An Escape from Prohibition: From Chicago to Havana

In 1920, the United States passed an amendment that banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The ban was referred to was “prohibition.” It remains as one of the famous pieces of legislation today. Prohibition was designed to help curb America’s moral, religious and practical problems by increasing morale and saving grain.

By 1929, reports were demonstrating that banning alcohol was not have having the expected effects. There were several reasons why prohibition failed. The first is that there were not enough people to enforce the law. The second reason was that it was easy to smuggle alcohol across America’s extensive international borders. The third reason is that a large portion of the population did not believe in this amendments and had no desire to curb their drinking.

Even though it was illegal to manufacture, distribute and even drink alcohol, Americans found ways around the ban. Organized crime gangs, led by famous gangsters like Al Capone, had established networks in place to distribute alcohol through illegal institutions. Also, companies like Bacardi Cuba saw an opportunity to encourage American tourists to visit Cuba to enjoy the benefits of drinking local rum in total freedom. The Caribbean islands then became a luxurious destination for America’s wealthiest citizens. The combination of the serene landscape and the freedom to continue throwing house parties brought the islands some of their earliest and wealthiest patrons.

The capitalist interests of foreign alcohol manufacturers along with the enterprise of the organized gangs were very effective in ensuring the failure of prohibition. When these reasons were compounded with the failure of the government to enforce the law, there is little question about why prohibition failed in the United States.

The 18th Amendment that made prohibition into law is the only constitutional amendment ever to be repealed. On December 5, 1933, prohibition was over. It only took 13 years, 10 months and 19 days for the United States government to admit that their initiative was a complete failure. Instead of drinking legally in bars, Americans began to drink dangerous homemade alcohol that was not only bad for their health but also capable of spontaneous combustion.

While prohibition began as a method of restoring morale after the end of the First World War, the institution ultimately did more harm than good. When it was all over, President Roosevelt admitted that “What American needs now is a drink.”