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This Is What America Looked Like When Alcohol Was Illegal

For 13 straight years, alcohol was completely illegal in America.

At midnight on Jan. 17, 1920, the United States went dry as the 18th Amendment effectively prohibited the production, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages across the country.

Aimed at combating alcoholism and supporting family values, the nationwide prohibition known as the Volstead Act stood for 13 years until 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.

Warning: This post contains graphic images.

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Police in New York City pour liquor from a barrel down a sewer during a 1921 raid.

New York Daily News / Getty Images

Tears mingle with strong beer in Newark, New Jersey, as prohibition agents destroy the unlawful liquor seized in a Hoboken raid on June 18, 1931.

George Rinhart / Getty Images

Huge black-and-white posters printed in bold type serve as notice that a Chicago business had been closed by the federal courts for violations of the Volstead Act.

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A driver tries to ensure his safety with a banner on his vehicle that reads, "I'm not a Bootlegger. Don't shoot, I'll stop," near the Mexico border in 1929.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

The bloody aftermath of the Valentine's Day Massacre of Feb. 14, 1929: Seven members of the O'Banion–Moran gang were trapped in a warehouse, lined up against the wall, and shot to death. According to the Chicago Police Department, the murders were a result of the illicit liquor trade in Chicago during Prohibition.

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AP Photo

Left: The shoe of an alcohol smuggler who had been arrested at the Canadian border is strapped with wooden soles in the form of cattle hooves to camouflage their border crossing, circa 1924. Right: Bottles of Scotch whisky smuggled in hollowed-out loaves of bread are confiscated by police on June 12, 1924.

Kirn Vintage Stock / Getty Images
Kirn Vintage Stock / Getty Images

Groups of young people playfully pose with illegal drinks, circa 1922.

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Two police officers drink from flasks by their car, circa 1930.

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A woman demonstrates how to use a Prohibition-era book to conceal a liquor flask in 1927.

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A woman uses a dummy book, titled The Four Swallows, as a hiding place for liquor during Prohibition in 1925.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis / Getty Images

Left: A woman shows off her new initialed garter flask, which had become the latest rage in 1926. Right: A potential customer examines an enterprising advertisement for an illegal speakeasy during Prohibition in the 1920s.

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Children watch as a prohibitionist destroys a barrel of beer with an ax during the 1920s.

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American bandit Stanley Abernathy, a member of the mafia who made a fortune during Prohibition, lies dead in San Francisco after a shootout with a police officer.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Police officers raid a Long Island, New York, home to find $20,000 worth of booze on Jan. 26, 1930.

Kirn Vintage Stock / Getty Images

Four women chug bottles of illegal liquor, circa 1925.

George Rinhart / Getty Images

A woman demonstrates how her overcoat conceals two tins of booze strapped to her thighs on Sept. 3, 1928.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

More than 40,000 demonstrators gather in Military Park, Newark, on Nov. 1, 1931, to oppose the ban of alcohol in the US.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Cullen-Harrison Act, or "Beer Bill," the first relaxation of the Volstead Act, on Mar. 22, 1933. The new law allowed the sale of beer and wine containing 3.2% alcohol starting at midnight on April 6.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Partygoers celebrate the end of Prohibition amid a tangle of confetti and ribbons in 1933.

New York Times Co. / Getty Images

Workers in Brooklyn unload cases of liquor from marble blocks, which were used to conceal alcohol before the repeal of Prohibition, in October 1933.

American Stock Archive / Getty Images

Bartenders at Sloppy Joe's bar in Chicago pour a round of drinks on the house for a large group of smiling customers as it was announced that the 18th Amendment had been repealed and Prohibition had been removed from the US Constitution after 13 years.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

A woman serves drinks to a crowd of men who are joyfully celebrating the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

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