The nationwide ban of the creation, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol during the early 20th century was known as Prohibition. The foundation for the ban comes from the 19th century, where alcoholism, or the over-drinking of alcohol leading to issues personally or professionally, was wide spread. This led a group of Protestants, a division of Christianity, to become activists and fight against the sale of alcohol. These people were referred to as the drys. Some communities began prohibition towards the late 19th century.
The drys, also known as 'dry crusaders', appeared in the Prohibition, Democratic, and Republican political parties. They started to rise with the assistance of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and were taken over by the Anti-Saloon League in 1900. Catholics and German Lutherans who were 'wet supporters' (pro-alcohol activists) were put into action by the beer industry.
Due to World War I, the German community had become much weaker, and state by state the nation's brewing industry shut down. Before the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, the Wartime Prohibition Act was put into place. It banned any drink with an alcohol content greater than 1.28%. This was originally proposed to cut down on the use of grain for World War I, but ended up passing after the war was over.
On January 17th, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was put into place, officially starting the Prohibition Era. The Volstead Act was the backbone for this and was put into place on October 28th, 1919, which outlined the rules and regulations the federal government enforced against alcoholic beverages. The religious drinking of wine for ceremonial purposes was acceptable, and privately owning and drinking alcohol was not illegal under the Volstead Act. However, state laws were often stricter than the Volstead Act, and these activities were banned in certain states.
During the 1920s, the laws were, for the most part, ignored by the public, and the government lost a lot of money without the ability to tax alcohol. A new form of organized crime emerged, controlling the alcohol supplies to many cities. This shocked the nation, causing a large amount of money to be poured into defeating the bootleggers, or criminals selling illegal alcohol. New York City was estimated to have between 30,000 and 100,000 speakeasies, or illegal places where people could drink, gamble, and do many other illegal things.
Prohibition caused a massive amount of criminal activity, but it did reduce the amount of liquor consumed by nearly half. The fact that crime increased rather than went down was one of the major contributors to the downfall of the prohibition era. As prohibition lost its advocates, the wet opposition gathered in force, stating their personal liberties were being infringed, that the government was losing money from not taxing this good, and that ending prohibition will reduce crime significantly across the nation.
President Franklin Roosevelt put the Cullen-Harrison Act into effect on March 22nd, 1933. It legalized beer and wine with an alcohol content of 3.2%. Then, on December 5th, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution repealed the 18th Amendment. What changed, however, was that people could no longer have their own personal alcohol created. The reduced amount of drinking continued until the 1940s when it returned to pre-prohibition levels. This marked the end of the Prohibition Era in the United States.