One of the country’s first experiments in the wholesale ban of a substance was the prohibition of alcohol, which—after decades of agitation by the loose coalition of churches, progressive groups and tea and soda companies that made up the temperance movement—became national law when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect in 1920.
But the costs of enforcing a nationwide substance ban and the widespread bootlegging and mafia influence that resulted soon made the legislation unpopular. What’s more, "the kind of boozing that" Prohibition induced, wrote H.L. Mencken in The Nation, "was so reckless and so plainly dangerous that it alarmed wets as well as dry." In 1934, a year after Prohibition’s quick repeal, Mencken said that "the prohibition brethren looked for a gaudy Saturnalia of boozing, very useful to their cause," to follow the legalization of alcohol. Fortunately for repeal agitators and for the country as a whole, no such widespread alcohol abuse followed, and government regulation of the previously contraband substance reined in excess and took the "exhilarating naughtiness" out of drink for many Americans.
Credit: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)