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“New York City Deputy Police Commissioner . . . watching agents pour liquor into sewer . . . ,” photograph, New York World-Telegram and the Sun, ca. 1921

Liquor raids were frequent in the Prohibition Era, when bootlegging and smuggling flourished. Although Prohibition decreased alcohol consumption, it engendered crime syndicates and corruption. Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1919 to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment by creating a Prohibition Bureau within the Treasury Department. The Twenty-first Amendment, ratified in 1933, repealed the Eighteenth Amendment––the only constitutional amendment ever revoked.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“New York City Deputy Police Commissioner . . . watching agents pour liquor into sewer . . . ,” photograph, New York World-Telegram and the Sun, ca. 1921

The Eighteenth Amendment: Prohibition

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transport of alcoholic beverages. It was the product of a temperance movement that began in the 1830s. The movement grew in the Progressive Era, when social problems such as poverty and drunkenness gained public attention. Groups like the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874 and led by Frances Willard, made prohibition a national issue and pressed Congress for action. In 1917 Congress approved a resolution for a prohibition amendment. It was ratified in 1919 but later repealed.

This alcoholic drug adds poverty of the blackest, dreariest, and most hopeless sort to the list of its offenses. Such is its power that men will take bread money from their families and make it blood money for drink.

Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, Speech to the U.S. Senate, July 30, 1917