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1920 - Prohibition

Prohibition of alcohol in America - a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933

Prohibition was the result of a widespread temperance movement during the first decades of the 20th century,  By the turn of the century, temperance societies were a common fixture in communities across the United States. Women played a strong role in the temperance movement, as alcohol was seen as a destructive force in families and marriages.


In 1906, a new wave of attacks began on the sale of liquor, led by the Anti-Saloon League (established in 1893) and driven by a reaction to urban growth, as well as the rise of evangelical Protestantism and its view of saloon culture as corrupt and ungodly. In addition, many factory owners supported prohibition in their desire to prevent accidents and increase the efficiency of their workers in an era of increased industrial production and extended working hours.


Both federal and local government struggled to enforce Prohibition over the course of the 1920s.  In general, Prohibition was enforced much more strongly in areas where the population was sympathetic to the legislation–mainly rural areas and small towns–and much more loosely in urban areas. Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do it.


The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”) went on throughout the decade, along with the operation of “speakeasies” (stores or nightclubs selling alcohol), the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the informal production of liquor (“moonshine” or “bathtub gin”) in private homes.


In addition, the Prohibition era encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with bootlegging. The most notorious example was the Chicago gangster Al Capone, who earned a staggering $60 million annually from bootleg operations and speakeasies.


Further Reading


Mashable - Destroying booze (1919-33)

NY Times - Prohibition Era News Archive

The Guardian - How Prohibition Backfired and Gave America an Era of Gangsters and Speakeasies

Prohibition Interactive History - The Speakeasies of the 1920

1920 - King and Beggar

The King & the Beggar - class divide and post-war poverty in Britain highlighted as a beggar runs alongside the King's carriage

beggar george v.jpg

Three European empires have just vanished and the Troubles are raging in Ireland, but George V, the King-Emperor, drives to the Derby at Epsom in 1920 without a single policeman or security man in view. A beggar is able to run alongside the carriage and thrust his cap under the nose of Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, one of the King’s sons.


The medals just visible flapping on the man’s chest tell us he is an old soldier, so perhaps that is why the King and his companions show no alarm, guessing he is harmless. (There will be increasing numbers of jobless war veterans as the post-war recession bites.) But there is no sign either that any of them is reaching for a coin to throw into the cap. Monarchs do not carry money, and perhaps the King is conscious that he must watch his spending – the deficit on his Civil List income this year is £45,000.



1920 - Wall Street Bombing

Wall  Street Bombing - a blast rips through the financial district of New York, killing 38 and injuring hundreds. 

At midday on Sept. 16, 1920, a horse-drawn cart stopped in front of the headquarters of JP Morgan Bank at 23 Wall Street. Inside the cart were 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of iron weights. The driver of the cart quickly dismounted, leaving the bomb on the busiest corner New York’s Financial District as lunch-hour crowds filed past. One minute later, a massive explosion shook Wall Street.


Thirty people immediately died in the blast as the shockwave from the bomb sent the heavy iron weights ripping through the air. Another eight died within a few days, and an additional 143 were left seriously injured. At the time, it was the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history. The effects of the blast can be seen to this very day on 23 Wall Street.


Policemen and even financial workers on their lunch break rushed to the scene to provide aid. The police quickly commandeered any automobiles they could find to transport people to the hospital. And all trading on the stock exchange was suspended for the day. Having saved everyone they could, the authorities then tried to figure out what happened.


This wasn’t the first attempted bombing in the United States or even in New York. In 1910, a bomb planted by a labor agitator destroyed the offices of the Los Angeles Times. And in 1914, a trio of anarchists accidentally set off a bomb meant for John D. Rockefeller in their apartment in Harlem. But it was immediately clear to investigators that the Wall Street bombing was different.


Earlier bomb attacks always targeted property or the homes of important public figures. The bomb at 23 Wall Street seemed to have no target besides killing as many people as possible. It was an attack meant to spread fear and destruction. And it was one of the first incidents that we would recognize today as modern terrorism.

The FBI started gathering leads and to discover the culprits.  However, there were no shortage of suspects. The anarchist and communist movements were in full swing at the time, and politically motivated bombings were very common. The year before the Wall Street bombing, followers of the Italian anarchist leader Luigi Galleani carried out a letter bomb campaign targeting prominent business and political leaders. And investigators soon settled on these “Galleanists” as the most likely suspects.


But in spite of an intensive investigation into known Galleanists, the authorities failed to find any hard evidence that they were behind the bombing. But they may have actually been closer to the truth than they knew. With the benefit of hindsight, many historians have concluded that the bomber was most likely a Galleanist named Mario Buda.

Buda was a committed anarchist who is believed to be have been responsible for several similar bombings across the country. And he was in New York on the day of the Wall Street bombing. However, he was never arrested or questioned by the police. Shortly after the bombing, he left for Italy and never returned to the U.S. In the following decades, several people who knew Buda even claimed that he admitted to being responsible for the bombing.


But to this day, the case remains officially unsolved.


Further Reading


SlateThe Wall Street Bombing: Low-Tech Terrorism in Prohibition-Era New York

SmithsonianAnger and Anarchy on Wall Street

Revolutionary Russia - as the civil war between the Red and White armies tore through Russia, charismatic leaders - Lenin, Trotsky & Stalin - rose to prominence and solidified the revolution that was reshaping society

Following the October Revolution of 1917, civil war between the Bolsheviks (Reds) and the anti-Bolsheviks (Whites) ravaged Russia until 1920. The Whites represented all shades of anti-Communist groups, including members of the constituent assembly. Several of their leaders favored setting up a military dictatorship, but few were outspoken czarists.

Armed opposition to the Soviet regime centered at first in the south, where the volunteers under Kornilov (succeeded by Denikin) joined forces with the Don Cossacks. The Ukraine was a main scene of fighting after the Germans evacuated it following the general armistice of Nov 11, 1918.  It was seized by the Bolsheviks (early 1919), by Denikin's forces (Aug-Dec 1919), again by the Bolsheviks (Dec., 1919), and finally by the Poles (May 1920), with whom war had broken out over the Russo-Polish frontier question. Denikin in the meantime had turned over his command to General Wrangel, who after the conclusion of the Russo-Polish armistice was driven by the Bolsheviks into the Crimea and was obliged to evacuate his forces to Constantinople (Nov 1920).

The civil war in the east was equally fatal to the Whites. A government was organized at Samara by a group of Socialist Revolutionaries who had been members of the constituent assembly. It received the support of the Czech Legion, which controlled the Trans-Siberian Railroad, but it merged (Sep 1918) with a more conservative government set up at Omsk, in Siberia, and a few weeks later fell under the dictatorship of Admiral Kolchak. Although at first successful, Kolchak's forces were eventually driven to the Russian Far East; by January, 1920, all Siberia except Vladivostok and some other Far Eastern territory was in Bolshevik hands.

The civil war was complicated by Allied intervention. In northern Russia, British, French, and American forces occupied (Mar 1918) Murmansk and later Archangelsk with the stated purpose of protecting Allied stores against possible seizure by the Germans; they were evacuated only in Nov 1919. In the Russian Far East the Allies occupied Vladivostok, which the Japanese held until 1922.


The Bolshevik military victory was due partly to the lack of cooperation among the various White commanders and partly to the remarkable reorganization of the Red forces after Trotsky became commissar for war. It was won, however, only at the price of immense sacrifice; Russia by 1920 was ruined and devastated. Atrocities were committed throughout the civil war by both sides.


During this time of conflict charismatic and astute Soviet leaders rose to the top of the fledgling communist system,  Lenin held the most sway, but his health began to fade after a series of strokes, setting up the internal power struggles between Trotsky, Stalin and others that would come to typify the 1920s and 30s.


Further Reading


Big Site of History - The Russian Revolution and Civil War (1917-1921) - Vladimir Lenin

1920 - Revolutionary Russia
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