FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Recovering from Prohibition

Throughout the 1800s, Americans from New York to California, from Missouri to Ohio, struggled to create a wine industry. By the early 1900s, American wine production, especially in California, was becoming a viable commercial enterprise. And then came Prohibition.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1919, closed the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcohol. The law did not discriminate among hard liquor, spirits, beer, or table wine. Exceptions to the law were allowed for religious and health reasons and, in the case of wine, Americans were allowed to make up to 200 gallons per year for their own consumption.

By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the damage to the American wine industry had been done. The loss of knowledge about viticulture (grape vine cultivation) and winemaking, coupled with the destruction of equipment and facilities, meant that manufacturers had to rebuild an entire industry from scratch.

Ribbon, 1932

Ribbon, 1932

Gift of Honorable Michael V. DiSalle in memory of Thomas H. Williams





WONPR pin, 1929

Gift of Ralph E. Becker Collection of Political Americana

View object record

Prohibition did little to limit the consumption of alcohol. As crime, violence, and corruption increased with illegal alcohol trafficking, Prohibition became increasingly unpopular. Among those who rallied for repeal were members of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), whose founder, Pauline Sabin, had supported Prohibition until she recognized its role in fostering bootlegging and organized crime.

Celebrating repeal in Chicago, 1933

Celebrating repeal in Chicago, 1933

Courtesy of John Binder Collection