Prohibition is the temperance movement, an organized campaign to eliminate alcohol cosumption. Three groups dominated the new temperance movement:- The Prohibition Party (founded in 1869)- The Woman`s Christian Temperance Union (founded in 1874) - Anti-Saloon League (founded in 1893)These groups opposed drinking on the grounds that it led to personal tragedies. They supported prohibition, a ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition groups also opposed drinking because of what they saw as the links among saloons, immigrants, and political bosses. Immigrant men often used saloons as social clubs, where they could relax and also pick up information about jobs.
Prohibitionists believed that saloons undermined public morals. Some prohibitionists even claimed that saloons formed the centre of a movement to take over the United States. When the prohibition of the sale and manufacture of alcohol went into effect in January 1920, it had the support of most members of the middle class and most of those who considered themselves progressives. It was, after all, progressive reformers who had been most responsible for passage of the constitutional amendment requiring Prohibition. Within a year, however, it had become clear that the experiment was not working. What had happened, in essence, was that Americans had simply refused to stop drinking. The first prohibition commissioner had promised rigorous enforcement of the new law, what resources available to him were ludicrously insufficient.
To keep alcohol out of circulation would have required the constant patrolling of 18,000 miles of coastline and thousands more miles of land borders, across all of which whiskey was being smuggled which reckless abandon. It would have meant guarding the 57 million gallons of industrial alcohol being manufactured every year, much of which was being diverted to human consumption. It would have meant patrolling virtually every community in the country to root out illegal stills, hidden saloons (known as “speakeasies”), and bootleggers. It would have required policing as many as 20 million private homes, where individual citizens were concocting “bathtub gin” and other alcoholic brews.
In the face of such obstacles, enforcement proved impossible, particularly since the government had hired only 1,500 agents at modest salaries to do the job. Before long, it was almost as easy to acquire illegal alcohol in most of the country as it had once been to acquire legal alcohol. One prohibition agent conducted a survey to determine how long it would take him to buy a drink in several major cities. In Atlanta, it took him seventeen minutes from the moment he stepped of the train, in Chicago, twenty-one minutes, in Cleveland, twenty-nine. The fasted purchase was in New Orleans: 35 seconds, his cabdriver at the depot offered him a bottle. The longest was in Washington, D. C., where it took an hour. A local policeman finally showed him where to find a supplier. More disturbing then the laughable ineffectiveness of the law, however, was the role Prohibition played in the stimulating organized crime.
In several cities, criminals formed large, efficient organizations that controlled the distribution of alcohol. Individuals of gangs who tried to compete were run out of town or murdered. The streets of American cities became a battleground, as gangsters fought for control with machine guns and saved-off shot guns. Successful bootleggers often expanded into others illegal activities, including gambling, prostitution, and a highly profitable business called racketeering. In the typical “racket”, local businesses were forced to pay a fee for “protection”. Those who refused to pay might began gunned down or their business blown to bits. In one period of a little more than a year, 157 bombs were set off by racketeers in Chicago. Terrified citizens went along with the gangsters´ demands.
The supporters of Prohibition had never dreamed that their ideals would bear such evil fruit. Al Capone was the most notorious of the gangster organization in Chicago. There, bootlegging had added immense wealth to an already successful gambling, prostitution, and racketeering business that reached into nearly every neighborhood, police station, and government office. In 1925 a young crime boss murdered his way to the top of Chicago’s organized crime network. He was Al Capone, nicknamed “Scarface”.Capone was a ruthless criminal with a talent for avoiding jail. With so much money at his disposal ($60 million a year from bootlegging alone), Capone found it easy to buy the cooperation of police and city officials. Politicians, even judges, took orders from him.
The government fought back with improved law enforcement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), headed by J. Edgar Hoover, became a dedicated, independent force against organized crime during the 1920s. For years, Capone managed to slip out of any charges brought against him. Finally, in 1931 he was convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison. Bootlegging, however, remind a problem until prohibition was ended in 1933.