1920s America


Effects of prohibition

Organised crime

Failure of prohibition

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In January 1920 the USA introduced prohibition - the making, selling or transporting of acoholic drinks was illegal.

Any drink with above 0.5% alcohol was illegal.

Prohibition was the final sucsess in a long campaign by groups such as the Womens Christain Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon league.

They claimed that alcohol brought poverty, broke up marriges, caused crime and insanity, and disrupted industy due to drunken workers.

By 1917, alcohol had been banned in 18 American states alcohol and in 1920 the ban became national.

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Effects of Prohibition: illegal alcohol, speakeasi

The ban on alcohol was not popular. Most people saw nothing wrong with having a drink and thought it was an infringement on freedom. They found ways to get round the ban.

Many people poduced their own alcoholic drink - moonshine - from home-made stills.

The results were usually of poor quality and often caused illness of death.

Some looked to others to provide the alcohol they wanted.

People went to illegal drinking clubs called speakeasies - which were set up behind locked doors.

By 1930 there were nearly 250,000 speakeasies in America.

The speakeasies sold alcohol smuggled by bootleggers from abroad - such as rum from the West Indies and whisky from Canada.

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Organised crime.

It was not long before the vast profits to be made attracted groups of gangsters to the alcohol trade.

Rival gangs in cities fought to take over the others 'territory' and the rackets within.

Gangland murders increased.

In Chicago, 227 gangsters were murdered in four years without anyone being convicted.

In 1929, during the St. Valentine's Day massacre, Al Capone's men killed 7 members of a rival gang led by 'Bugs' Moran.

The gansters also operated protection rackets, prostitution and drugs trafficking.

Many police, judges and state officials were bribed to turn a blind eye to the gangs' activity. Also many of them wanted to carry on drinking alcohol.

Organised crime also bought it way into legal business activity and into trade unions.

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Reasons for the Failure of Prohibition

Drinking alcohol was too popular and too profitable. It could not be controlled without huge numbers of enforcement agents.

Yet in the face of organised crime the Prohibition Bureau employed about 4,000 agents to stop bootlegging and close speakeasies for the whole of America.

While some agents were sucsessfull most were not.

Some were also guilty of taking bribes from criminals who ran the trade - nearly 10% of agents were sacked for taking bribes.

The main reason Prohibition failed was that the American people did not agree with i and were prepared to break the law to get alcohol.

This meant there was massive demand for illegal alcohol so the trade was hard to supress.

Roosevelt ended Prohibition in 1933.

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