Little Bits of History

Volstead Act

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 28, 2011

It's the law

October 28, 1919: The Volstead Act becomes effective. Also called the National Prohibition Act, it was passed over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson. The Anti-Saloon League and Wayne Wheeler thought up the bill which was named for Andrew Volstead who was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. This committee managed the legislation. The Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibited the production, sale, and transport of “intoxicating liquors” but it did not define what those were. The Eighteenth Amendment had already passed but did not go into effect until January 17, 1920.

The American Temperance Society (ATS) began to advocate for a booze-free nation as early as 1826. This group served as a model for many later groups and by 1935 they had a membership of 1.5 million. At the time, but population of the US was about 14.5 million. During the nineteenth century, there was some success with limiting alcohol. Some states managed to pass legislation but these laws did not last long. Many of the prohibitionists were women and had religious reasons as well as personal issues with the demon rum.

There were several unintentional consequences of Prohibition. During this time, people drank just as much liquor as they ever had except now it was being produced by bootleggers. The transportation of illegal beverages is now credited with a massive increase in organized crime. The problems with alcohol remained regardless of how strictly enforced the laws became. In fact, even long-time supporters eventually turned to the other side, citing the problems associated with the distribution and sale of illegal liquors and the crime issues involved.

There are some who point to today’s issues with criminal organizations as an aftermath of this attempt to control alcohol. Because of the risks involved, getting more “customers” was part of the job of the criminals. They needed a wider market base in order to achieve proper profit margins. They found their new client base in women who began to drink more heavily during this time. Winemaking also began to spread. Farmers were permitted to make certain wines and these became quite popular, especially increasing the number of California wine growers. Grape products were sold with a warning/instructions on how to dissolve a concentrated product and getting wine in only 20 days.

“For every prohibition you create you also create an underground.” – Jello Biafra

“Prohibition has made nothing but trouble.” – Al Capone

“Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.” – Will Rogers

“Prohibition? HA! They tried that in the movies and it didn’t work.” – Homer Simpson

Also on this day:
Higher Education – In 1538, the first university in the New World was established.
The Two Sisters – In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.

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