The Roaring Twenties and the Prohibition
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Published: Wed, 14 Jun 2017
Roaring 20s Essay
The 1920s were a time of tremendous change in America. It was a period of time called The Roaring Twenties, where America becomes urban and commercial and gets to know the speed, spending, mobility, entertainment and fearlessness. Separating the two wars( World War I and World War II), the 1920s followed significant events such as the sinking of the Titanic (1912), the invention of the stainless steel (1913) and the completion of the Panama Canal(1914), the first transatlantic flight (1927-Charles Lindbergh). Unfortunately, this period could not last forever; the 1930s soon led to the beginning of the World War II, a conflict that cost 6, 700, 000 civilian deaths in the Soviet Union alone.
During the Twenties, new aspects of culture were established, the economy was prosperous, there was a widespread social reform, and people found a better way to enjoy their lives and improve their lifestyle. Most of the population preferred to move in urban areas rather than living at rural farms, the main reason being an agricultural depression (U.S lost agricultural markets in postwar Europe).
Americans were making and spending more money. As well as having more money, Americans also had more free time because the labor movement reduced to only eight hours in a typical work-day. Furthermore, there were introduced more and more applications suited to the personal lives of individuals and available to a mass market (vacuum-cleaners, fridges, radios). Business taxes were low (presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover did not interfere in business) and import taxes were high (tariffs), protecting American industry. Also, advertising industry started to flourish and change: for example before, the producer announced the existence of a product in a dull, dry fashion, but in the 1920s, the producer persuades the public.
During those years, people bought different appliances and cars, which gave them more free time and made their lives easier (Henry Ford uses TV newsreels to advertise the new model T). The number of cars increased quickly; in Chicago, in 1915, there was one automobile for 61 persons and in 1930, one for 8 persons. Ford offered big wages (5$/day), as he correctly assumed that mass production economy would eventually fail, unless workers were paid enough to buy the products they made. The main convenience of a private care in the 1920s was great mobility, followed by traveling for fun (rural people were now likely to spend the time in town and were less isolated), better employment possibilities, not only in the car industry, but also other industries such as rubber, steel, oil, glass. Education also increased, and by the 1920s many states passed laws requiring children to attend school, helping force children out of workplaces.
Throughout the 1920s, people were more and more interested in music, the period was also called “The Jazz Age”. The core of jazz music was in Harlem; a musical form belonging to the South and played mostly by black people. From the most known jazz musicians we remember Louis Daniel Armstrong (1901-1971) from New Orleans, Louisiana.
During the decade, a new woman was about to be created. Women smoked and danced and wore make-up. They were called “flappers”- because of their giddy attitude and their outer clothing(looking like a boy). Flappers mostly lived in cities, though, rural people read about them in magazines. In much of the U.S, women only read about flappers in magazines but many disapproved of flappers or would not dare to be so reckless.
The 1920s were a prosperous time, but not for everyone. It was also a period of intolerance and isolationism. There were imposed new restrictions on immigration, minority groups were still being discriminated and the Ku Klux Klan was powerful in the South. In addition to this, because of having too much free time and influences of a new lifestyle, urbanization and modernization, the alcohol consumption became excessively. At first, the focus was the moderation of the consumption, but then turned to be a complete prohibition of alcohol.
Prohibition (“the noble experiment”) had quite an effect on American life in the 1920s. People hoped that a result of the Prohibition would be the reducing of crimes and corruption, solving social problems, improving health and hygiene in America, creating a moral society; but it had the opposite effect. Drinking, transporting, making and selling alcohol became illegal and many found it to be exciting and glamorous so, illegal clubs sprang up where people could go socialize and drink.
Over the years, a number of states passed anti-alcohol laws, and World War I helped the cause when grain and grapes (which most alcohol is made of) was needed to feed the troops. The fight against alcohol was also used against immigrants, portraying them as groups of alcoholics. Fundamentalists and protestant religious groups favored the liquor ban because it was considered that alcohol contributed to society’s sins and evils, especially in cities. America stood at a crossroads between tradition and innovation.
What was going to ban the” manufacture, sale and transportation” of alcohol was the Eighteenth Amendment of Constitution. The 18th Amendment was originally announced in Congress on June, 1917. It was sent to the Senate and in the same year, was passed to the House of Representatives. Moreover, in order to enforce the 18th amendment, it was created the Volstead Act, in 1919. Federal Prohibition Agents (they were about 3,000 agents) was to investigate who were about to sell and transport illegally alcohol; if they were found guilty, they were arrested. The same thing was in the case of owning any item designed to manufacture alcohol, to the guilty ones were applied specific fines and jail sentence(“Making own beer will be difficult under new regime!”<Winstead Evening Citizen, May 1929>).
However, even if there were numerous reports of liquor clearing, the authorities missed confiscating several cases in May, 1926. Another one hundred twenty-five cases made it past the enforcement agencies in September, 1926 and one hundred twenty cases disappeared from a Canadian warehouse due for American shores in October, 1926.
Speakeasies started to be popular and increased their number during the decade. They represented illegal bars selling alcohol. There was estimated over 100,000 speakeasies in New York City in the 1920s and it was the most popular way to obtain alcohol. Other ways of obtaining alcohol during the Prohibition: if was prescribed by a doctor, or secretly smuggling from other countries, such as Canada.
Initially, many Americans supported the idea of Prohibition. It was thought that Prohibition will reduce the number of divorces, deaths, accidents and poverty. Supporters believed that drinking liquor was immoral. Nevertheless, there were a lot of different opinions about whether it was successful or not. Drinking was part of everyday life and people enjoyed being able to have alcohol when they wanted and they did not want the right to be taken away from them. Two of the most important supporters of Prohibition were “Women’s Christian Temperance Union” and “Anti-Saloon League”.
In “Women’s Christian Temperance Union”, women were one of the main groups fighting for prohibition. Their efforts made prohibition attractive to many reformers and these women changed the opinions of many people. Reformers were also attracted to prohibition because they were able to take out many urban political bosses at the same time (since many bosses operated out of these saloons). The “Anti-Saloon League” was another prohibition powerhouse. The members from the league tried to get support from churches, law makers, business men and political figure heads in order to get the law passed.
Prohibition and Gangsters
(organized crime in the 1920s)
Bootlegging became one of the most profitable business of those times. Illegal Saloons could be found all over larger cities and almost every city. The owners of these saloons produced their own homemade alcohol but also many imported it. Prohibition gave rise to huge smuggling operations, as alcohol slipped into the country through states like Michigan or on the Canadian border. One of the inherent dangers involved in the business of smuggling liquor was the possibility of a hijacking. Gangs fought for control over the speakeasies which created a lot of violence within the city. Mobsters and gangsters started to take an initiative in the demand for alcohol and saw a chance to make a huge profit.
Even if gangsterism was dangerous, this was the easiest way of making money. Criminals got richer and gained more and more power; once they were armed with their guns, no one dared to stop them. If they were caught by police, they often bribed or killed the police. Also, they started bribing public officials; many lawmakers, judges and Prohibition Bureau members were all involved in various crime organizations.
Not only the number of crimes increased, but crime was going to be organized. The business was profitable for everyone involved. They defended their high profits by murdering hundreds of their competitors and infiltrating legitimate businesses, labor unions, and government. Most of Mafia or gangs members were young immigrants. Criminals like Al Capone, John Dillinger, Jack “Legs” Diamond, Bugsy Siegel and Vito Genovese were headliners of the era.
To summarize, I would say that the Prohibition was thought to be more moral but it did not realized its main goals. The ones who beneficiated were gangsters and other forces of government. Americans enjoyed drinking alcohol and they even broke the law to do so; as a result, the number of prisoners was larger. A consequence was the lack of respect for the law(was seen as something which was not important) and also lack of respect for religion, because preachers thought that alcohol is the main reason for society’s sufferings. People also suffered, because making illegal alcohol was not so healthy; some of them were poisoned, went blind or even died.
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