Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City

Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City

Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City

Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City

Excerpt

Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.

—Mark Twain

In the fall of 1929, the mayor of Berlin, Gustav Boess, paid an official visit to the city of New York. In the course of his week-long stay, the mayor toured the subway and Chinatown, dined with German-American civic groups, visited parks and hospitals, examined a municipal incinerator, and marveled at New York's skyscrapers, which he described as "the most amazing array of buildings I ever saw." Struck by the tempo of life in the city, he awkwardly noted, "It goes here faster." Before he left, Boess made an equally salient observation when he reportedly asked Mayor James J. Walker, "When does the Prohibition law go into effect?" The problem with Boess s question was that Prohibition had been federal law for nearly a decade. The fact that this failed to register with the city's European visitor signaled how poorly Prohibition was faring, and not just in New York City.

Boess's casual observation indicated that the boldest attempt at moral and social reform in the history of the United States had fallen far short of its ambitious goals. When the Prohibition experiment commenced in 1920, the results were supposed to have been very different. The United States government, at the behest of a powerful dry lobby, had barred the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol through the force of a constitutional amendment, leaving most Americans to conclude that the liquor trade in the United States had come to a permanent end. The guiding principle behind this undertaking, which arrived at the end of the Progressive era, was . . .

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