"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.
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Prohibition Lasted for 13 years
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.
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The 18th Amendment Is Repealed
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 To this day, it is the only constitutional amendment that has been repealed by another amendment (the 21st Amendment).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of Amendment XXI simply states: "The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed."
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The Mob Didn't Do It All
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.
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The Speakeasy and Blind Pig
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.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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The "Real McCoy"
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.
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December 5th Is Repeal Day
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.
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Dewars Was the First Scotch Available
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.
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The Umbrella Gets a New Meaning
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.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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The 21st Hour Is Time for a Toast
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.
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