National Prohibition Act of 1919 (Volstead Act)

At the turn of the 20th century, the temperance movement sought governmental control over intoxicating beverages. In response to mounting pressure, Congress passed the 18th Amendment (prohibiting the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption). A short time later, it passed the National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act), which established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor.

Enforcing prohibition proved to be extremely difficult and an illegal network of bootleggers and speakeasies cropped up across the country. Certain criminalsAl Capone, for exampleprofited greatly during this period, making millions of dollars from transporting liquor. By 1925, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs in New York City alone. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment.


 National Prohibition Act


Sixty-sixth Congress of the United States of America;
At the First Session,
Begun and held at the City of Washington, the nineteenth day of May, one thousand nine hundred and nineteen.


To prohibit intoxicating beverages, and to regulate the manufacture production, use, and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes, and to insure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye, and other lawful industries.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the short title of this Act shall be the National Prohibition Act.

Title I.


The term War Prohibition Act used in the Act shall mean the provisions of any Act or Acts prohibiting the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors until the conclusion of the present war and thereafter until the termination of demobilization, the date of which shall be determined and proclaimed by the President of the United States. The words beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinuous liquors in the War Prohibition Act shall be hereafter construed to mean any such beverages which contain one-half of 1 per centum or more of alcohol by volume; Provided, That the foregoing definition shall not extend to dealcoholized wine nor to any beverage or liquid produced by the process bay which beer, ale, porter or wine is produced, if it contains less than one-half of 1 per centum of alcohol by volume, and is made as prescribed in section 37 of Title II of the Act, and is otherwise denominated than as beer, ale, or porter, and is contained and sold in, or from, such sealed and labeled bottles, casks, or containers as the commissioner may by regulation prescribe.

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