American History23 Feb 2010 10:43 pm
Prohibition in the United States, also known as “The Noble Experiment” was the period of almost fourteen years when the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol was made illegal as mandated by the ratification of the Eighteen Amendment of the Constitution. The Temperance movement blamed alcohol for many societal ills-such as crime, murder and prostitution- and its membership was overwhelmingly (and unsurprisingly) women who were sick of their husbands coming home drunk when they weren’t permitted to join in on any of the fun.
Hell hath no fury like a group of sober women scorned, and the Senate finally caved into the substantial pressure from Temperance organizations in 1919, and Prohibition officially went into effect on January 1, 1919, the only day of the year in which the nation officially wakes up with a collective hangover.
Despite the lofty aims of “The Noble Experiment,” Prohibition had the opposite intended effect on the drinking habits of Americans; alcoholism rates soared in the 1920s, as did crime, thanks to the meteoric rise of bootlegging and organized crime. In an effort to curb Frustrated by the public’s unexpected defiant reaction to the new laws, federal officials decided to resort to more extreme measures to curb illicit drinking.
Dubbed the “chemist’s war on Prohibition,” the feds ordered the “denaturing” of all industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, which were regularly stolen by bootleggers and sold to unwitting and thirsty consumers. Denatured alcohol is ethanol that contains additives that render it poisonous and/or palatable, and thus undrinkable. When the bootleggers responded to this obstacle by hiring chemists to “renature” industrial alcohol, the feds responded by ordering manufacturers to make their products deadlier.
By the mid-1920s, these new toxic formulas included notorious poisons, including kerosene, brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly. Alas, while the feds managed to successfully kill an estimated 10,000 people, they were unable to quell America’s passion for booze.
And to that, I propose a toast….
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