Happy Birthday Prohibition

Happy Birthday Prohibition

Happy Birthday, Prohibition!

July 1, 1919 marks one hundred years since the birth of Prohibition nationwide and while we can all be glad it’s dead, Chicago would be far more boring if it had never lived.  Without the birth of Prohibition, Chicago wouldn’t have the rich, dangerous, but glamorous history that makes it the city it is today.  There would be no Capone, or jazz clubs, or speakeasies.  No flappers, no tawdry Chicago politics, no wind in the Windy City’s sails.

Initially, it seemed crime did go down in Chicago after Prohibition.  The arrest numbers for July and August 1919, though, probably indicate that people stayed home and drank the remainder of their private liquor stash in their living rooms rather than risk the $1,000 fine and one year of imprisonment intended for those that violated Prohibition.

Some cities and states prepared for the birth of Prohibition by planning ahead.  In Kentucky, two days before prohibition went into effect, some distillers still had as much as ninety million gallons of whisky.  The whiskey was estimated to be worth $320 million dollars and rather than waste that much profit, the distillers decided to hold it in storage and prayed that Prohibition would be reversed.  St. Louis hotels and restaurants took fifteen thousand reservations for the days between June 28, 1919 and June 30, 1919 so the city could drink up whatever liquor remained available.

Chicago, though, never one to follow the crowd remained obstinate and optimistic.  In Chicago, the saloon owners were far more devious and admitted that they intended to stay open.  Some openly prayed for the end of the Great War that they assumed would be followed by the end of prohibition.  Others insisted they would stay open to only sell soft drinks, and still there were those that said they would face prosecution.  In response, the Chicago PD issued an edict that the laws banning the sale of liquor would be strictly enforced at the stroke of midnight.  Hindsight is 2020, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know if anyone had an inkling of what was on Chicago’s horizon?  That the liquor would flow as freely as before, only instead of through saloon keepers it would flow through the pockets of Capone and his guys?

The liquor laws were enforced swiftly and immediately, though, and before “independence day” of 1919, arrests had been made.  Rose Sozamuski was the first saloonkeeper to be arrested.  Women and children first, right?

Fortunately, we know how the story ends for Prohibition.  We know about the flappers and the gangsters that kept the city well supplied with liquor and legends.  We can toast to the birth of Prohibition and pour one out for its eventual demise and for whatever problems we may have on July 4, 2019, we can celebrate the freedom to raise a glass of Chicago’s finest this holiday!

Happy birthday, Prohibition, you ignorant bastard that gave us so much!

Written by Amy Williams

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