Prohibition brings to mind speakeasies, flappers, gangsters like Al Capone, and more. How much fun Prohibition trivia do you know? This is the place to learn some more.
No alcohol means no crime, right?
They were so convinced that alcohol was the cause of virtually all crime that, on the eve of Prohibition, some towns actually sold their jails.1
The temperance movement claimed Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745/46-1813) as one of its primary inspirations. However, he he actually promoted moderation rather than abstention. The temperance movement often had difficulty getting facts right. 3
Early temperance writers often insisted that because of their high blood alcohol content, “habitual drunkards” could spontaneously combust and burn to death from inside. 4
A temperance publication wrote of drinking parents who gave birth to small children with a “yen for alcohol so strong that the mere sight of a bottle shaped like a whiskey flask brought them whining for a nip.” 5
One temperance “scientific authority” suggested that inhaling alcohol vapors might lead to defective offspring for at least three generations. 6
The temperance movement taught that alcohol was a poison. So it insisted that school books never mention a very contradictory fact. It was that alcohol was commonly prescribed by doctors for medicinal and health purposes. 7
Lucius Manlius Sargent was a temperance leader. He tried to get high schools and colleges to remove all references to alcoholic beverages in ancient texts. 8
During the early 1800’s, temperance societies offered two pledge options. There was moderation in drinking or total abstinence. Those who pledged the preferred total abstinence began writing “T.A.” on their pledge cards. Thus, they became known as “teetotalers.” 2
The temperance movement taught that drinking alcohol was sinful. However, there was a problem. The Bible says that Jesus both made and drank wine. Its solution was to insist that Jesus made and drank grape juice. Only when people drank the liquid and caused problems was the liquid wine. This is the two-wine theory. 9
In this Currier and Ives print of 1848, George Washinton bids farewell to his officers. He has a glass in his hand and a supply of liquor on the table.
Reflecting the power of the temperance movement, a re-engraved version in 1876 removes all evidence of alcohol. Gone is the glass from Washington’s hand and the liquor supply is replaced with a hat.
During Prohibition, temperance activists hired a scholar to rewrite the Bible by removing all references to wine. 10
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) strongly supported Prohibition and its strict enforcement. 11
The Bible says to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake” (1 Timothy 5:23). This admonition caused serioius problems for temperance writers. They argued that alcohol was a poison and that drinking it was a sin. So they insisted that the Bible was actually advising people to rub alcohol on their abdomens! 12
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). They acknowledged that several hundred thousand Americans would die as a result. However, they 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
- 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. 13
The Real McCoy
Bill McCoy was a bootlegger well known for selling quality imported goods: the original “real McCoy.” 14
Another Real McCoy?
Another explanation is that it’s from a brand of whiskey. The phrase “the real McKay” referring to a brand of whiskey by that name, appeared in 1856. It was officially adopted as an advertising slogan by the company in Scotland in 1870. But in the U. S., it became “the real McCoy.”
Women’s Christian Temperance Union
A major prohibitionist group, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) taught as “scientific fact” that the majority of beer drinkers die from dropsie. 15
The WCTU suggested that school teachers put half of a calf’s brain in an empty jar. Then they should pour pure alcohol into it. The brain would turned from pink to gray. Teachers were to warn students that a drink of alcoholic beverage would do the same to their brains.16
The president of the WCTU learned that government agents had clubbed a suspected bootlegger. They then then shot down his unarmed wife as she ran to his aid. The WCTU head responded “Well, she was evading the law, wasn’t she?” 17
The WCTU is far from dead or inactive. It currently claims a membership of 25,000 and is very active politically. 19
“Don’t Do as I Do”
Prohibition agents routinely broke the law themselves. They shot innocent people and regularly destroyed citizens’ vehicles, homes, businesses, and other valuable property. They even illegally sank a large Canadian ship. 18
How did “bathtub gin” get its name? Alcohol, glycerine and juniper juice was mixed in tall bottles or jugs. They were too tall to be filled with water from a sink tap. So they were commonly filled under a bathtub tap. 20
More Fun Prohibition Trivia
What is a Blind Pig?
The speakeasy got its name for a simple reason. To get in, people had to whisper a code word or name through a slot in a locked door. 21 And as for the blind pig? The officer (or “pig”) on the beat would be paid off. Therefore, he had a “blind eye” to the illegal operation.
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. 22
Some desperate people falsely believed that the undrinkable alcohol in antifreeze could easily be made safe. So they filtered it through a loaf of bread. Doing so couldn’t make the alcohol safe. As a result, many seriously injured or killed themselves. 23
In Los Angeles, prosecutor put a jury itself on trial. It had heard a bootlegging case but drank the evidence. The jurors argued in their defense that they had simply been sampling the evidence. They needed to determine whether or not it contained alcohol, which they found it did. However, they consumed all the evidence. Therefore, the court had to acquit the defendant charged with bootlegging. 24
When the ship, Washington, was launched, a bottle of water rather than Champagne, was ceremoniously broken across its bow. 25
National Prohibition failed to prevent drinking alcohol. It also led to widespread of dangerous untaxed moonshine. To the growth of organized crime. Also to increased violence and massive political corruption. To lower tax revenue along with higher criminal justice expenses. In short, it was a disaster. Amazingly, some people today insist that Prohibition was a success! 26
Although Repeal occurred in 1933, there are still hundreds of dry counties across the United States today. 27
The human body produces its own supply of alcohol naturally. It does continously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore, we always have alcohol in our bodies. We don’t wait until age 21 before producing this alcohol. 28
Our current age-specific prohibition (age 21 minimum age law) has had numerous negative effects. But sometimes the effects are bizarre. For example, an 18 year old woman reported that she married a 21 year old man. The reason? Solely because he could legally purchase alcohol beverages! 29
Prohibition clearly benefited some people. Notorious bootlegger Al Capone made $60,000,000 per year (or about $900,000,000 today). Of course, it was untaxed! On the other hand, the average industrial worker earned less than $1,000 per year. 30
But not everyone benefitted. During Prohibition nearly 800 gangsters in Chicago alone were killed in bootleg-related shootings. And, of course, thousands of citizens were killed, blinded, or paralyzed as a result of drinking contaminated bootleg alcohol. 31
The “Father of Prohibition,” Congressman Andrew J. Volstead, was defeated shortly after Prohibition was imposed. 33
Repeal occurred at 4:31 p.m. on December 5, 1933. It ended 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. 34
Prohibitionists didn’t give up easily. They even tried to enforce Prohibition for as long as ten years after its repeal by the Twenty-first Amendment. 32
Books for more fun Prohibition trivia
- Asbury, H. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition. NY: Doubleday, 1950.
- Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. Putnam’s Sons, 1965.
- Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1973, 143.
- Kyvig, D. Repealing National Prohibition. Kent, OH: Kent State U Press, 2000.
- Rose, K. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: NYU Press, 1996.
- Root, G. Women and Repeal. NY: Harper, 1934.
- Sinclair, A. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.
- Anti-Saloon League of Am. Anti-Saloon League of America Yearbook. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1920, p. 8.
- Mendelson, J., and Mello, N. Alcohol: Use and Abuse in America. Boston: Little Brown, 1983, p. 34.
- Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America. NY: Free Press, 1982, pp. 36-39.
- Hanson, D. Alcohol Education. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996, p. 13.
- Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. Putnam’s Sons, 1965, p. 194.
- Ploetz, A. The Influence of Alcohol Upon the Race. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1915, p. 29.
- Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, Ch 3.
- Burns, E. The Spirit of America: The Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2004, p. 69.
- Ibid. p. 6.
- The American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4.
- Moore, L. Historical interpretation of the 1920’s Klan. J Soc Hist, 1990, 24 (2), 341-358.
- Edwards, G. Alcohol. NY: St. Martin’s, 2000, p. 167
- Sinclair, A. Prohibition. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962, p. 26. Also Tietsort, F. (Ed.)Temperance – or Prohibition? NY: New York Am, 1929, ch. 8.
- 10.Lender and Martin, p. 144.
- Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1973, p. 143.
- Ibid, p. 140.
- Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America. NY: Free Press, 1982, pp. 160-161. Good trivia about Prohibition.
- Jeffers, H. High Spirits. NY: Lyons & Burford, 1997, p. 20. “Demon Rum” PBS documentary, 1995. Rich in trivia about Prohibition.
- Fischer, C., and Schwertz, C. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Associations. NY: Gale, 1996, p. 1621.
- Lender and Martin.
- Erdoes, R. 1000 Remarkable Facts about Booze. NY: Rutledge, 1981, p. 188. Good for trivia about Prohibition.
- Jennings, P. World News Tonight, Jan, 29. 1999.
- Erdoes, p. 189.
- The New York Times, Jan 7, 1928.
- Behr, E. Prohibition. NY: Arcade, 1996.
- Engelmann, L. Intemperance. NY: Free Press, 1979. Asbury, H. The Great Illusion. NY: Doubleday, 1950, ch. 9-14. Kobler, ch. 10-13. Sinclair, A. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962, ch. 9-15. Grant, M., and Ritson, B. Alcohol: The Prevention Debate. NY: St. Martin’s, 1983, p. 21. Everest, A. Rum Across the Border. Syracuse: Syracuse U Press, 1978. Much trivia about Prohibition.
- Brewers Almanac 1996. Washington: Beer Inst, 1996.
- Lindiger, W., et al. Endogenous production of methanol. Alco Clin Exper Res, 1997, 21, 939-943. Phillips, M., et al. Endogenous ethanol — its metabolic, behavioral and biomedical significance. Alco, 1986, 3, 239-247.
- Jenny Jones TV program. Jan 13, 1999.
- Schlaadt, R. Alcohol Use and Abuse. Guilford, CT: Dushkin, 1992, p.16. Fite, G. and Reese, J. Economic History of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959, p. 579.
- United States v. Chambers, 291 U.S. 217, 222-26 (1934). Ellerbee v. Aderhold, 5 F. Supp. 1022 (N.D. Ga. 1934). United States ex rel. Randall v. United States Marshal for Eastern Dist. of New York, 143 F. 2nd 830 (2d. Cir. 1944).
- Andrew Volstead. www.lawyerzone.com/. Kizilos, P. The man behind the act (Andrew J. Volstead). Am Hist, 2001, 35(6), 50. James, C.L. Andrew J. Volstead: A Survey of Research. St. Paul, MN: C.L.James, 1978. Demko, P. Getting to the bottom of Minnesota’s liquor laws. City Pages, 2003, 21(1201), www.citypages.com, 12-10-03.
- Burkhart, J. Something to celebrate: Repeal. Marin Ind J, Dec 7, 2007.