10 Facts About Prohibition and Repeal in the United States

"The Noble Experiment" was the nickname given to The United States Prohibition of Alcohol in the 1920s and early '30s. It's a fascinating time in history that's filled with memorable faces, names, and events that became legendary. Even some of the era's colloquial phrases remained popular over the next century. And, you cannot forget about Repeal Day!

Celebrations on the anniversary of Prohibition's repeal continue every year on December 5th. To ensure you're properly prepared for the party, review a few quick facts about Prohibition. You'll be in the know while sipping a classic cocktail on that day.

  • 01 of 10

    Prohibition Lasted for 13 years

    Vintage image of a prohibition parade.
    Vintage image of a prohibition parade. Thinkstock Images / Stockbyte / Getty Images

    The prohibition of alcohol in America began in 1920 and ended in 1933. For 13 years, it was illegal to manufacture, distribute, buy, or sell beer, wine, or liquor in the U.S. The law, however, did not completely ban alcohol because individuals could still possess it inside their homes. The catch was that it was also illegal to give it away or trade it outside your personal residence. While it may have been a tricky situation to obtain a bottle, once it crossed the threshold, you were in the clear.

  • 02 of 10

    The 18th Amendment Is Repealed

    People of New York are celebrating the end of the Prohibition with beer. Photograpg. 1933 Photo by Imagno/Getty Images
    People of New York are celebrating the end of the Prohibition with beer. Photographed in 1933.

    Imagno / Getty Images

    Prohibition was enacted with the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was ratified by 36 states in January of 1919 and went into effect the following year. To this day, it is the only constitutional amendment that has been repealed by another amendment (the 21st Amendment).

    Section 1 of Amendment XXI simply states: "The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed."
  • 03 of 10

    The Mob Didn't Do It All

    California prohibition agents with a vehicle fuel tank and the 250 bottles of tequila, which were hidden in it and smuggled into the US from Mexico, circa 1930. On the left and right are the two men, who were arrested with the contraband. Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
    California prohibition agents with a vehicle fuel tank and the 250 bottles of tequila, which were hidden in it and smuggled into the US from Mexico, circa 1930. On the left and right are the two men, who were arrested with the contraband.

    FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

    One of the biggest misconceptions of the Prohibition era is that the mob controlled all of the liquor supplies. Chicago's the "Outfit" and Al Capone, and other mobsters in major metropolitan areas did control a considerable amount of alcohol in their territories. However, the majority of production and trafficking was done by individuals.

  • 04 of 10

    The Speakeasy and Blind Pig

    A man kneeling on the pavement, next to a sign showing the way to a speakeasy, during the Prohibition in America. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
    A man kneeling on the pavement, next to a sign showing the way to a speakeasy, during the Prohibition in America.

    Hulton Archive / Getty Images

    The term speakeasy is said to come from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering so as not to be overheard. This started some 30 years before Prohibition. While speakeasies were often funded by organized crime and could be very elaborate and upscale, the "blind pig" was a dive for the less desirable drinker.

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  • 05 of 10

    The "Real McCoy"

    21st January 1922: A woman putting a hip flask, known as the ankle-flask, into her Russian boot which fastens at the ankle, one of the many ways people have found of avoiding the strict prohibition laws in America. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
    21st January 1922: A woman putting a hip flask, known as the ankle-flask, into her Russian boot which fastens at the ankle, one of the many ways people have found of avoiding the strict prohibition laws in America.

    Hulton Archive / Getty Images

    The term "The Real McCoy" came out of the Prohibition era. It is attributed to Captain William S. McCoy who facilitated most of the rum running via ships. He was known for his integrity and would never water down his imports, making his the "real" thing.

    Ships weren't the only method for illegal imports. Rumrunners bringing liquor from Canada were from all parts of society and used a variety of methods. These included running cars across the frozen Great Lakes in winter and stuffing bottles in women's clothing before they walked across the bridges. Their tenacity even inspired a cocktail, appropriately called the rum runner.

  • 06 of 10

    December 5th Is Repeal Day

    The first 'legal' beer cases arriving at the White House, showing the end of prohibition decided by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt , April 1933 Photo by Apic/Getty Images
    The first 'legal' beer cases arriving at the White House, showing the end of prohibition decided by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt , April 193.

    Apic/ Getty Images

    It was on December 5th, 1933 that the 21st Amendment was ratified and Prohibition officially ended. This day has since been known as Repeal Day though it wasn't the first day Americans were able to legally drink.

    On April 14, 1933, the Beer Revenue Act took effect, which allowed the sale of 3.2 percent ABV beer and wine. The first legal bottle of beer produced by Washington D.C.'s Abner Drury Brewery was delivered to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House shortly after midnight on the 14th. It was stored in the President's pantry because he was still asleep.

    The article in Time on April 17, 1933, titled "Prosit!" captured the nation's feelings about this moment perfectly.

  • 07 of 10

    Dewars Was the First Scotch Available

    End of the Prohibition: Whiskey-consignment . Photograph. 1933. Photo by Imagno/Getty Images
    End of the Prohibition: Whiskey-consignment . Photograph. 1933.

    Imagno / Getty Images

    Dewar’s Scotch was the first legal whisky to arrive in the U.S. It hit New York’s South Street Seaport docks the moment the law was put into action. Joseph (Joe) Kennedy, Sr. (JFK’s father) happened to be the U.S. agent for the brand.

    Many people have suggested that Joe Kennedy was a bootlegger, and he may or may not have been. What is known is that he was the owner of a company named Somerset Importers. Somerset owned the exclusive rights to import Dewar’s Scotch and Gordon’s Gin, and right before repeal, the company stocked up... big time. Once Prohibition was over, they sold the premium liquors for a hefty profit, and Joe was a rich man.

  • 08 of 10

    The Umbrella Gets a New Meaning

    After the annulment of the Prohibition a truck with beer barrels delights the crowd, New York, USA, Photograph, Around 1930. Photo by Imagno/Getty Image
    After the annulment of the Prohibition a truck with beer barrels delights the crowd, New York, USA, Photograph, Around 1930.

    Imagno / Getty Image

    The umbrella was a symbol used throughout and after Prohibition. As the Temperance movement's symbol, it referred to keeping America (or a certain locale) dry. Rather cleverly, after repeal, the umbrella would be pictured with rain falling underneath it and the phrase "wet under the umbrella" referred to the many wet days to come.

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  • 09 of 10

    The 21st Hour Is Time for a Toast

    View of people raising a celebratory glass of alcohol, after the repeal of Prohibition, Chicago, IL, 1933. From the Chicago Daily News collection. Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)
    View of people raising a celebratory glass of alcohol, after the repeal of Prohibition, Chicago, IL, 1933. From the Chicago Daily News collection.

    Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

    Repeal Day continues to be celebrated today. Bars will run specials, friends will gather for parties, and many Americans toast to the freedom to drink what they want that was provided by the 21st Amendment. To honor that short but significant part of the Constitution, many Repeal Day parties begin at 9:00 p.m. (the 21st hour) on December 5th.

  • 10 of 10

    Virgin Drinks Are First

    Prohibition protesters parade in a car emblazoned with signs and flags calling for the repeal of the 18th Amendment. One sign reads, 'I'M NO CAMEL I WANT BEER!' Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images
    Prohibition protesters parade in a car emblazoned with signs and flags calling for the repeal of the 18th Amendment. One sign reads, 'I'M NO CAMEL I WANT BEER!'.

    Archive Photos / Getty Images

    Among other recent traditions on Repeal Day, many people insist that the first drink of the evening should be a nonalcoholic beverage. It's meant to remind everyone of the dry days of Prohibition. After the mocktails, classic Prohibition-era cocktails are most appropriate.