The American Prohibition Museum is the only museum in the United States that focuses on the temperance movement and the Prohibition Era. Prohibition began in 1920 when the Eighteenth Amendment banned the production and selling of alcohol, and ended in 1933 when it was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment. The museum presents the history of Prohibition and its impact on America, both good and bad. It opened in 2017 and is owned and operated by Historic Tours of America. The museum includes thirteen separate exhibits, a theater, gift shop, and a fully-stocked bar designed to resemble a speakeasy
The passage of the
Eighteenth Amendment in 1920 was the culmination of years of lobbying and campaigning
by various groups in what was known as the temperance movement. Temperance
societies were present across the United States, and various local and state
laws restricting alcohol were passed in the 1800s. The temperance movement
began to gather steam at the turn of the century, with national groups such as
the Anti-Saloon League becoming increasingly influential. Many of the movement’s
strongest advocates were women, evangelical Protestants, and factory owners,
who believed that alcohol was immoral, damaging to families, and limited
productivity. The campaign proved highly successful, and the Eighteenth
Amendment, which banned the production, transfer, and sale of alcohol, was
ratified and went into effect in 1920.
Prohibition began to emerge almost immediately. Enforcing the ban on alcohol
was difficult, expensive, and prone to corruption. Bootlegging -the illegal
production of alcohol- became a thriving black market, and speakeasies opened
up to sell it. Rather than decrease violence, Prohibition fueled the rise of dangerous
gangs and organized crime, which made lucrative profits off of selling or
smuggling alcohol and operating speakeasies. The number of incarcerations
skyrocketed. Thousands of people were also killed by drinking toxic homemade
alcoholic beverages. Support for Prohibition began to decline as the costs of
its impact mounted. In 1933, following the election of President Franklin Roosevelt,
the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified, formally repealing the Eighteenth
Amendment and ending Prohibition on the national level. By 1966, every state
had repealed their own bans on alcohol.
In 2015, the company
Historic Tours of America began planning to establish a museum dedicated to
prohibition. Savannah, Georgia was chosen out of seven possible locations due
to the state’s historic ties to prohibition efforts. During the colonial era,
King George III issued a decree banning hard liquor in Georgia, the first place
in America to experience a ban on alcohol. Historic Tours of America purchased
a former retail store and apartment building in the City Market district and
spent two years converting it into a museum, opening in 2017.
two-story, 5,500 square-foot museum features thirteen exhibits, containing wax
figures, videos, and other effects. They cover topics such as the temperance
movement, Carry Nation (an activist who was notorious for destroying bars with
her hatchet), moonshining and bootlegging, smuggling, organized crime, the
repeal of Prohibition, flapper culture, and the origins of NASCAR. Interesting features include talking pictures,
four antique vehicles, and an artificial river of whiskey. Additionally there
is a theater which plays an informational video during the day and classic
movies in the evenings.
Prohibition Museum is also known for having its own secret bar, 220 Congress
Street Up. The bar is designed to resemble an authentic 1920s speakeasy; it is
even discreetly hidden and requires a password to enter. It serves a variety of
prohibition-era alcoholic beverages, and also offers cocktail-making classes.
220 Congress Street Up is open during normal museum hours, as well as weekend
nights. Both the bar and the theater can be rented for private events.