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c. 1920s

When the U.S. said goodbye to alcohol

Nearly 100 years ago, America went dry (well, in theory).

It is now fewer than 50 days until the return of the ’20s. Will they be Roaring? We shall see. But one thing they are very unlikely to be is alcohol-free.

The same could not be said a century ago. The new decade had barely come in the door when, on January 16, 1920, America’s alcohol went out the window.

The 18th Amendment

The result of a sustained and controversial campaign, the 18th Amendment stipulated that you could not make, sell, or transport alcohol. Or drink it — well, in theory. In practice however, like weeds beneath a paving slab, up spouted illegal operations of all sorts and sizes across the nation. A lot of alcohol was made, and so was a lot of money. And in its wake came organized crime.

Special Prohibition federal agents were tasked with stamping on those alcoholic weeds and went to great lengths to show that this was exactly what they were doing, as you can see below. But frankly, they were wasting their time.

Prohibition remained in place across the entire decade. But it was a categorical failure, and in 1933, the amendment was repealed.

This was actually something of a relief for all, and especially state governments. When alcohol was banned, they lost out big time, tax-wise.

1929: Prohibition agents dump liquor out of a raided building
Detroit News Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University
1929: A tower built with barrels of alcohol, which will be destroyed later.
Getty Images
924: An FBI Officer breaks a confiscated barrel of beer
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Barrels of beer emptied into the sewer by authorities during prohibition
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
Emptying more than a hundred kegs of beer seized in a raid.
Getty Images
A brewery in Washington, DC, switches from brewing beer to making ice cream during Prohibition. Workers roll the giant beer vats out to make room for ice cream production equipment.
Getty Images
Police dumping beer from barrels into sand at Atlantic City
NY Daily News/Getty Images
Prohibition agents destroy unlawful liquor seized in Hoboken
NY Daily News/Getty Images
Two carloads of beer poured into the Hudson River
NY Daily News Archive/ Getty Images
At an army base in Brooklyn, men drain 10,000 barrels of beer into New York Harbor
Larry Froeber/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

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