Quenching the National Thirst

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Boat with sign "Fresh Fish and Fruit" delivers bottled drinks to men on pier (possibly Prohibition, selling illegal alcohol). Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

While the 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol it did not outlaw the drinking of alcohol. The American thirst for alcoholic beverages did not subside as expected. The amount of rum entering the U.S. from the Caribbean dramatically increased. The demand for moonshine increased and enforcement agents increased efforts to shut down illegal and untaxed alcohol manufacture and distribution. Many rural Americans began to make their own corn whiskey that was often more potent than any legal spirits to be made before Prohibition. Saloons became soft drink saloons and speakeasies flourished.

Because the taste of the available liquor was rough, bartenders used sweeteners and other additives resulting in a number of cocktail recipes that are still popular today. The number of prescriptions for medicinal liquor dramatically increased as doctors and pharmacies became distribution outlets for legal liquor. Because there were no legal controls, stills blew up, bottles exploded and people were poisoned by drinking tainted spirits.