Prohibition in America, Causes and Events 1789 – 1933

Prohibition in America

This timeline is a chronology of the causes and events of Prohibition in America


1789 (during)
A group of farmers formed a Temperance association. They had been influenced by ‘The Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind’ which had been published in 1784 by the physician Benjamin Rush. Rush believed that too much alcohol would negatively affect one’s health.
1800 (during)
Eight states of America had formed Temperance groups.
1826 (13th February)
The American Temperance Society was formed in Boston Massachusetts. They advocated avoiding distilled spirits and moderation when drinking beer and wine.
1836 (during)
The American Temperance Society began to advocate total abstinence from alcohol.
1838 (during)
The state of Massachusetts passed a law that banned the sale of alcoholic spirits in quantities smaller than 15 gallons (68 litres).
1840 (during)
The state of Massachusetts repealed the sale of alcohol law passed in 1838.
1851 (2nd June)
Maine Law
The state of Maine passed the first state Prohibition law. It banned the sale of all acoholic beverages except those for medicinal purposes.
1855 (around)
By 1855 12 states had passed Prohibition laws. They became known as ‘dry’ states.
1861 (12th April)
American Civil War
War broke out between the southern Confederate states and the northern Union states.
1865 (9th May)
American Civil War
The war ended with victory for the Union.
1869 (1st September)
Prohibition Party
The Temperance/Prohibition movement had declined during the Civil War. In order to push their ideals a political party, the Prohibition Party was formed.
1870s (during)
After the Civil War, industry began to take over as the dominant force in the economy. Industrial workers lived in increasingly overcrowded towns and cities. Breweries set up saloons to entice workers to spend their earnings.
1873 (23rd December)
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union
This organisation worked to create a ‘sober and pure world’ through abstinence from alcohol and evangelical Christianity.
1893 (during)
Anti-Saloon League
This league was formed in Ohio and put pressure on state governments to advocate Prohibition.
1909 (15th March)
Sixteenth Amendment
This amendment to the United States Constitution introduced a tax on income. Up to this date most state revenue had been in the form of levies and tarrifs on commodities including alcohol.
1916 (7th November)
Democrat Woodrow Wilson was re-elected as President of the United States. Prohibition had not featured in his or his opponent’s election campaign.
1917 (March)
The new Congress met for the first time. There were a large number of delegates of both parties that supported Prohibition.
1917 (6th April)
World War One
The United States entered World War One. As part of the war effort, alcohol production was temporarily prohibited to ensure sufficient food products, particularly grain for the population.
1917 (December)
Eighteenth Amendment
This amendment, prohibiting the production and sale of alcohol was passed.
1919 (16th January)
Eighteenth Amendment
This amendment had been ratified by 36 states and it became law in the United States. It would take effect in 1920.
1919 (28th October)
Volstead Act /National Prohibition Act
This act officially enforced the Eighteenth Amendment. the production, sale and transport of intoxicating liquor was prohibited. The prohibition included all spirits and beer but not wine and cider if it was made at home. It also did not specifically prohibit drinking alcohol. The act also gave states the power to enforce the ban by enacting local legislation.
1919 (late)
After the Volstead Act was passed, many people stockpiled alcohol to use after the ban came into effect. Those with money could buy large quantities from saloons, and liquor shops that needed to offload their stock before January 1920.
1920 (17th January)
Prohibition officially came into effect.
1920 (during)
During Prohibition establishments known as ‘Speakeasies’ sold bootlegged alcoholic drinks. The term speak-easy was used due to the need to speak quietly and not mention the existence of the establishment for fear of it being shut down.
1920 (Summer)
The production of illegal alcohol was widespread. Those that produced the drink were known as bootleggers and the alcohol they produced was known as moonshine. More than 7,000 cases of violating the Volstead Act had been recorded.
1921 (during)
Criminals saw bootlegging as a way to earn big money. However, as criminal gangs competed for business they became more violent.
1921 (Summer)
Bootlegging continued and more than 29,000 cases of violating the Volstead Act had been recorded. Bootleggers smuggled alcohol across the Canadian and Mexican borders, while rum was smuggled by boats from the Caribbean.
1926 (during)
There were a total of 760 alcohol related deaths compared to anaverage of 98 before Prohibition. Some of the deaths were as a result of homemade alcohol being made with industrial alcohol which had been purposely poisoned to stop people from drinking it.
1929 (14th February)
St Valentine’s Day Massacre
Seven members of Chicago’s North Side Gang were shot dead in a Lincoln Park garage. Al Capone, leader of the South Side Gang, is believed to have been responsible but this has never been proved.
1929 (September)
Wall Street Crash
Stock prices had risen steadily throughout the 1920s. Many believed prices would remain high but in September they began to fall dramatically.
1930 (during)
Great Depression
The Wall Street Crash prompted a global depression which saw rising unemployment and inflation.
1931 (17th October)
Chicago gangster, Al Capone was convicted for tax evasion and jailed for 11 years.
1932 (during)
Great Depression
With the United States still in the grip of the Great Depression, people saw legalising alcohol would create jobs and help to boost the economy. Franklin Roosevelt made the repeal of Prohibition a central theme of his presidential campaign.
1932 (8th November)
Democrat Franklin D Roosevelt was elected President of the United States.
1933 (February)
The US Congress agreed a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal Prohibition.
1933 (22nd March)
Cullen-Harrison Act
This was an amendment to the Volstead Act which allowed the sale of light beer with 3.2% alcohol.
1933 (5th December)
The 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified bringing Prohibition to an end.


Published May 6, 2020 @ 2:05 pm – Updated – [last-modified]

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). Prohibition in America 1920 – 1933. Last accessed [date]

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