1931: The Era of Blind Pigs, Homebrew and Bathtub Gin
Prohibition: The Life and Times
Speakin’ Easy: Life During Prohibition
In an effort to bring crime rates down, the U.S. decided to enact Prohibition in 1920, making illegal the acts of manufacturing, storing, transporting, selling, possessing, and consuming alcohol. Of course, as we now know, the gang activity and criminal offenses actually skyrocketed, mostly thanks to the crafty gangs (including Al Capone’s squad) who supplied bootleg liquor. They’d hide liquor under produce, in coconut shells, and in garden hoses, and they’d sneak them into speakeasies: the numerous places, some underground and some tucked into businesses, where folks could congregate to buy and drink alcohol, so long as they made sure to “speak easy” and not draw any suspicion to themselves. (These folks would bring hot water bottles, fake books, and hollowed-out canes to fill with alcohol … and here we thought we were so sneaky with our sunscreen flasks.) Countless speakeasies sprang up, with just as many slang words for alcohol, including: coffin varnish, monkey rum, rot gut, tarantula juice, panther sweat, and giggle juice.
Those speakeasies thrived, giving rise to today’s stories of the wild parties, plush nightclubs, and devil-may-care attitudes of Prohibition, when the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties collided. Prior to Prohibition, alcohol came after eating and socializing, and women hardly drank. Six months after Prohibition, America’s newfound favorite pastime was drinking to get drunk, and women got the right to vote: Out with the corsets and in with the short skirts, fringed dresses, bobbed hair, red lips, and cocktails!
From 1925 to 1932, federal agents in Utah tried to put a stop to the revelry, seizing over 400 distilleries, 8,000 gallons of malt liquors, 13,000 gallons of wine, and 25,000 gallons of spirits. Like the rest of the country, however, Utah officials struggled to stop the illicit sale and consumption of alcohol, and saw little decline in national drinking. Increasingly, the public began to blame Prohibition: the law devastated the nation’s brewing industry, forced thousands of liquor industry employees out of work, and contributed to a steep rise in violence and crime.
By 1933, a newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt backed the repeal of Prohibition, bringing an end to the Eighteenth Amendment’s so-called “Noble Experiment.” In 1935, two years after Utah made the final vote to repeal national Prohibition, the first state liquor stores opened up in Salt Lake City and Ogden. Business boomed: in the first 15 days, the stores made $54,866. In today’s dollars, we’re talking over $968,000—in two weeks.