Welcome back to the Roaring ’20s, New York! Now that the new decade has officially dawned, we’re turning the clock back 100 years to see what the city was like the last time the calendar struck 20. If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your next Great Gatsby-themed bash, ahead find 20 fantastic photos of New York during the Jazz Age, depicting everything from old Ebbets Field to the height of Prohibition.
NYC Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach watching agents pour liquor into a sewer following a raid; via Wikimedia
One hundred years ago, the United States Congress passed a temporary Wartime Prohibition Act banning the sale of beverages with an alcohol content of over 1.28 percent. The 1918 amendment later led to full-blown Prohibition, which wouldn’t officially end until the early 1930s.
Find it difficult to imagine a spirit-less New York? In 1918, many New Yorkers, including city officials, also had a difficult time imagining a New York without alcohol. After all, with alcohol banned, the future remained uncertain for an estimated 9,000 hotel and saloon properties. The city itself stood to lose roughly $18 million in tax revenues related to the sale of liquor. In the end, however, New York not only survived the Prohibition Era but, indirectly, had its architecture altered.
The last time a political outcome stunned the country with such a polarizing impact was in 1919, when the 18th amendment—prohibiting the production, sale, and distribution of alcohol—was ratified. After a 70-year campaign led by several groups known as The Drys, who insisted alcohol corrupted society, the ban on alcohol arrived in 1920 and was enforced by the Volstead Act.
But the Noble Experiment did little to keep people from drinking. Indeed, Prohibition led citizens to dream up creative ways to circumvent the law, turning the ban into a profitable black market where mobsters, rum-runners, moonshiners, speakeasies, the invention of cocktails, and innovative ways to market alcohol took the country by storm. Prohibition in many ways fueled the roaring twenties, and it made things especially exciting in New York City.
December 5th marks the 83rd anniversary of Repeal Day, when 13 long years of Prohibition finally came to a close.