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Prohibition: High demand and high crime

Prohibition, implemented by the Volstead Act after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment (1919), may have cut down on drinking by 10 percent, but it increased crime by 50 percent. Because booze was illegal but in demand, liquor made great profits for organized crime. For every large saloon that closed, at least three small speakeasies (illicit pubs) opened.

Because low-alcohol beer and wine were bulky and hard to transport, potent hard liquor cocktails became the quick-acting drink of choice. Lots of hard liquor was smuggled, but desperate drinkers learned to make gin in their bathtubs or bought special grape juice that turned to wine with minimal effort.

Arrests for drunken driving and public intoxication went up more than 50 percent. The law made millions of otherwise-law-abiding Americans into criminals, and it gave real criminals so much money that they fought ugly wars over territory in big cities.

The king of the mobs in Chicago was Al Capone, a symbol of the gangster era. After more than 500 deaths in the Windy City, Capone was finally sent to prison for tax evasion. At their height, illegal liquor mobs took in more money than the federal government. Finally, after 13 years, the Twenty-First Amendment (1933) repealed Prohibition.

Changing morals

A lot of people had fun in the Roaring '20s (1925). People did crazy dances to the new music of the Jazz Age. Anything seemed possible with the new-found freedom provided by women's suffrage, cars, radio, movies, and — Prohibition be damned — easy-to-get alcohol. The scene also included well-known gay clubs, but they disappeared at the end of the 1920s and didn't reappear until the 1970s.

Because Sigmund Freud had explained sex drives as a natural part of being human, the subject of sex was less taboo. Margaret Sanger (1921) risked arrest to get birth control information to women.


Question: Who was Margaret Sanger?

Answer: Margaret Sanger was an early advocate who publicized information about birth control.

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