Prohibition Ends: December 5, 1933

Prohibition Ends: December 5, 1933

On December 5, 1933, Prohibition came to an end with the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol since 1920.

Utah ends prohibition for nationThe passage of the 18th Amendment had been the result of decades of work by religious and progressive groups to permanently eliminate the consumption of alcohol in the United States. Groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League believed that getting rid of alcohol would remove many of society’s ills. Brewery-owned saloons, in particular, were seen by temperance and prohibition groups as the root of many evils, and these establishments were targeted by activists such as Carrie Nation, who became famous for smashing up saloons.

Finally, by late 1917, there was enough support in Congress to pass the 18th Amendment, which was ratified by the states in early 1919. Prohibition was set to go into effect in 1920, and in preparation, the National Prohibition Act (more commonly known as the Volstead Act) was passed in late 1919. Under the Volstead Act, it was illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport any beverage with an alcohol content of more than 0.5%. Exceptions were made for medical or religious needs, and it was still legal to drink in your own home and to make wine for personal use.

Though Prohibition did see an overall decline in alcohol consumption in the country, it had many unintended consequences. It was illegal to sell alcohol, but it wasn’t illegal to buy or drink it, which led to the rise of a black market alcohol industry of bootleggers and smugglers. This strengthened organized crime syndicates, who made significant amounts of money off illegal alcohol. Gang violence increased, perhaps most notoriously in Chicago, and criminals such as Al Capone became household names. With so much money to be made from black market alcohol, bribery of Prohibition agents, police, judges, and politicians was rampant.

These and other issues—such as the onset of the Great Depression—as well as the rise of powerful anti-Prohibition groups (such as the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform), finally turned the tide against Prohibition. The 1932 Democratic Party platform was anti-Prohibition, and when Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidential election, anti-Prohibition forces passed the 21st Amendment in Congress. The amendment, which repealed Prohibition, was quickly ratified by the states, with Utah casting the deciding vote in favor of repeal on December 5, 1933.

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30 thoughts on “Prohibition Ends: December 5, 1933

  1. My mother inlaw told this story: Her father took her down to the rail depot, and showed her the drunks hopping off the cars, who had been drinking “Jake-leg” or bootleg liquor. He made her promise to have her first drink with him, so she had that excuse to give any boy who wanted to give her a drink.

  2. My great uncle was a Small town city cop during Prohibition. Immediately after Prohibition ended, his best buddy opened a liquor distribution business — apparently, he had supply lines already set up. And my uncle, nothing but a small town city cop, retired a wealthy man. Hmmmm….

  3. My great aunt made cordials in a bath tub. My father worked the docks where he and others unloaded cases of Canadian whisky they were paid by the case. My grandfather built subcellars for storage of alcohol in commercial buildings. It seemed to keep a lot of people working.

  4. My Grandfather was a bootlegger during Prohibition. Lived in Johnson City, Tn at the time (Alias the Little Chicago of the South).

      1. Little known fact, Al Capone passed through Johnson City area on his way to vacationing/bootlegging in Florida. He had a mansion at Monteagle now converted to the high-end High Point Restaurant frequented by visitors to nearby Sewanee: University of the South.

  5. My grandpa was a truck driver. My grandparents lived in Chicago during prohibition and grandpa drove trucks for the Fed’s. He would wait while the Fed’s were shooting it out with the bootleggers. Once the bullets stoped flying, they knocked over the stills and he would load them up and haul them away! He said the booze would be running in the streets and the drunks would be on their stomachs trying to lap it up!

  6. My grandfather would not drink during Prohibition. He feared being poisoned by the Government- and rightly so. However, once Prohibition passed, he could not stay sober, resulting in a poverty stricken family of 6 children who were negatively impacted into adulthood.
    Addiction resulted in divorce and my mother remembered him chasing her with a butcher knife when she talked back to him as he came home drunk. She hid between the septic tank and house where he could not reach her. She never got over being poor. My youngest aunt committed suicide. My youngest uncle was born crippled, the second youngest son spent time in the mental hospital, the second youngest girl married a gambler and the oldest girl had a child out of wedlock. The death of a parent as well as the addiction of a parent has long ranging effects on the whole family.

  7. Booze and drugs……America’s number one family destroyers today. It use to be finances. Nowadays the booze and drugs will destroy your finances. AA and Alanon must be very busy. I hope they help.

  8. My father and his fraternity brothers used a railroad handcart to pick up and deliver cases of alcohol in the mountain towns of West Virginia. These were boys from the best families who had lost their money during the depression and many got their degrees with the help of “mob money!”

  9. My maternal grandfather was an alcoholic and the black sheep of the family. He was taken by his older brother by train to what would have been touted as a rehab for alcoholics in the early 1900’s. It was St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. I believe that he stopped drinking for awhile but he developed throat cancer and it was too painful to eat. He died during prohibition but he got the liquor to drink as a way to self medicate before he died in 1920. He had a wife and seven children. This was a big secret for many years in our family.

  10. My 2x great uncle was a moonshiner and had a secret still under ground in his backyard in Warren Co Pennsylvania in 1932. I found articles while researching family tree. this was a big bust back than.

  11. My mother, father and ex-husband were all alcoholics, my father even died from alcoholism. I left my husband partly because he came home drunk every night, but also he was a womanizer, which may have been encouraged by being drunk. Anyway, my mom grew up during prohibition. Her mom was against drinking, but her father wasn’t. My mom thought prohibition was bad because of the crime it created and the fact that a lot of the homemade alcohol that was available was dangerous and some even killed people. She felt that those that wanted to drink would find it anyway. My aunt told me that she thought that my parents and all my aunts and uncles drank as adults because when prohibition ended, they were so excited that alcohol became available, they all started to drink. It was very exciting for them that they could finally get this long prohibited substance. I hardly ever drink. I watched my parents go from an occasional beer to drinking whiskey and gin every night when they got home from work. I could see that at first it was just an occasional drink, but lead to alcoholism. So, I have always tried to be more careful about drinking alcohol. My ideas about how easy it is to become addicted, also stopped me from smoking and from using street drugs. I have lots of fun in life and I don’t need any of these substances to allow me have fun.

    1. Good for you! My grandfather also drank and my dad stayed away from it. My mom never drank. Naturally, as a teenager and older, I drank a lot. Finally got to the realization that I was wasting money, and now only drink during football season, which was nothing this year because of boycotting the NFL!!

  12. This was a time when people began the serious problem of self medicating due to the horrible conditions thrust upon them by the depression. By the time recognition of the problem was acknowledged, the die ( unfortunately) had already been cast
    Sad for all of us as a nation!

  13. A dear old neighbor of mine who lived into his 90’s told me there was a “speak easy” behind my house here up where my garden is. No wonder over the years since I was a kid I would find all kinds of broken glass that garden. My neighbor is long gone now but I wish I could find out more about this “speak easy”.

  14. Alcoholic beverages were banned, but not all alcohol. A local distillery limped through the Prohibitive producing medical alcohol for things like sterilizing the skin and as the solvent for medicines.

  15. My uncle who lived in calif at that time made money making bath tub gin he would make a good profit but died out during the repeal unfortunately. everybody became a alcholic and our family had a few problems at that time-

  16. My Great-Grandfather was an agent for the Portner Brewing Company in North Carolina in the late 1800’s and later started his own beer bottling company. Prohibition came to North Carolina in 1909, earlier than the rest of the country. They switched to bottling soft drinks(soda) that year and stayed in business until the early ‘30s when they could no longer compete with the big bottlers like Coca Cola and Pepsi. It was said that North Carolina had more Moonshiners and Bootleggers than any other state. They got an early start!

  17. My grandfather was Supt. of a local canning company. One of his foremen asked if he could borrow a truck from the factory because he was going to hit the road at midnight on Dec, 5, 1933, as a beer distributor. He went on to be one of the largest Schlitz distributors in the state.
    He never forgot my grandfather’s generosity and every Christmas a bottle of expensive liquor would be delivered to his home.

  18. My Dad’s father, along with his mates, and my Dad ( as a kid) were rum runners. They lived in a small outport in Newfoundland, across from the coasts of the France -owned Islands of Saint Pierre and Michelon. Most of these outport Newfoundland families were poor fishermen, and rum running provided a great way to make money to support your family. My Dad tells stories of how they would wrap the oars of the dory with burlap so they would make no noise in the water at night, and how they would tie huge sacks of salt to the casks of rum to hold them under the sea. They could time how long the salt would take to dissolve and then release the casks to bob on the water for pick up. All done in the dead of night course. After that, the casks would make it on to schooners that would travel from the Saint Lawrence Seaway , Halifax, and then make it’s way to the States. No one felt ‘guilty’ about this activity in the least ( and so they were right, as stupid laws should be resisted). Just because something has been made a law, does not mean it is right. Then, and now.

  19. And just to clarify: Saint Pierre and Michelon, being owned by France, was the source for obtaining the rum.

  20. Al Capone appears to have best characterized Prohibition: “When I sell liquor it’s bootlegging, when my patrons serve it on a silver tray it’s “hospitality.”

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