Life without Prohibition - what would be different today?

Imagine a world where the US never had it’s experiment with Prohibition.
What would be different today?

I imagine that the the role of the mafia would have been different.
Is there a link between Prohibition and cigarette smoking popularity? I’ve seen a claim of this.
Any guesses about if the US populations view of drinking would be different?
(We’ve got a love/hate thing going now. Would drinking be more of a “glass of wine with dinner” and less “occasional binge drinking until we puke”?)
Would the changes to the temperance movement have changed how the women’s lib movement progressed?
How about bootleggers? Would we not have NASCAR?
Would the Kennedy fortune be smaller?

I think first we would have to set up the scenario better. Why happened instead of prohibition? Societal attitudes were changing rapidly against alcohol consumption, led to prohibition, and then eased after it’s failure. Would we still have women’s temperance groups smashing saloons and preaching against “the demon rum”. Or would those attitudes have simply disappeared?

Alot of cocktails would be either less popular or nonexistant. Most of them were orignally developed in speakeasies to try and cover up the taste of bootleg liquor by mixing it with juices or sodas.

Are you talking about the brief stint with alcohol prohibition mainly or are you talking about the far more deleterious, expensive and destructive prohibition against drugs?

I was thinking of alcohol Prohibition of the '20s and '30s.

This is what needs to be addressed. If the Temperance movement just never managed to get Prohibition passed, then what happened to it? My guess would be that it would have subsided a bit as a political force, but would have remained very strong as a societal force. You would have many more organizations that shunned alcohol, and perhaps many more stringent laws against public drunkeness and the like. Liquor licenses would likely be even more tightly controlled than today, and the taxes on booze would be 10X what they are.

Prohibition doesn’t seem too bad now, does it?

State and country dry laws might have remained more common if national Prohibition hadn’t been such a failure. A question: if one state bans alcohol and another doesn’t, causing massive smuggling from wet state to dry, is that purely a state matter or does it drag in “interstate commerce”? IOW, even if there wasn’t a nationwide Prohibition, could the Fed get involved in suppressing the illicit booze trade?

Perhaps the stereotypical “gangster” movie character, with all the attendant cultural baggage, wouldn’t have developed. No Cagney, no Edward G. Robinson, no Bogie.

I don’t imagine organized crime would have become as powerful as they did though I’m sure they’d still be around.

Tobacco use was a popular American past time for many years before the temperance movement built up a lot of steam. There were some temperance groups that preached against tobacco though. I don’t know if Prohibition did anything about the popularity of tobacco one way or another.

That’s a tough nut to crack. If it’s a given that the U.S. never experimented with Prohibition then it’s a given that attitudes about drinking in the 1840s, 50s, 60s, and onward would have also been different. “What if” questions in history are fun little mental exercises but this is a question we can’t really answer.

We had a love/hate thing going on with alcohol back in the 19th century as well. Clearly a lot of Americans loved to drink but there were plenty of social problems attached to it. Men drinking away their paychecks before buying necessities for their family, domestic violence, violence in drinking establishments, etc. When they were building a railroad here in southern Arkansas after the Civil War construction came to a near halt the Monday after pay day as so many workers were sleeping off hangovers.

Maybe a little. When women in the U.S. started getting involved in politics it was typically in areas within the feminine sphere. Things like education, the welfare of children, taking care of the indigent, etc. The Temperance movement falls under this feminine sphere. I still think the women’s lib movement would have happened even without the temperance movement.

Bootleggers have always existed if for no other reason than to avoid paying those revenuers. As for NASCAR…maybe not.


Isn’t that kind of what happened in Australia? The Temperance movement never did get full prohibition (except in the ACT, repealed as soon as Parliament moved in), but got all kinds of really strict laws enacted. Like making the pubs close at 6pm. :eek:

That’s what I was using as my model. Good catch.

As for the “wet state/dry state” conflict, I see several paths. One would be an extension of the way things were before the standardized drinking age was established. People just skip across the state line to buy their booze. Enforcement of anti-smuggling laws would vary by state/county/township. It wasn’t until fairly recently that the Feds started using the Commerce clause to meddle in states rights. A variant of the above is the Kentucky model, with alcohol being a “local option.” In any case, by this point in time I see the Temperance movement as all by died out in any case you care to examine.

That would be my WAG. Liquor stores and bars would be treated like Adult Book Stores and Novelty Shops are treated today. Legal, but on the seedy side of town, and you don’t want your friends and co-workers seeing you go in there.

Even after the repeal of prohibition there was some pretty strict liquor laws around the country. In many states it was the 1970s or 1980s before you could purchase a single liquor drink in public. If you wanted to drink in public, you drank beer. If you wanted any type of wine or liquor, you went to a state-licensed store, bought a full bottle and (hopefully) took it home.

But, I think we need to define the terms more. Even before national prohibition the Temperance groups managed to make several states go dry. So what happened in the alternative?

  1. Temperance movement continued to make individual states dry, one by one?
  2. Temperance movement never existed?
  3. Temperance movement stopped short of any dry states?
  4. Only a handful of dry states?
  5. Never a movement for prohibition? Or one that came up a few votes short?

It’s not like you can just pluck prohibition from history and leave everything around the same and have it make any kind of logical sense.

The Prohibition movement arose out of an alliance between do-gooder Progressive reformers, mostly in the North and West, and religious fundamentalists, mostly in the South. It achieved whole or partial success in about 20 states up to 1916.

To get over the top nationally, it required World War I. War made sobriety seem patriotic, and alcohol production wasted grain that could feed allies or troops. The most logical alt history is to ask what would have happened if the WWI-era push had fallen a few votes short in Congress.

The answer IMO is not much. The post-WWI climate was hostile to social reform of any kind, and do-gooder progressivism disappeared. Fundamentalism enjoyed a last flowering in the anti-evolution crusade of the early 1920’s, then faded as a political force for five decades. Prohibition would have made no further headway.

The later decades would have seen the gradual loosening of the remaining state restrictions, as happened anyway after 1933. The Mafia wouldn’t have been as well financed, and we might have more of a taste for straight whiskey and vodka like Europeans, but other than that no biggie.

Well, what do you know? My wife and I are European. Who would have thunk it? :smiley:

There would be more small, local breweries producing good beer instead of the crappy mass produced beer we have today. Which could explain the recent micro brew trend.

"When Prohibition went into effect, there were some 2,000 operating breweries in the country; in 1933, only 750 reopened. "

If there was no prohibition of alcohol, then we would not have prohibited drugs either.
There would be no Drug War.

Crime would be almost nonexistant because the cops would have to spend their time gong after “real” criminals, and our prisons would contain “real” criminals instead of non-violent drug offenders.

Kennedy would not have gotten rich from prohibition, therefore not have been able to make a fortune from the stock market, which means John Kennedy would never have been president. John Kennedy would live to a ripe old age, and so would Bobby Kennedy.

Prohibition resulted in the public switching from drinking beer to drinking hard liquoir. Without prohibition then most people would still drink the mildly beer, and not the harder stuff.

The mafia, organized crime, would would have went broke and it would have become non-existant a long time ago if we had never prohibited drugs nor alcohol, and after we legalized gambling.

Wha? People have been drinking “the harder stuff” for centuries. It certainly wasn’t just Prohibition that made it popular. :dubious:

I don’t think that necessarily follows. The replacement of local businesses by national chains has generally swept our economy. There’s no reason to think breweries would have been an exception.

Most people would think “Eliot Ness” was a monster in Scotland.

The role of Agent George Stone, the part that put Andy Garcia on the map, would have never existed. Garcia’s career would be thus hampered and he would never score the villain-part in Oceans 11.

Not that Oceans 11 would even be made as Vegas was financed by mob money…

There would be no Vegas!!!

The implications are staggering.