At the beginning of the 20th century, a great shift was happening in American life.
Widespread drinking was blamed for family poverty and an unstable society. Women’s suffragist groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union grew in power. There was pushback and fear of new immigrants such as the Germans, who built breweries and brought a drinking culture with them. Needless to say, a certain desire to legislate morality in an effort to improve society began to catch on.
In 1919, the states ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol. And it fell to one man, House Judiciary Chair Andrew Volstead, a Congressman and attorney from Granite Falls, Minn., to write the enforcement act. The National Prohibition Act was enacted that same year and became commonly known as The Volstead Act.
Volstead received both letters of support and death threats. His letters and records are now at the Minnesota Historical Society, and this year, the documents were digitized in honor of the century mark since Prohibition.
After the act was passed, official alcohol sales went down, but criminal activity, and the proliferation of speak-easies and bootlegging grew. The law became unpopular and only encouraged ingenuity to get around it – but 13 years later, it was repealed. Volstead’s association with Prohibition has endured, and numerous bars across the country operate under his name.
But history buffs and residents in Volstead’s hometown are running a counter narrative. His home is open for tours and has been restored to what it might have looked like during Volstead’s time. It also gives him credit as a founder of agricultural cooperatives, with the Capper-Volstead Act that allowed farmers to cooperate and get better prices for their products without being subject to antitrust laws.
Residents have opened a modern-day example of this. “People have asked me if I think Andrew Volstead would approve of this [pub],” said Sarina Otaibi, chair of the board of directors at the cooperative. “I say yes.”
Wonder what Prohibition Act architect Andrew Volstead would think of Minnesota’s burgeoning wine industry? One Greater Minnesota reporter Kaomi Goetz recently learned about some new cold weather-hardy grapes helping to boost the local industry.
During the era of Prohibition, let’s just say that Saint Paul’s elite citizens didn’t exactly want their booze prohibited. So they welcomed a little organized crime into the Saintly City. Discover more about how they got away with it.
Step inside Neumann’s Bar: MN’s oldest, continually active watering hole. Opening its doors in 1887, the bar became one of the notorious speakeasies of the 1920s – and let’s just say that gangsters found their way inside.