Skip to main content
Prohibition agents with empty mason jars and a still
On this day:

Prohibition goes into effect

Image: Everett Collection /

On 16 January 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes" went into effect. Exactly a year earlier, on 16 January 1919, the Amendment – introduced and passed by Congress in December 1917 – was ratified by 36 of the 48 states in the Union. Prohibition greatly benefited organised crime in major American cities, and one of the abiding images of the 1920s and post World War I America was the infamous Chicago Mafioso Al Capone and his brutal and bloody grip on the Windy City. Capone and others of his ilk made millions of dollars illicitly bootlegging, smuggling and selling alcohol.

The cost of enforcing Prohibition and the loss of tax revenue from alcohol affected the government badly. As racketeering and social problems related to Prohibition grew, the 18th Amendment became increasingly unpopular. Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for President promising repeal of Prohibition, and famous personalities like John D. Rockefeller lent their voices in support of repeal. In December 1933, the 21st Amendment was passed and ratified, which repealed the 18th Amendment and Prohibition. To this date, the 18th Amendment remains the only Amendment to the US Constitution to be repealed in its entirety.