Wine & Organized Crime During the Prohibition Years
The Role of Wine During the Prohibition Years
Not surprisingly, Prohibition did not destroy the demand for alcohol. Instead, bootleggers and organized crime took over the means of alcohol production and the legal framework of regulation was eliminated.
Crime increased dramatically during these years and federal convictions rose over 500% from 1915 to 1932. Federal spending on prisons increased over 1000% over the same time period. Accordingly, law enforcement resources were increased throughout the Prohibition years.
The Bureau of Prohibition was entrusted with enforcing the new law. It saw its budget rise from $4.4 million in 1920 to $13.4 million in 1929. The U.S. Coast Guard received an additional $13 million a year during this decade to fight illegal imports.
State and local governments also spent large sums of money to increase their law enforcement capabilities. At the same time, the government lost a major source of revenue from taxing alcohol as organized crime took over the means of production and distribution.
Moreover, Prohibition caused an increase in law enforcement and legal corruption. The effect was profound. Secretary of the Treasury Lincoln Andrews remarked, “…conspiracies are nation wide in extent, in great numbers, organized, well-financed, and cleverly conducted.”
The inability to enforce Prohibition damaged the legitimacy of the law in many Americans’ minds. Widespread disregard for Prohibition’s mandates began to develop into a lack of respect for the rule of law in general.
While many people bought alcohol from the black market, some amateurs began producing liquor at home. Since many people lacked the expertise to ferment and distill alcohol properly, an unusually high incidence of sickness and death occurred from consuming these concoctions. Over 4000 people died in 1925 from contaminated alcohol as opposed to just over 1000 in 1920.
Prohibition failed in its major goals: to reduce crime and to improve the social fabric of American Society. Widespread drunkenness did not decrease and instances of other drug abuse increased. Additionally, crime and prison puopulations increased at an alarming rate.
When Prohibition was repealed with the enactment of the 21st Amendment, many of these negative trends were reduced. Crime went back to Pre-Prohibition levels and many jobs were created as the alcohol industry was governed by a legal framework once more.
Before Prohibition, Americans spent about the same on beer as they did on hard alcohol. After Prohibition was enacted, the vast majority of illegal production was either spirits or fortified wines. Because it was relatively bulky as well as expensive to conceal and transport, the safer beverage of beer was rarely produced or consumed. Strong spirits that were often made under questionable circumstances became the drink of choice.
The American taste for stronger, cheaper drinks continued even after Prohibition was repealed. It is no coincidence that spirits and fortified wines dominated consumption for many years after 1933.
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