Spirited: Prohibition in America

A new day dawned on January 17, 1920, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution took effect. For the next 13 years—until Prohibition was repealed in 1933—Americans could no longer manufacture, sell, or transport liquors. Spirited: Prohibition in America is a traveling exhibit that explores those tumultuous years and shows how Prohibition proved to be much more than one roaring era in history. Flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists, Al Capone and Carry Nation—all took sides in this battle against the bottle. Spirited: Prohibition in America is on view at The History Museum January 26 – March 17, and its presentation there is made possible in part by Navarre Hospitality Group.


Organized by the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA, in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO, Spirited: Prohibition in America examines the era of Prohibition, during which America went “dry.” Visitors can learn about the amendment process, the changing role of liquor in American culture, Prohibition’s impact on the Roaring Twenties and the role of women, and how current liquor laws vary from state to state.


In 1830, the average American consumed 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor each year. Saloons gained notoriety as the most destructive force in American culture. Following extensive campaigning and lobbying by the Anti-Saloon League along with groups representing women’s suffrage and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, on January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. The amendment made the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating beverages illegal. The Volstead Act carried out the intent of the amendment.


In the years following, the country was split between “wets” and “drys.” Speakeasies flourished, legal authorities gave chase to gangsters, and many created inventive ways to circumvent the law. Governmental agencies, including the Prohibition Bureau and the Justice Department, charged with enforcing the Volstead Act, were ill-equipped to deal with the flood of illegal booze. Along with rampant law breaking, Prohibition brought unexpected cultural and societal shifts from the development of speakeasies to the growth of organized crime syndicated into national enterprises.


Spirited: Prohibition in America draws on histories told from both sides of this divisive issue that riled passions. In the end, after a decade of wide-spread corruption, wavering public opinion, and the need to generate revenue from an alcohol tax, the 18th Amendment became the first ever repealed. With the passing of the 21st Amendment, Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, to a very different America. Today, Prohibition’s legacy can be traced through state laws regulating alcohol, created to avoid the excesses before Prohibition, and the corruption and lawlessness experienced during its years.


Spirited: Prohibition in America is based on the exhibition American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, organized by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA, in collaboration with Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Spirited has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has been adapted and toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance. Founded in 1972, Mid-America Arts Alliance is the oldest regional nonprofit arts organization in the United States.


Hoosiers & Their Hooch: Perspectives on Prohibition, a traveling exhibit of the Indiana Historical Society (IHS), is on view in Spirited: Prohibition in America. The exhibit features the rise and fall of prohibition in Indiana, spanning the dawn of the temperance movement of the 1900s, the roaring 1920s and the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment during the Great Depression. In addition, the era’s conflicting cultures are demonstrated through colorful historic figures such as Edward S. Shumaker of the Indiana Anti-Saloon League, as well as the bootleggers, moonshiners and bathtub gin distillers who found their way around the law in Indiana. The end of the exhibit gives visitors an update on what has happened between 1933 and the present day, demonstrating the effects prohibition has had on Indiana’s regulatory landscape and how it is represented in modern culture. Hoosiers & Their Hooch: Perspectives on Prohibition is made possible by Kroger.


Tickets to The History Museum are $10/adults, $8.50/seniors (60+), $6/youth (6-17), and free/members. Groups of 20 people or more must make reservations at least two weeks in advance. Tickets include admission to Spirited: Prohibition in America as well as to the other History Museum galleries and the Oliver Mansion. For an additional amount, visitors can include a visit to the Studebaker National Museum, which adjoins The History Museum. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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