January 16, 1919 : Prohibition takes effect
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the
“manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for
beverage purposes,” is ratified on this day in 1919 and becomes the
law of the land.
The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th
century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of
drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century,
these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the
state level and calling for total national abstinence. In December
1917, the 18th Amendment, also known as the Prohibition Amendment, was
passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
Prohibition took effect in January 1919. Nine months later, Congress
passed the Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act, over President
Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The Volstead Act provided for the enforcement
of prohibition, including the creation of a special unit of the
Treasury Department. Despite a vigorous effort by law-enforcement
agencies, the Volstead Act failed to prevent the large-scale
distribution of alcoholic beverages, and organized crime flourished in
America. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed
and ratified, repealing prohibition.