25 February 2007

The Dry and Lawless Years

On January 16, 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment, also known as The Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition, went into effect. As of that day, the possession of alcohol became illegal except for medicinal purposes.

The ink wasn't even dry on the bill before organized crime stepped up to the plate and filled the gap left by Volstead. Speakeasies sprung up basically overnight, and they needed someone to supply them with alcohol, the mobs were more than happy to comply. Things started out fairly well, with each mob faction dividing a city into parts and doing their bit to keep the masses in illegal hooch. But, greedy ambition soon made cities battlegrounds between different gangs and too often, innocent bystanders were stuck in the middle.

The Eighteenth Amendment seems to have done more to promote drinking than anything else in the history of our country. Young women broke the restraints of society and enjoyed freedoms never experenced in previous generations. Smoking and drinking became fashionable for both men and women, as did raw, earthy jazz music and crazy fads and dances. The 1920's ushered in a whole new mindset, introducing a hereto unheard of thing called a generation gap. It was a golden, frantic decade. In retrospect, it was destined to self-destruct.

In October of 1929, the Wall Street bubble burst, contributing to the great depression of the 1930's. In December of 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified, effectively repealing the Eighteenth Amendment and making alcohol again legal. Ironically, the people most sorry to see it go was the criminal element.