News January, 16th 2014 by

The End of Prohibition



AJ Linn

(Originally published in Diario Sur in Spanish)
Eighty years ago this month prohibition ended in the United States after 13 years of a ban on the sale and distribution of alcoholic drinks.

John Rockefeller Jr, the teetotal financier, finally admitted in a letter he wrote in 1932, ‘When Prohibition was introduced I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion, and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result.

‘Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.’

The real reasons for the imposition of prohibition are debatable. The law was backed by the great industrialists of the time, such as Henry Ford and press baron Randolph Hearst, reacting to the large number of drink-related accidents in the workplace. They were pushing at an open door. At the time the First World War was being fought and a large part of the US drinks business, mainly brewing, was controlled by German immigrants. Pure discrimination that has never been admitted as such.

In those 13 years thousands of people died from drinking adulterated alcohol, but less-mourned were the gangsters who killed each other off in their efforts to control the illegal trade. The famous St Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929 saw seven rival mobsters executed by Al Capone’s gang. If Eliot Ness had not existed he would have had to have been invented.

California’s wineries nearly vanished, but a quirk in the law allowed them to make communion wine. It is easy to imagine what happened to the truckloads of bottles leaving the wineries supposedly destined for catholic places of worship.

Four months before the law was revoked, the director of the enforcement department wrote to Time magazine, ‘We are fooling ourselves if we think we can win the battle. Let’s go back to making alcohol….’

It would be crazy to think that there can ever be another Prohibition – or is it?


AJ Linn

Andrew Linn left England 40 years ago to relocate to Spain, having been involved in businesses such as wine shipping and publishing. He currently writes regularly and professionally on wine, food, flamenco, and the Spanish way of life for various publications, and has a regular column in a Spanish newspaper. Andrew is involved in charity work relating to abandoned and mistreated animals.

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