‘The Prohibition’ banned alcohol through laws in the United States. But since ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, people’s spirits were not dampened, and some rather ingenious solutions to this prohibition of spirits were brought forth.
The First World War was over and the world at large rejoiced in the economic stability and cultural flux of the ‘20s. It was the Roaring Twenties for the America. Right after the war and before the Wall Street crash of 1929, it was the time when jazz blossomed with the Harlem Renaissance, and “flappers” redefined women with their short skirts, bobbed hair, breaking away from ‘ladylike’ norms towards a liberated ‘breed’. There was cross Atlantic cultural exchange that ensured that art and culture were thriving. The mass culture was born where Americans had extra money to spend on consumer goods. With everything looking perky, there was one downer that affected all with a love for the spirits. The ‘20s were also the years of the ‘Prohibition’.
At first, the Prohibition was more of a religious ideology. But soon enough it turned political and social. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, had banned the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors”, and the federal Volstead Act closed every tavern, bar and saloon in the United States. From then on, it was illegal to sell any “intoxication beverages” with more than 0.5 percent alcohol. In appearance, all manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquors was strictly forbidden and no one seemed to dare take the risk to continue production or consumption of such liquors. In appearance, yes, but in reality, well creative solutions to escape prohibition were ingenuous and aplenty.
In essence, the prohibition drove the liquor trade underground. Drug dealers just added alcohol to their list of goods. It was a new easy way for easy money. Famous gangs were known for their efficiency in smuggling liquors. Even Elvis Presley mentioned in his song “Jailhouse Rock” the Purple Gang based in Detroit, a city that is conveniently just a few miles from the Canadian border. Smugglers providing booze to hidden taverns, or the now famous ‘speakeasies’, soon outnumbered the Anti-Saloon League of America and their followers, mainly Protestant churches. The first speakeasies were created before the prohibition. The number of licensed establishments selling alcohol went down as the cheapest places where workers were going for their regular booze simply refused to pay expensive licenses. The term ‘speakeasy’ comes from Kate Hester who, after refusing to pay to renew her license was hushing her customers by whispering “Speak easy boys! Speak easy!” With the Prohibition, speakeasies were nothing quite similar to this type of low-class saloon. The upper-class of big cities were going there for “entertainment”, or more accurately to get drunk and dance on the famous rhythms of the decade. For the first time also, saloons having lost their macho connotation, women were seen in those sort of private, yet public places, and for the first time, they were seen drinking – credit to the ‘flappers’.
Then there were the illegal but well-hidden solutions. Coffee and tea were of course legal and alcohol that could be mixed with them was well hidden. Tea with a bit of rum or coffee with drops of whisky makes the alcohol tougher to detect by just the sight of the mug. The Guinness beer, that could have been a perfect disguise because of its coffee-like colour, was now difficult to find as its import to the US stopped suddenly during the Prohibition.
It took only few years for the US government to lose their credibility on the matter of Prohibition. The upper class slapped down the governments twisted propaganda of the Prohibition helping tackle communism. On 5 December 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution gave control on production and importation of alcohol to federal states, which were quick to re-open the market. They realised that alcohol in moderation was a better option, and alcohol consumption is also a freedom that should not, or rather cannot, be crushed. !