Bootleggers and Gangsters: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

The Prohibition Era, spanning from 1920 to 1933, marked a tumultuous period in American history with the nationwide ban on alcohol production and sales. Difficult to enforce and widely disobeyed, Prohibition lasted almost 14 years before the 21st Amendment repealed it.

Watch our discussion with author and historian Garrett Peck in our Amendment Series to discuss the 18th and 21st Amendments. Known for his role in making the Rickey Washington, DC’s official cocktail in 2011, Peck will draw insights from his book, “Prohibition in Washington, DC: How Dry We Weren’t,” which features compelling stories about the hidden world of speakeasies and bootleggers, including the intriguing tale of George Cassiday, the congressional bootlegger who inspired Green Hat Gin, and the vibrant jazz-infused nightlife of U Street.

Starting with the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919, we explored how Prohibition gave rise to illicit alcohol trades such as rum-running, bootlegging, and moonshining. These trades not only satisfied the public’s demand for alcohol but also transformed small-time street gangs into large-scale organized crime syndicates.

The massive profits from bootlegging allowed gangs to expand their operations, with mobsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano dominating the underworld and forming powerful crime families. Their activities, including violent turf wars and corruption of public officials, dramatically shifted the public’s perception of the nationwide ban on alcohol. Ultimately, the rampant crime and public dissatisfaction led to the repeal of Prohibition with the ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933.


Garrett Peck is an author, historian, and tour guide in Santa Fe, specializing in adventure travel and historic and cultural interpretation. He leads the Willa Cather’s Santa Fe tour, among others.

The author of eight books about American history, Garrett’s latest is A Decade of Disruption: America in the New Millennium. He is currently working on a book about how Willa Cather wrote her “best book” (her words), Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Garrett has lectured for the Library of Congress, the National Archives, Smithsonian Associates, historical societies, and literary clubs. A native Californian, he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and George Washington University and is a U.S. Army veteran.


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