I just finished Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent. It had some very interesting tidbits, but in the end was a bit long for me at 375 pages. Interesting stuff from it:
– Prohibition was only the second amendment to the Constitution that limited the activities of citizens (not the government) – the first was the thirteenth prohibiting slavery.
– The ship that brought John Winthrop to Massachusetts in 1630 had three times as much beer as water on it.
– In the 1820s liquor was cheaper than tea; in 1830 the average American drank the equivalent of 1.7 bottles of liquor per week. (roughly three times what the amount is today)
– Something I didn’t realize was that the women’s suffrage movement was connected to the Prohibition movement – women were generally against saloons so Prohibitionists wanted to give them the vote, and the suffrage movement needed the support.
– Another crazy thing was that even in the runup to Prohibition, the brewers and distillers were not allies – they argued that the other’s wares were the “real” problem, not what they sold.
– The Anti-Saloon League, which was the main group that drove Prohibition, mainly consisted of racists (afraid of what blacks would do when they had alcohol), progressives (who thought banning alcohol would help the working man), suffragists, populists, and nativists (who were against alcohol because immigrants were for it).
– The tax on alcohol provided 20-40% of federal revenue. After the income tax passed, the ASL went after national prohibition.
– Best footnote ever? about Richmond Hobson:
Not that he was particularly enlightened about women in general: Hobson thought that any woman who experienced carnal desire was a “sex pervert,” and attributed promiscuity to the effects of alcohol. He wasn’t crazy about sexual urges in men, either, but accepted their evolutionary necessity.
– So how did Prohibition pass, anyway? The ASL was very good at getting “dry” congressmen elected. World War I brought anti-German sentiment, and most of the brewers were German. And finally, state legislatures were heavily weighted towards rural voters – “one man, one vote” was not law, and the legislatures were not reapportioned to account for the growing urban population. States like Missouri and Ohio voted in a legislature that ratified Prohibition while at the same time rejected a dry amendment to the state constitution.
– After Prohibition passed, alcohol consumption dropped to about 30% of the pre-Prohibition number, although by the end of Prohibition it was up to 60-70%.
– There were many loopholes in the law – if you bought the alcohol before Prohibition went into effect, that was legal. Altar wine for religious purposes was legal. Alcohol for medicinal purposes was legal. All of these provisions were heavily abused.
– Bootlegging was a very big industry – smuggling in from Canada was popular, as was rum running off the East Coast.
– Horatio Stoll (neat! related?) ran California Grape Grower magazine.
– Eventually, the ASL waned in influence (mostly because Wayne Wheeler died), Prohibitionists overplayed their hand by passing much harsher punishments for drinking (making it a felony), people got tired of widespread corruption and increased mob violence, and the reapportionment that didn’t happen after the 1920 census finally did in 1929. (seriously, how exactly was that legal?) So Prohibition was repealed. And people drank again. The end.