American Prohibition Museum
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began in 1920 when the Eighteenth Amendment banned the production and selling of alcohol, and ended in 1933 when it was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.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
Backstory and Context
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.
Problems with 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 By 1966, every state had repealed their own bans on alcohol.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.
The immersive, 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.
The American 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.
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HistoricTours. “New American Prohibition Museum In Savannah” (video). Posted September 1, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZbSmE9H29s.
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Wade, Kim. “Nation’s only Prohibition-themed museum opens doors in Savannah.” Savannah Morning News. May 28, 2017. Accessed January 23, 2018. http://www.savannah.com/americas-prohibition-museum-opens-savannah/
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