CLIO 7 (1) - page 10

The Prohibition of 1920 was an attempt to
give America its morality back. ‘The Noble Exper-
iment’, as the National prohibition of alcohol was
referred to, was undertaken to reduce crime and
corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax
burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and im-
prove health and hygiene in America. However, the
increase of the illegal production and sale of liquor,
the proliferation of speakeasies and the accompa-
nying rise in gang violence and other crimes led to
waning support for Prohibition by the end of the
By the turn of the 20th century, Temper-
ance Societies were commonplace in communities
across the United States. These organisations were
eager to reform society through the prohibition
of alcohol. In 1906 the Anti-Saloon League, which
was established in 1893, led a new wave of attacks
on the sale of liquor. This was driven by a reaction
to urban growth, as well as the rise of evangelical
Protestantism and its view of saloon culture as cor-
rupt and ungodly.
The late 19th century and early 20th century
also saw an influx of immigrants predominantly of
Italian heritage who consisted of farmers, crafts-
men and unskilled labourers in search of better
economic opportunities. In NewYork City alone, the
number of Italians soared from 20,000 to 250,000
between 1880 and 1890. By 1910, that number had
risen to 500,000 immigrants and first-generation
Italian Americans, or one-tenth of the city’s pop-
ulation, according to historianThomas Repetto.
Although the majority of these immigrants were
law-abiding, the 1920s marked the rise of the Ital-
ian-American gangs entering the booming bootleg
liquor business (making, distributing or selling alco-
hol). It also saw their transformation into sophisti-
cated criminals, skilled at smuggling, money laun-
dering and bribing police and other public officials
in the United States.
After the 18th Amendment was established
in 1919, Congress followed with the National Pro-
hibition Act. This was commonly referred to as the
Volstead Act which outlawed the production, distri-
bution, and transportation of alcohol. Prohibition
officially went into effect on January 16, 1920.
It was widely believed that theVolstead Act was
going to diminish crime tremendously. However
this was not the case as in 1921, the total number of
crimes increased by approximately 24%. Alongside
this, burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12%,
assaults and battery by 13%, and drug addiction by
44%. In addition, during the first ten years of pro-
hibition, the murder rate climbed 78% across the
country and in Chicago almost 800 gangsters died.
Did prohibition cause a surge in crime
Victims of the St. Valentine's
Day Massacre pictured at the
Warehouse at 2122 Clark Street
in the US during the 1920s?
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