At 12:01 a.m. on April 7, 1933, sirens, fire alarms and train whistles shrieked. In Chicago, harried bartenders scrambled to serve crowds that stood 12 deep. At Pabst Brewing Co. in Milwaukee, thousands of onlookers cheered as company employees hoisted barrels and crates onto trucks. About 800 people stood in the rain outside the White House, watching as a man hopped out of his vehicle and unloaded two cases of beer. Secret Service agents accepted the goods, a gift for the chief executive from one of the nation's brewers. "President Roosevelt," read a sign on the side of the truck, "the first real beer is yours."
By the early 1930s, most Americans were done with the experiment. Emboldened by Roosevelt's election, "wet" members of the lame-duck 72nd Congress managed to pass a repeal amendment just days before FDR took office. But two-thirds of the states had to ratify the measure -- a process that would take months.
So on March 13, the president asked Congress to legalize beer right away. The plan was elegant in its simplicity. The 18th Amendment merely banned "alcoholic" beverages; it did not identify what those were. That was spelled out in the Volstead Act, which defined an "alcoholic" and "intoxicating" drink as one containing more than 0.5% alcohol. Solution: Rewrite Volstead to categorize "nonintoxicating" beverages as ones containing up to 3.2% alcohol -- the same as most pre-Prohibition beer. Brewers could reopen their doors, hire workers and start paying $5 a barrel in federal taxes. (Winemakers and distillers would have to wait eight months for the ratification of the 21st Amendment. Even the most creative congressman had trouble labeling 80-proof spirits as "nonintoxicating.")
Versions of that plan had been proposed and defeated in every Congress since 1920, but Roosevelt gambled that he would succeed where others had failed. It was not the only risk he would take. A few days earlier, he'd asked the nation's remaining banks to temporarily shut their doors, knowing that might spark more panic.
The economic chaos had spawned cynicism, hopelessness and, above all, fear. Roosevelt believed that bold leadership and decisive action would nurture trust, that trust would inspire hope and that hope would move the nation. But many of FDR's economic proposals bred their own stew of unease; no one knew, for example, if the bank holiday would succeed or provoke yet another financial crisis. The beer bill, in contrast, offered comfort because it would ignite an immediate, predictable and positive result: jobs and tax revenues.
Congress heeded the call. On March 22, FDR signed a bill legalizing 3.2% beer. Within two days, brewers in Milwaukee had hired 600 workers. Beer makers in New York announced plans to spend $22 million refurbishing their dilapidated plants. Detroit automakers scrambled to supply brewers and their wholesalers with $15 million in new cars and trucks. In the 48 hours after the beer taps opened April 7, brewers paid $10 million in federal, state and municipal taxes ($155 million in today's dollars).
I would say the straw that finally broke the camel's back was the great depression.
I don't know that it was any single event. Certainly the public was fed up with it and war weary from the gang (Mafia) activity that thrived running speak easys and bootlegging. Herbert Hoover had pledged to support prohibition but FDR didn't. I've read of a gang of lawyers who did some pretty hefty lobbying for repeal of prohibition, but most credit FDR for tweaking the system to first allow low alcohol content beer sales even before prohibition was ended and that same year or immediately following (1931 or 32) congress passed an amendment repealing prohibition and FDR signed it. Most states ratified it right away but some held out for decades.
At the same time, songs emerged decrying the act; after Edward, Prince of Wales, returned to the United Kingdom following his 1919 tour of Canada, he recounted to his father, King George V, a ditty he'd heard at a border town:
“ Four and twenty Yankees, feeling very dry,
Went across the border to get a drink of rye.
When the rye was opened, the Yanks began to sing,
"God bless America, but God save the King!"
One of the reasons I started this thread was to see if the same (or similar) forces which ended Prohibition in the early part of the century, could be used to help end the modern version of Prohibition, which we call "The War on Drugs".
One would think that the same impulses that turned the tide of opinion against Prohibition are still prevalent today.
Certainly, the St Valentine's Day Massacre pales in comparison to today's violence attributable to the drug war,