As Canada and America currently continue talks in regards to the legalization of medical marijuana, we here at BarCountry thought it would be interesting to talk about another similar time in history: the prohibition of alcohol and how it became legal again.
Prohibition in America was first instilled on January 17, 1920 by the passing of the 18th amendment declaring the production, transport and sale of alcohol to be illegal. The main reasons for the creation of this amendment was largely to reduce crime and corruption. Interestingly enough, prohibition eventually led to a rise in ‘gangsterism’ as boot legging started to become a large problem as people found ways to continue the production and sale of alcohol.
The term boot legging comes from the old practices of concealing flasks of alcohol in ones boot to get alcohol into places where it was otherwise illegal, mostly army bases during the civil war. Another term for the production and transportation of illegal spirits is rum running. Rum running typically referred to transportation over water; boot legging refers to the transportation of alcohol over land. It is said that some ships containing Canadian whisky, French champagne and English gin could contain as much as $200,000 of loot in each hold.
For the United States, another place to obtain liquor was from Canada as Canadians were still allowed to produce and transport liquor as much as they wanted. The liquor of choice here was Canadian whisky and it is said that a bottle purchased for $15 in Canada could easily be sold for over $100 in the States. The main point where the liquor traded hands? Windsor Ontario, just across a river from Detroit. Some estimates say that as much as 80% of Canadian made whisky moved across this point in 1920. During a time where a daily newspaper cost 10 cents, some $40 million dollars was generated through the practices of boot legging in the 1920’s.
The most famous prohibition era criminal is arguably Al Capone (aka Scarface). He operated out of the Chicago area and was the crime boss of an organization called the Chicago Outfit. Al Capone was famous for his his violent tactics used to monopolize the rum running business in Chicago and is also known for his relationship with then mayor William Thompson that kept him ‘untouchable’ by law enforcement. Capone was hailed in his early days as somewhat of a Robin Hood figure, he donated to many local charities and enjoyed being a beloved figure in his home town.
Much of the public perception of Al Capone changed however after what was called the Saint Valentines Day Massacre when two of Capone’s henchmen, disguised as police officers killed 7 rival men in broad daylight. Shortly after this event Al Capone became the most wanted man in America. Mr. Capone was eventually placed in jail in 1931 not for boot legging but for tax evasion. Prohibition was lifted a few years later.
Prohibition ended in the United States on December 5, 1933 with the passing of the 21st amendment which repealed the 18th amendment lifting the nation wide prohibition of alcohol. The 21st amendment is the only amendment in the United States that repeals a previous amendment and this was done for a few reasons. The main reason was that the public simply did not support prohibition and wanted to drink again legally! Another main reason was that although prohibition was instated to lower crime rates it actually led to tens of thousands of deaths due to violence, gang wars and the consumption of unregulated and dangerous alcohol. With a final repeal from the state of Utah, prohibition was lifted and Americans could drink again in December of 1933.