The Best Place to Be During Prohibition if You Wanted to Drink Was . . .

                                                   NEW YORK

New York was the wettest city during the dry era. Historians figured that there were 32,000 places within the city to buy an illegal drink. It was the hardest place to police. In fact, the police gave up. Fiorella La Guardia once estimated that it would require 250,000 men to police the city, plus another 250,000 to police the police. New York had 200 for the whole state.

Why was New York the wettest city? Because it had the most immigrants–Polish, Russian, Jews, Irish, Italians, and so forth, all of whom came from cultures that incorporated drinking to some extent. Chicago was a close second, with its huge immigrant population. One estimate said that 60% of Chicago’s police were in the bootlegging business themselves.

New York refused to pay for enforcement–they said it was the federal government’s job, thank you very much. The feds had only 1,500 men in the Treasury Department to police the whole country, so you can see that was never going to work. (By the way, New York wasn’t the only state to refuse to vote funds to enforce prohibition laws.)

Even with such cursory enforcement, almost half of any court’s time was spent on liquor cases. It was quicker to pay the fine and get out, so that’s what people did. New Yorkers drank more, not less, during the Prohibition years.

Published in: on May 12, 2012 at 7:38 am  Comments (1)  
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