After World War 1 ended, ‍‍Americans‍‍ came back to the US searching for a sense of normalcy and the life they had before the war. Due to their experience in European affairs throughout the war, Americans became extremely nativist. Rather than looking outward to solve other nations' problems, they turned inward to conquer their own issues. ‍‍To gain support for prohibition, Americans related beer to Germans, vodka to Russians, etc. ‍‍[1]‍‍ ‍‍

The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1920. It restricted the production, sale, transport, importation, and exportation of alcoholic beverages. The effort to control the use of alcohol began in the late 1700s. [2] The Volstead Act was put into operation in order to enforce the 18th Amendment. [1] Supporters of prohibition thought that it would have many positive effects. However, enforcing prohibition was virtually impossible. Manufacture, sale and transport was illegal but consumption was not. people who wanted alcohol could easily get it from bootleggers and speakeasies. [3]

Gangs & Organized Crime


The term "bootlegging" came from people smuggling materials in their boots. [3] "The Nicole Experiment" created problems with alcohol and crimes. Organized crime escalated and notorious names such as Al Capone appeared. [4] Al Capone is one of the best known gangsters of the 1920s. He controlled all of Chicago with his bootlegging business and his chain of speakeasies. [3] He also destroyed all competition. [4] Gangsters, such as Capone, controlled the bootlegging business. Therefore, prohibition was inadvertedly increasing the crime rate and many gansters were making a large sum of money. [1]

Although the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol wasillegal, people were still finding ways to consume alcoholic beverages. People found new ways to drink alcohol such as drinking alcohol intended for medicine. [3] They also made their own drinks with wood alcohol. Some began to sell their home made alcohol in speakeasies. In New York City, there were about 32,000 businesses. Many of the officials, who were supposed to be upholdinh the law, did nothing to prevent bootlegging because they could make extra money through bribes. [4]



Speakeasies wereunderground bars where people would go during the 1920s to drink and dance. [1] Some people would drink in the speakeasies and vote against alcohol consumption. ‍‍Farmers would use their fermented fruit as alcohol. Some would get prescription alcohol. Still others would get sacramental wine from churches. [5]‍‍

Many speakeasies had food, floor dances, and live jazz bands. Many customerswould do the Charleston at speakeasies. [2] Although speakeasies are normally signified as underground bars and dance clubs, many other speakeasies were hidden in plain sight. Rather than being an actual bar, speakeasies were hidden behind the facade of a legitimate business. The 1920s are when women really started to emerge into the saloons and bars. Cocktails also became extremely popular during the 1920s because of how watered down and poor quality the home made alcohol was. [6]

Historical Significance

Prohibition played a very large role in shaping America. It supported nativalistic ideas in that Americans did not want to be like the drunk European immagrants. However, people still drank even though it was illegal, just like people today sell and use drugs. Gangs and the mafia probably wouldn't have been as prominent if there was no drinking law to break. The 1920s would not have been the same had there not been bootlegging and speakeasies. There would not have been the secretive drinking, the crime rate would have been lower, and there would have been less alcohol related mishaps had there not been ‍‍prohibition.‍‍


[1] Dailey, Kevin. "Prohibition and War on Drugs Viewing Guide." Classroom Notes for U.S. History, unpublished, 2012.
[2] Henderson, Paula. "1920s' Prohibition." Vintage Periods. access on January 27,2012.
[3] Ayers, et al. American Anthem. Holt, Rinehart & Winston: 2009.
[4] Ha, Yoonhee, et al. "The Roaring Twenties." Thinkquest. access on January 27, 2012.
[5] Okrent, Daniel. "Prohibition: Speakeasies, Loopholes And Politics." NPR. access on February 1,2012.
[6] Kenney, Kim. "Speakeasies." Suite101. access on February 1, 2012.