If you’re looking for something to drink to this holiday season, you can always toast to the 21st Amendment. Without it, we would still be living in a legally-dry country of bootleggers and speakeasies.

Historical restrictions

Dating back to before the Revolutionary War, the sale and consumption of alcohol had been a point of contention in America. In May of 1657, the General Court of Massachusetts ruled that the sale of strong liquor to native people was illegal. Puritanical beliefs didn’t directly condemn the consumption of alcohol among its people, but rather the abuse of it.


Drunkenness was frowned upon, and when social pressures to remain sober or to drink within reason failed, legal actions could be taken. Throughout the 1800s, liquor was heavily taxed, and discussions among women stirred notions that alcohol was not the health tonic many men of the time perceived it to be.

No more booze

On November 18, 1918, US Congress passed the Wartime Prohibition Act, which initially served to ration grain during the war. The Act took effect after the armistice was signed, ending WWI. On July 1, 1919, beverages containing more than 1.28% alcohol could no longer be sold, earning it the moniker “the thirsty first.”

The Daily Beast

Between 1919 and 1920, several pieces of legislation made the rounds with alcohol as their subject. Following the statutes of the 18th Amendment, the United States went completely dry on January 17, 1920.

A massive failure

One of the driving points for voters in favor of prohibition was the thought that alcohol was the vice driving crime and sin in the US. Gradually, these individuals realized that just wasn’t the case. The 1920s were drowned in violence driven primarily by organized crime, including Chicago’s Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

The Growler Magazine

Prohibition didn’t keep alcohol away, either. Speakeasies and bootleggers provided booze to those who sought it. In the end, much of the culture people associate with the ’20s was a product of the ban on alcohol. On December 5th of 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the provisions of the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, allowing drinks to flow freely once more.