|Date||January 17, 1920 - Dec 5, 1933|
|Description||The banning of drinkable alcohol (ethanol). This served multiple hypocritical purposes, much like the later "war on drugs". High on the list, as usual, were the private interests of the small clique who arranged it.|
Prohibition refers to the illegalisation of alcohol consumption, ownership and production in USA, which was carried out from 1920-1933. It killed hundreds of US citizens. It also facilitated the develop of clandestine drug trafficking and suppressed the develop of ethanol-powered vehicles, securing the primacy of petroleum as the fuel for vehicular transport.
Boosting public sobriety.
Preventing the establishment of ethanol as a viable alternative fuel - and so ensuring the private monopoly of John D. Rockefeller's Standard oil. Big oil sought by suppressing the more readily producable, cleaner burning ethanol to establish petroleum as the standard fuel for internal combustion engines. John D. Rockefeller donated over $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, a lobby group in favour of prohibition.
During the First World War most people considered it to be unpatriotic to use much needed grain to produce alcohol. Also, several of the large brewers and distillers were of German origin. Many business leaders believed their workers would be more productive if alcohol could be withheld with them.
Opinion on prohibition began to change and by January, 1919, 75% of the states in America had approved the 18th Amendment which prohibited the "[production], sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors". This became state law when the Volstead Act was passed in 1920.
The Volstead Act was passed shortly after as an “enforcement” act to ensure Congress could actually implement the amendment. The bill included provisions to poison alcohol so as to discourage people from drinking. The Anti-Saloon League (ASL) lobbied against any mandatory ‘poison’ labels on denatured alcohol.
The Volstead Act encouraged producers to 'denature' (i.e. poison) alcohol in the 1920s. As Deborah Blum, professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin noted, by mid-1927 “[t]he Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added — up to 10% of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.” A 1927 study of confiscated liquor in New York City found that 98% contained some sort of poison, so the government was aware that these measures were poisoning people, but in its enthusiasm to punish those who were illegally drinking alcohol, it continued to mandate increased poison levels.
New York City Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris said, “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol… Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”
This is estimated to have killed perhaps 10,000 people.
Wayne Wheeler, head of the ASL, initially claimed only one person had died because of denatured alcohol since 1920 and was widely ridiculed. Hastily, he modified his argument, stating that "... the government is under no obligation to furnish people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide.”
It was repealed on Dec 5, 1933 after a meeting of US business leaders.
Organised bootlegging was a boon to organised crime in general and the mafia in particular. The consequent fatalities have been estimated to lie somewhere from from 10,000 to 50,000 people.<ref name=am> The point was proved that laws against consumption of intoxicating substances do not necessarily reduce consumption rates, but can be relied upon to increase prices, profits and trade related violence and corruption. This lesson was not lost on those who started the "War on Drugs" under Richard Nixon.