The Histories


The United States’ Congress passed the Volstead Act or Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in 1919. It prohibited the consumption, sale, or transportation of alcohol making it illegal to partake in any of these activities in the United States. The main contributor to the Volstead Act was the ASL, or Anti Saloon League, who lobbied for dry legislation on the floor of Congress. Creating strong ties with religious groups and clergymen and women, the ASL argued that taverns and saloons had destructive and devastating effects on the community and family unit. Also contributing to the Prohibition effort, women particularly members of the WCTU, or Women’s Christian Temperance Union, similarly rallied behind the temperance movement. Believing alcohol to be the reason for the violence and irresponsibility of husbands and other men, the WCTU worked to close saloons and was successful until anti-prohibition activities began. The anti-prohibition movement manifested itself in illegal activity such as bootlegging and the operation and attendance of speakeasies; those most involved belong to the immigrant class, either first, second, or third generations. Alcohol was ingrained in the cultures of numerous European groups and these European-Americans saw Prohibition as an attack on their cultures. To combat the dry sweep of the nation and the infringement on their cultures, many immigrants operated or took part in illegal activity that would prove to be fruitful for the leaders of speakeasies and producers of bootlegged alcohol in underground distilleries. Although Irish, Jews, Germans, and other immigrant groups held roles in the illegal anti-prohibition scene, none were more successful or lucrative than the Italian Americans who generated a monopoly combining the demands of alcohol deprived Americans and organized crime.