1920s boom time high School Instructional Performance Task Module



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"Cat and Mouse"

Prohibition led to many more unintended consequences because of the cat and mouse nature of Prohibition enforcement. While the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating beverages, it did not outlaw the possession or consumption of alcohol in the United States. The Volstead Act, the federal law that provided for the enforcement of Prohibition, also left enough loopholes and quirks that it opened the door to myriad schemes to evade the dry mandate.

One of the legal exceptions to the Prohibition law was that pharmacists were allowed to dispense whiskey by prescription for any number of ailments, ranging from anxiety to influenza. Bootleggers quickly discovered that running a pharmacy was a perfect front for their trade. As a result, the number of registered pharmacists in New York State tripled during the Prohibition era.

Because Americans were also allowed to obtain wine for religious purposes, enrollments rose at churches and synagogues, and cities saw a large increase in the number of self-professed rabbis who could obtain wine for their congregations.

The law was unclear when it came to Americans making wine at home. With a wink and a nod, the American grape industry began selling kits of juice concentrate with warnings not to leave them sitting too long or else they could ferment and turn into wine. Home stills were technically illegal, but Americans found they could purchase them at many hardware stores, while instructions for distilling could be found in public libraries in pamphlets issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The law that was meant to stop Americans from drinking was instead turning many of them into experts on how to make it.

The trade in unregulated alcohol had serious consequences for public health. As the trade in illegal alcohol became more lucrative, the quality of alcohol on the black market declined. On average, 1000 Americans died every year during the Prohibition from the effects of drinking tainted liquor.






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