Prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, in place from 1919 to 1933. The ban was mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the Volstead Act set down the rules for enforcing the ban, as well as defining the types of alcoholic beverages that were prohibited.
A major prohibitionist group, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) taught as "scientific fact" that the majority of beer drinkers die from dropsie (edema or swelling).
The WCTU used moral suasion for two decades, but by the 1890's they had failed to achieve change. The Anti-Saloon League took its place as the primary force in the movement. The ASL was the NRA of its day. It was a powerful advocacy group focused on a single issue: the total suppression of liquor traffic.
Led by Wayne Wheeler, the ASL established its base among the Protestant churches: Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Southern Baptists. They sought to impose the values of a white, Protestant, middle class on a rapidly urbanizing country. They fought for it, they won.
Despite the efforts of anti-prohibition groups, support gathered for a ban on alcohol, and Congress passed the 18th Amendment on Jan. 16, 1919 (it went into effect in 1920). The amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, export, import and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
The Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act, was crucial to the success of the 18th Amendment -- it provided the federal government with enforcing ability. It also defined criminal penalties, exceptions (medicinal and religious-ceremony use) and the alcohol levels that qualified as "intoxicating."
The culmination of nearly a century of activism, Prohibition was intended to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. But a faith-driven moral code in the Constitution paradoxically caused millions of Americans to rethink their definition of morality.
Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous, encouraged neighborhood gangs to become national crime syndicates, and fostered cynicism and hypocrisy that corroded the social contract all across the country.
Home stills sprouted up both in isolated places and the bathtubs of posh homes. Illegal drinking establishments, dubbed "speakeasies," sprang up in many parts of the country, especially large cities. Concealment of alcohol on one`s person became an artform. Methods from hollow canes to hollow books were used.
The support for Prohibition waned as the nation awoke to the widespread problems Prohibition had caused. The number of repeal organizations — many of which were comprised of former Prohibitionists — increased, and in 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for President on a platform that included the repeal of Prohibition.
On December 5th, 1933, Utah, the final state needed for a three quarters majority, ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition and restoring the American right to a celebratory drink. While the amendment still allowed for state and local levels of Prohibition, by 1966 there were no state laws banning alcohol.