The great experiment

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The attempt to make the consumption of beer criminal is as silly and as futile as if your passed a law to send a man to jail for eating cucumber salad…” Stephen Leacock, famous Canadian humorist

What was it?

  • Prohibition: ‘being forbidden to do something; oftentimes refers to alcohol’

  • Differences in Canadian and American laws made rum running possible...

  • in Canada: decisions about alcohol were left to the individual provinces

  • Ontario prohibited domestic sale (to individuals), BUT not manufacture or export

  • in the U.S... there was a complete ban on the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicants from 1919-1933

Who was for Prohibition?

  • Women’s groups, church groups, business owners, farmers

  • Why? it was the source of broken homes, bad health, lost productivity, and the loss of morals

  • criminals, gangs, some doctors, and alcohol manufactures saw it as a business opportunity

Who was against Prohibition?

  • bar owners, average people, police and customs officers

Smuggling, Bootlegging, and Rum Running

  • ingenious, inventive, and creative…

  • on the water smugglers used… rafts, canoes, speed boats and transport ships

  • in the winter… ice skates, old jalopies, sleds

Local Importance

  • Think of Windsor/Essex County’s proximity to the U.S.... the Detroit River is only 1 mile wide and it’s surrounded by the Great Lakes

  • This area became known as “Rum Alley” or “The Windsor-Detroit Funnel”

  • 75% of all illegal booze smuggled into the U.S. went across the Detroit River

  • 1 in 4 local residents were somehow employed in bootlegging

  • in Detroit, booze became the second largest industry after the automobile


  • enforcement efforts largely failed…

  • enforcement temporarily decreased crime rates and increased productivity, however, it created a monster…

  • it was the beginning of some of North America’s most vicious criminals and gangsters like Al Capone and The Purple Gang

  • corrupt police “looked the other way,” corrupt doctors wrote prescriptions for alcohol… some had line-ups stretching down the block

  • average people were criminalized for drinking while big-time criminals got rich bootlegging, largely without penalty

  • the government made millions in tax revenue

→ the end of the boom… by 1930, under pressure from U.S., the government shuts down the export of alcohol, effectively ending bootlegging and smuggling

Questions to Consider
Did Prohibition work?
How could it have been enforced more effectively?
Did Prohibition do more good or bad for society?
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