BUSTING SOME OF PROHIBITION’S BIGGEST MYTHS
Written by Renee Cebula
“The United States today completed the legislative process of voting itself dry... prohibition leaders declared that the accomplishment was the greatest piece of moral legislation in the history of the world.” — January 16, 1919, The Frederick Post, Frederick, Maryland
he 100th anniversary of “America’s failed experiment,” Prohibition, is fast approaching. Federal prohibition, which banned the manufacture, import, and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933, is a milestone in distilling history. No sooner was Prohibition eliminated than a number of historical myths began to grow around a time that many Americans would have just as soon forgotten. Now is a good time to dig deeper for a more accurate account of the most infamous drinking story in American history.
Myth #1: The Eighteenth Amendment Passed Because People Believed Alcohol was Unhealthy. Fact: Throughout the 1800s, there were a wide range of views regarding alcohol usage and its effect on health. Some advocated reducing and restricting alcohol, while others demanded a complete ban on intoxicating beverages. The Temperance Movement had been debating these different approaches and working toward prohibition laws for over a hundred years. So why was 1919 different?? The Eighteenth Amendment passed in 1919 because of two key factors: World War I and anti-immigration fervor. When America entered the war in 1917, the need for food was a priority. Congress passed the Lever Food Act, making food, and specifically grain, a war commodity. That law prohibited the use of any food product in the production of distilled alcohol. Propaganda posters and political
cartoons linked prohibition with patriotism. One war propaganda poster depicts a fighting soldier with the caption, “Will you back me, or booze?” making a direct reference to prohibition. The propaganda played into the hands of the rising anti-immigration sentiments by some Americans who used this fervor to push for policies targeting immigrants. Large numbers of Germans immigrated to the U.S. during the second half of the 1800s. The early 1900s brought an influx of eastern and southern Europeans. These recent arrivals were often portrayed in the press as dirty, heavy drinkers, political radicals, and worst of all, Catholics. Historian Lorraine Boissoneault explains how, “In 1912, Congress debated over whether Italians could be considered ‘full-blooded Caucasians,’ and immigrants coming from southern and eastern Europe were considered ‘biologically and culturally less intelligent.’” These two powerful factors were used by a handful of leaders within the Temperance Movement to push for a Constitutional Amendment.
Myth # 2: Cocktails Were Invented During Prohibition. Fact: Cocktail were invented in the early 1800s. A popular myth, included in many bar books today, is that cocktails were invented during Prohibition as a way to mask rough, homemade spirits with juices, sugar, and bitters, making them more palatable. In fact, the American cocktail tradition was more than a century old at the time WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
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