Prohibition and American Culture

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On January 16, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, instituting nationwide Prohibition. The amendment prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” Although beer, wine, and spirits became more difficult to obtain during Prohibition, Americans could still usually obtain liquor. Illicit bars called speakeasies sprang up in cities and towns across America, and bootleggers quickly found a lucrative market. Prohibition laws led to a dramatic rise in the scope and scale of organized crime, motivating powerful gangsters to exploit bootlegging as a new and profitable business.

Prohibition influenced virtually every aspect of American culture during the 1920s and early 1930s. Hundreds of new words emerged to describe drinking, drinkers, and various forms of alcohol. Prohibition also inspired popular songs, and Hollywood films frequently showed glamorous young men and women patronizing a speakeasy or attending a cocktail party.

In this activity, students will examine cultural trends in 1920s America to answer the central inquiry question, “How were anti-Prohibition views reflected in American culture?”

This activity is part of ABC-CLIO’s Pop Culture Universe: Icons, Idols, Ideas database, your platform for teaching American history through the cultural lenses of literature, radio, television, film, fashion, sports, technology, and more! Click here to activate your free preview of this database and gain access to:

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  • Investigate activities including primary and secondary source materials to help students answer a central inquiry question

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