For cocktail lovers, 1919 was a very bad year. The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, and Prohibition became the law of the land. In theory, it was still legal to own your favorite tipple, or to get drunk as Cooter Brown, but of course there was a catch: it was illegal to produce, transport, or distribute alcoholic beverages.
The teetotalers or ‘drys’ expected Prohibition to turn the United States into a little corner of Utopia. Groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), were positive that alcohol was not only a sin, but caused an almost unlimited list of ills. Physical ailments laid at alcohol’s feet included dyspepsia, jaundice, both emaciation and obesity, ulcers, rheumatism, gout, tremors, epilepsy, hysteria as well as depression, and premature old age. The children of drinkers would never develop into ‘manhood or womanhood,’ and in fact would invariably be insane or alcoholic. The WCTU had a Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction that insisted that it was scientific fact that drinking alcohol burns the skin off the throat, turns the blood to water, and would pickle the body from the inside out. Outlawing alcohol would end poverty, crime, violence, mental illness, divorce, and misery in general. Drys were in the minority, but they were a very vocal minority, and it was probably inevitable that politicians would eventually give in.
Fast-forward some 10 years or so. Drinking was actually on the increase, and organized crime had found bootlegging to be a lucrative business. Illegal moonshine, distilled from heaven only knows what and under what conditions, was even more of a killer than legal spirits had ever managed to be, and disdain for the federal government was growing. Repeal organizations began competing with the temperance groups, and support for Prohibition was on a downhill spiral. By 1932, Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential run included repeal as part of his platform.
Politicians were apparently more than happy to help him fulfill that particular campaign progress. The 21st Amendment was quickly passed, on December 5, 1933, Utah took the honors as the final state needed for the three-quarters majority and ratified the amendment. While state and local laws could still prohibit alcohol, on the federal level the Grand Experiment had ended.
So it’s time to celebrate! Break out the champagne, your favorite beer, or whip up your favorite cocktail. Or two, even.