Secret Gin Joints Of The 1920'S

After the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920 the people still wanted to drink. Thus was born the underground institution of drinking in gin joints called the speakeasy.

On January 16th, 1920 the 18th Amendment was passed, prohibiting alcohol in the United States of America. In Title II, Section 3 the National Prohibition Act states that "No person shall on or after the date when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States goes into effect, manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized in this act." Padlocks marred the landscape of saloons, taverns and clubs throughout the land. President Hoover proudly stated that the amendment was "a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive." Yet never in the history of America has a law been so blatantly violated and spawned such a great level of corruption. Instead of putting an end to the use, sales and production of alcohol, it served as a catalyst, which amplified its demand and inevitable supply. There grew an even stronger desire for the devil's candy. And since it had to be consumed privately, out of the eye of the law, the underground bar was born. Because of its secrecy, it was coined the "Speakeasy".

Instead of destroying the institution of alcohol it gave it the throne of the kingdom. Whereas before the saloon had been off limits to women, they now flooded into the speakeasies in droves, enjoying the "cocktail" potion freely. In an age of fads, such as crossword puzzles, bananas and the Charleston, the speakeasy quickly became the "cat's pajamas" and the "bee's knees"! Almost overnight America became a society of alcoholics.

Speakeasies began breeding in numbers. As quickly as a padlock could be fastened on a saloon five underground speakeasies would become fully functional. In 1925 there were reported to be 100,000 speakeasies in New York City alone. It was common knowledge that between 45th and 52nd street on 5th and 6th avenues one could stroll casually into almost any building and purchase a glass of liquor. Law enforcement couldn't keep up. Raids became a daily federal pastime. But this was anticipated and even intercepted by clubs owners. Elaborate drop-shelves, which would dump bottles into secret compartments, and electrical switches, which would automatically short circuit from the push of a button. Manhattan's "21" club was equipped with four separate buttons so that if the bartender near the rear entrance was prevented from reaching one of them, the doorman would go for another. These contraptions were commonplace and merely considered a security measure. No pun intended. What was not a crime before was born into a collective organized crime.



Of the federal agents that successfully raided a "speak", there were twice as many some where else staging one to look as though they were doing their jobs. To those staged raids there were ten and twenty times more who were accepting graft to look the other way and even give tip-offs to when they were going to take place. A congressman at one time declared that of a 250,000 man force it would take another 200,000 man force to police them. Corruption was at its highest ever. And the graft wasn't cheap either. An average proprietor of New York, which had monthly cost of $1,370 a month, would pay out $400 of that as graft to federal Prohibition agents, the police department and the district attorneys. In Philadelphia graft collectors were said to have pocketed over $20 million. And though this seems steep, especially for the time period, the owners made quite a pretty profit themselves. One of the more famous owners, the brazen blond "Texas" Guinan, made a profit of more than $700,000 in a ten month stint, and this includes her ever constant relocation fees. She was known to yell- "Hello, suckers" as her many clients would slide into her clubs.

If the 1920's treated the speak owners good, then you can only imagine what it did for their suppliers. The Prohibition turned the members of organized crime into literal czars of their time. Where they were making occasional shipments here and there of manufactured or looted alcohol before the 18th Amendment made them the sole providers of it from there on out. Although various manufacturers secretly continued sales illegally, the crime lords could used power and fear to persuade them otherwise. But that's not the worst of it. It made them become highly organized. This is one of the main reasons attributed to the belief that the 18th Amendment was quite possibly one of the worst mistakes the American government ever made. Al Capone was the most notorious with a racket, which encompassed over 700 men, all 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago and a bootlegging cartel from Canada to Florida. By being so boastful as to take away from the citizens one of their most beloved past times it gave the power to hands of the crooked and the corrupt. In December of 1933 the 18th Amendment was repealed, the speakeasies came out of their pseudo-hiding and the country drank to it heartily. The sectors of organized crime were more powerful than ever and rolled into the 1930's with their niches well developed and only themselves as enemies. The saloon, as the speakeasy, had survived well through Prohibition and is still alive today in the form of bars as well as in the tradition of the speakeasy, now known as the "after hours club".

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