Tag Archives: US History

What Did Prohibition Require?

Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920 – 1933. Its mention conjures up illicit drinking in speakeasies and bloody gangster activities, but do you know what were the official parameters?

The effort that culminated in banning booze in our nation began well before the Civil War (1861-1865). Its proponents were looking to achieve a more moral and productive society, and they thought that keeping people from drinking would solve significant societal ills.

The legislation that resulted in Prohibition was actually quite unsatisfactory to teetotalers (people who do not drink). They saw it as not stringent enough.

At no point during Prohibition was illegal to DRINK alcohol. It was only illegal to make, sell, or transport it. While having a stockpile of alcohol was perfectly legal, however you could not do so at more than 2 residences—and at that one home had to be in the city and one in the country.

There were also medical and religious exemptions. Doctors could actually write prescriptions for booze, and religious leaders could dole it out for official ceremonies.

Plenty of people broke the law to drink during Prohibition, but there were many who imbibed while following the law.

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An American First: Mr. Hare’s Porter

In the early 1770s as tensions ramped up between Colonial America & England the colonists throughout the New World increasingly turned away from buying British goods, whenever possible.

Robert Hare started brewing America’s first homemade Porter around 1773, and its success catapulted him to riches.

So popular was “Mr. Hare’s Porter” that George Washington would later have it shipped to him at the front lines of the Revolutionary War.

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Britain’s War on America’s Rum

While the Revolutionary War officially began July 4, 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it commenced in effect early in 1775. Indeed, the first blood spilled in its gradual escalation fell from the chest of Rum distiller Joseph Whicher in February, 1775.

By the eve of the revolution, American-made Rum had become so interwoven with colonial culture that the people regularly used it as a form of currency. This is why British naval blockades—which prevented the import of supplies with which to make Rum—had devistating economic effects upon coastal cities.

One such blockade of Boston cost the city’s Rum distillers the equivalent of $200,000 per week in today’s money.

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Churchill Brought a Prescription for Booze to America

Prohibition lasted from 1920 – 1933, and while it made alcohol annoying to come by, it definitely did not make it impossible to imbibe. In addition to illicit means there were legal loopholes built into the law itself.

Medical doctors were allowed to prescribe alcohol to patients for a variety of conditions. One such doctor prescribed 1,880 gallons of booze in a single month.

Before he would visit America the Prime Minister of England—Winston Churchill—secured one such prescription from his doctor, so that his stay need not be a dry one.

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Colonial Tavern Owners Touted Toasting

Since its earliest days America has always had a funny relationship with alcohol. On one hand we have craved it to superfluous degrees, while at the same time shied away in shame from imbibing too much.

Though the early European inhabitants of this land readily turned to booze, the people they supported to govern them often sought to reign in their behavior. To this end of keeping booze both accessible and enjoyed responsibly, local ordinances throughout Colonial America fixed the prices of booze in taverns.

Tavern owners could do nothing about how much they were able to charge their patrons, so they turned to affecting how many drinks people enjoyed. To this end, toasting/cheersing became popular in the American Colonies because tavern owners used it as a tool to get people to drink more quickly, and thus in greater quantity.

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George Washington’s Home was Named After Grog

Whether or not we still remember it, every schoolchild in America has heard of Mount Vernon. This estate in Virginia is famous for being home to George Washington.

A century before Washington’s birth his great-grandfather came into possession of the land that would become Mount Vernon. In the late 1740s George Washington’s half-brother (Lawrence) returned from serving in the War of Jenkins’ Ear (yes, really) under British Admiral Edward Vernon—for whom he renamed his estate.

Starting in 1655 the British navy began issuing daily rations of Rum to its sailors. In 1740 Admiral Vernon revolutionized the process through what would become known as Grog. Read about the history of Grog here.

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Prohibition Exploded the Prison Population

America’s Prohibition did very little to stop its citizens from drinking. What it did accomplish in spades however, was turning tens of thousands of people into criminals.

From 1914 until the eve of Prohibition in 1920 the population of U.S. prisons remained between 4,000 – 4,800. Just 9 years later over 12,000 people sat incarcerated.

The constitutional act that made the country dry would be repealed 4 years later. What a waste.

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