Top 5 Provocative Prohibition Facts

Alcohol is so ubiquitous in the West today that it's kind of mind-blowing to think that there was a time when you could be arrested for buying a 6-pack. Welcome to WatchMojo's Top 5 Facts. In today's instalment, we're counting down the five most fascinating facts about the U.S.A.'s prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s and 30s. Why was drinking illegal? How did propaganda help shape the prohibition regime? Find out in this edition of WMFacts. Head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest to submit your ideas for the next topic in this series!

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Alcohol is so ubiquitous in the west today that it’s kind of mind-blowing to think that there was a time when you could be arrested for buying a 6-pack. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In today’s instalment, we’re counting down the five most fascinating facts about the U.S.A.’s prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s and 30s.

#5: Drinking Wasn’t Actually Illegal

The 18th Amendment, also known as the Volstead Act, went into effect in January 1920, and made the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor illegal. So if, like some wealthy individuals of the day, bought out the stock of an entire liquor store before the law went into effect, you could still enjoy it in the privacy of your home. It was also possible to receive a doctor’s prescription and buy medical whiskey from a pharmacy. So-called “Blind Pigs” got around the sales restriction by instead charging people to see some interesting animal, like a blind pig, and giving patrons a free drink with admission.

#4: Prohibition Made Cocktails Popular

Since the manufacture of alcohol was done on the black market, much of the liquor being supplied to illegal saloons was with filled poisons like wood alcohol, iodine and sulfuric acid– more on that later. So since the stuff tasted awful, and there wasn’t a wide variety of it, bartenders would mix in things like fruit juices, sugar, and grenadine to mask the taste of death. Historical data on these details seems spotty, but it does stand to reason. Also, sweet drinks are easier to down quickly, which is important when the joint could be raided at any moment.

#3: Propaganda Played a Huge Role

In order to get the law passed, groups like the Christian Women’s Temperance League and the Anti-Saloon League launched massive anti-alcohol campaigns to sway popular opinion over the course of eight years. Drinking was portrayed as the cause of just about every societal ill. It was said to bankrupt and destroy families, while making evil brewery tycoons and saloon owners filthy rich. The “Dry” campaigners as they were called also wanted to paint booze as massively expensive to taxpayers. Ironically though, it was actually the millions lost in tax revenues and the hundreds of millions it cost to enforce the law that lead to its repeal in 1933.

#2: The KKK Supported Prohibition, and Vice-Versa

The Ku Klux Klan are a white supremacist group first founded in the mid 19th century. Before prohibition, they were a small fringe organization scattered throughout the south. But their ardent, sometimes even violent support of prohibition made them hugely popular with the general booze-hating public. By 1925 their membership numbers had ballooned from a few thousand to between three and six million members from all over the country. They burned down saloons, raided roadhouses for stashes of hooch, and were even deputized by federal officials to do so. Luckily, they fell from popularity that same decade, and now have fewer than ten thousand members.

#1: Uncle Sam’s Tainted Hooch Killed Thousands

Not to make light of a tragedy like this, but “Uncle Sam’s Tainted Hooch” would be an awesome name for a punk band. Manufacture alcohol for industrial purposes was still permitted during prohibition, but the government tried to make it undrinkable by forcing manufacturers to add chemicals to it. Some of these chemicals were harmless, but others were toxic. It’s estimated that a tenth of all the industrial alcohol produced wound up being drunk anyhow, causing paralysis, blindness, and death. The most common estimate is than about ten thousand people died from this tainted hooch, but some authors put that number at as high as twelve thousand in 1927 alone.

So, what do you think? Should we give prohibition another try, or maybe prohibit fewer intoxicants? For more sugary sweet Top 10s and make-cause-blindness Top 5s, be sure to subscribe to


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