Jan. 16, 1920: Prohibition goes into effect


Boston police with barrels of alcohol seized during Prohibition. (Photo: Boston Public Library / Flickr)

The U.S. became a dry country on Jan. 16, 1920 when Prohibition went into effect, banning the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol. The ban was short-lived, ending in 1933, but during its time it spawned an industry of bootleg drinks and underground bars that attracted visitors from far and wide.

The 18th Amendment, passed exactly one year before going into effect, was the result of years of pressure by a growing temperance movement in the U.S. But the alcohol ban was widely considered a failure. Criminal empires flourished under Prohibition as liquor became a big business on the black market. There were, reportedly, more illegal speakeasies than there had been legal saloons before the law.

Today, a number of bars still capitalize on their Prohibition-era cred. In New Orleans, visitors can take the Scandalous Cocktail Hour Tour through the town’s historic bars and their shady pasts. In Atlantic City, there’s the Roaring ‘20s trolley tour. And, Chicago has the Untouchables Tour, which revels in the city’s gangsters who came to prominence during Prohibition. The Windy City is probably most associated with the crime and high drama that came with Prohibition. Bars like The Barleycorn and the Green Mill continue to advertise to tourists their ties to Al Capone and other mobsters.

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