This photo — supposedly of some members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union — has been finding its way into my e-mail box a lot lately. That’s because the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition occurred last month. The “Noble Experiment” went into effect Jan. 17, 1920 and lasted until Dec. 5, 1933, or 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours and 32.5 minutes – but who’s counting.
Known as the Volstead Act, the legislation creating Prohibition was crafted and sponsored by Andrew Volstead, a Congressman from Minnesota. But you can’t pin this on solely on Volstead. Temperance movements were widespread in the late 1800s and early 1900s, not just in the U.S. but around the world. Other countries that instituted some from of ban on alcohol included:
- Russia and the Soviet Union – 1914 to 1925
- Iceland – 1915 to 1922
- Norway – 1916 to 1927
- Finland – 1919 to 1932
Back in the 1990s, I lived and worked in a town that was founded on temperance. The East Tennessee Land Co. established the town of Harriman, Tenn. on Feb. 26, 1890 and declared that every deed or lease contain a provision forbidding the property to be used to make, store or sell “intoxicating” beverages.
The residents eventually voted in 1993 to allow beer and liquor sales and approved liquor by the drink in 1994.
Until the sale of beer and liquor were approved in Harriman, this rural town of about 8,000 residents was served by three taxi cab companies. Not that anyone needed a taxi in Harriman. The companies were a front for bootleggers who used the cabs as a “discreet” way to deliver booze, though everyone in town knew the score.
BTW, Jan. 17 is the 88th anniversary of the start of Prohibition in the U.S. So this Saturday, raise a toast to the ladies from the Temperance Union — and their virgin lips.
Some sobering facts about Prohibition:
- The number of illegal stills seized increased from 95,933 in 1921 to 282,122 in 1930 according to the IRS.
- Doctors hauled in about $40 million in 1928 writing prescriptions for whiskey
- The court system convicted just 7 percent of those charged with alcohol violations
- The use of sacramental wine, which was exempt from the Volstead Act, increased from 2.1 million gallons in 1922 to 2.9 million gallons in 1924.