Prohibition Trivia: Fun Trivia about National Prohibition in the U.S.

Prohibition trivia is about National Prohibition in the U.S. It existed from January of 1929 until December of 1933. That is, it lasted almost 14 years.

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I. Prohibition Trivia

  • Residents of some towns were absolutely convinced that alcohol caused all crime. Therefore, as Prohibition was about to begin, they sold their jails!2
  • The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) strongly supported Prohibition and its strict enforcement.3
  • Prohibition trivia
    KKK supported Prohibition

    Congressman Andrew Volstead (the “Father of Prohibition”), was defeated for re-election soon after Prohibition went into effect.4

  • During Prohibition, temperance activists hired a scholar to revise the Bible. He removed all references to alcohol beverage. For example, wine became raisin bread.5

Hypocrisy was Rampant

  • Cocktails were sometimes drunk in Congress between sessions on Prohibition issues.6
  • George L. Cassiday was the best-known bootlegger to members of congress. He even had an office in the House of Representatives building. Cssidy was called “the man in the green hat.”7
  • President Warren Harding, who had voted for Prohibition as a senator, served alcohol in the White House.8
  • Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City didn’t like Prohibition. He mailed winemaking instructions to his constituents.9
  • The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives owned and operated an illegal still.10
  • Prohibitionists opposed drinking alcohol. But many regularly drank patent tonics. Yet those tonics were generally 40% alcohol. That’s the same as most distilled spirits!11
  • prohibition trivia
    Bill McCoy

    Origin of “the real McCoy”? William ‘Bill’ McCoy was a bootlegger who sold only high quality imported alcohol. If he sold it, it was “the real McCoy.”12

  • A Los Angeles jury in a bootlegging case was itself put on trial after it drank the evidence. The jurors argued that they had to determine if the evidence contained alcohol. They said it did. The alleged bootlegger had to be released because the jury drank the evidence.13
  • Prohibition lasted 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours and 32.5 minutes.14
  • When Prohibition was over, President Roosevelt said “What America needs now is a drink.”15

Bathtub Gin

  • How did “bathtub gin” get its name? Alcohol, glycerine and juniper juice was mixed in tall bottles or jugs. In fact, they were too tall to be filled with water from a sink tap. So they were commonly filled under a bathtub tap. 17
  • The speakeasy got its name because one had to whisper a code word or name through a slot in a locked door to gain admittance. 18  
  • Prohibition led to widespread disrespect for law. New York City alone had about thirty thousand (yes, 30,000) speakeasies. And even public leaders flaunted their disregard for the law. They included the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, who owned and operated an illegal still. 19
  • Some people believed that the alcohol in antifreeze could be made safe by filtering it through a loaf of bread. It couldn’t and many were seriously injured or killed as a result. 20
  • When the ship, Washington, was launched, a bottle of water rather than Champagne, was ceremoniously broken across its bow. 22

WCTU Trivia

  • prohibition triviaA major prohibitionist group, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) taught as “scientific fact” that the majority of beer drinkers die from dropsie. 11
  • The WCTU also suggested that school teachers put half of a calf’s brain in an empty jar into which alcohol should be poured. As the color of the brain turned from pink to gray, pupils were to be warned that a drink of alcohol would do the same to their brains.12
  • prohibition triviaThe president of the WCTU, Ella Boole, learned that Prohibitionagents had clubbed a suspected bootlegger. They then shot down his unarmed wife as she ran to his aid. Her response was “Well, she was evading the law, wasn’t she?” 13
  • The WCTU and the KKK worked closely together to defend Prohibition. In fact, they were partners in Prohibition.
  • The WCTU is far from dead or inactive; it currently boasts a membership of 25,000 and is very active politically. 15

Enforcement Trivia

  • In Los Angeles, a jury that had heard a bootlegging case was itself put on trial after it drank the evidence. The jurors argued in their defense that they had simply been sampling the evidence to determine whether or not it contained alcohol, which they determined it did. However, because they consumed the evidence, the defendant charged with bootlegging had to be acquitted. 21
  • Agents of the Prohibition Bureau routinely broke the law themselves. They shot innocent people and regularly destroyed citizens’ vehicles, homes, businesses, and other valuable property. A particularly interesting agent was William “Kinky” Thompson. Agents even illegally sank a large Canadian ship. 14 
  • Prohibitionists often advocated strong measures against those who did not comply with Prohibition (1920-1933). One suggested that the government distribute poisoned alcohol beverages through bootleggers (sellers of illegal alcohol). She acknowledged that several hundred thousand Americans would die as a result. Yet she thought the cost well worth the enforcement of Prohibition. Others suggested that those who drank should be:

hung by the tongue beneath an airplane and flown over the country

exiled to concentration camps in the Aleutian Islands

excluded from any and all churches

forbidden to marry

tortured

branded

whipped

sterilized

tattooed

placed in bottle-shaped cages in public squares

forced to swallow two ounces of caster oil

executed, as well as their progeny to the fourth generation. 9

Results of Prohibition Trivia

  • National Prohibition failed to prevent the consumption of alcohol. But much worse, it led to many more problems. For example, it caused the extensive production of dangerous unregulated and untaxed alcohol. It also promoted  the development of organized crime, increased violence, and massive political corruption. 23
  • The “Father of Prohibition,” Congressman Andrew J. Volstead, was defeated shortly after Prohibition was imposed. 30
  • prohibition triviaAl Capone
  • Prohibition clearly benefited some people. Notoriousbootlegger Al Capone made $60,000,000…that’s sixty million dollars…per year (untaxed!) while the average industrial worker earned less than $1,000 per year. 27
  • But not everyone benefitted. By the time Prohibition was repealed, nearly 800 gangsters in the City of Chicago alone had been killed in bootleg-related shootings. And, of course, thousands of citizens were killed, blinded, or paralyzed as a result of drinking contaminated bootleg alcohol. 28

Repeal of Prohibition Trivia

  • Repeal occurred at 4:31 p.m. on December 5, 1933, ending 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours and 32.5 minutes of Prohibition.
  • “What America needs now is a drink” declared President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the end of Prohibition. 31
  • Prohibitionists didn’t give up easily. They even tried to enforce Prohibition for as long as ten years after its repeal by the 21st Amendment. 29
  • Although Prohibition was repealed in 1933, there are still hundreds of dry counties across the U.S. today. They cover about 10% of the land area 24

II. Resources on Prohibition Trivia

Popular Resources on Prohibition.

These resources are enjoyable to read our watch. But they’re also great sources of Prohibition Trivia.

Behr, E. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY: Arcade, 1996.

Burns, K., et al. Prohibition. DVD video. Culver City: PBS, 2011.

Dunn, J. Prohibition.  Detroit: Lucent, 2010. (Juvenile)

Nishi, D. Prohibition. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2004.

Hintz, M. Farewell, John Barleycorn: Prohibition in the US.  Minneapolis: Lerner, 1996. (Juvenile)

Okrent, D. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Scribner, 2010.

Peck, G. The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet. New Brunswick: Rutgers U Press, 2009.

Slavicek, L. The Prohibition Era. Temperance in the US. NY: Chelsea, 2009.

A Note on Prohibition Trivia

Trivia is the plural of the Latin word trivium. More than one Prohibition trivium are Prohibition trivia. Therefore, “The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) strongly supported Prohibition and its strict enforcement” is a Prohibition trivium. But this collection is Prohibition trivia. So, should it be “Prohibition trivia is fun!”? Or should it be “Prohibition trivia are fun!”?

1  Friedman, M. The Same Mistake. Schaefer Library website.

2   Anti-Saloon League. Anti-Saloon League of America Yearbook. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1920, p. 8.

3  Moore, L. Historical interpretation of the 1920’s Klan. J Social Hist, 1990, 24 (2), 341-358.

4  Kizilos, P. The man behind the act (Andrew J. Volstead). Am Hist, 2001, 35(6), 50.

5  American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4.

6  Jennings, P. World News Tonight. ABC-TV network, Jan 29. 1999.

7  The infamous House bootlegger known as the “Man in the Green Hat.”

8  Esteicher, S. Wine. NY: Algora, 2006, p. 115.

9  Aaron, P. and Musto, D. Temperance and Prohibition in America. In: Moore, M., and Gerstein, D. (Eds.) Alcohol and Public Policy. Washington: Nat Acad Press, 1981, p. 159.

10 Jennings, P. World News Tonight. ABC-TV network, Jan 29. 1999.

11 Elliott, P. 100 Proof. NY: Penguin, 2000, p. 4.

12 Lender, M., and Martin, J. Drinking in America: a History. NY: Free Press, 1982, p. 144.

13 New York Times, Jan 7, 1928.

14 Carlson, J. Here’s What Prohibition Repeal Looked Like In NYC. Gothamist,
Apr 2, 2013.

15  AZuotes