6 Historical Events that Shaped the Alcohol Industry

Dry Nation, New Deal

Long before 1920, temperance movements existed in America. Ten states went dry around 1850, though all but one (Vermont) quickly repealed these laws.

At the turn of the 20th century, temperance again gained steam. The alcohol industry was growing larger. Insufficiently regulated, it gained a reputation for being uncivil, especially among women. Temperance supporters were more outspoken and effective than alcohol’s defenders, and succeeded in gaining the ears of politicians. By 1910, an estimated 45 percent of America was already dry.

When America entered WWI in 1917, national measures to conserve supplies included banning distillation of alcohol beverages. Three years later, Prohibition passed. America was officially dry.


This crippled the alcohol industry. But it also gave rise to the Roaring ‘20s, with bootleg booze and bathtub gin. The spike in alcohol-related crime, and the common disregard for the temperance law, both led to the 20th Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933.

That same year, as part of the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked the recently legalized alcohol companies to write their own fair trade codes. This, in turn, led to the formations of the Distilled Spirits Institute, a predecessor of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), and the Federal Alcohol Control Administration, which later became part of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

Modern Moments

In the 1970s, there was an unsuccessful push to move America onto the metric system. However, in 1979, DISCUS and the ATF agreed to measure bottles of distilled spirits using the metric sizes still in use today.


More recently, in 2005, the wine industry scored a 5-4 victory in the U.S. Supreme court, when it was found unconstitutional to ban vineyards from shipping to out-of-state customers.

Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Beverage Dynamics and StateWays magazines. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com, or (203) 855-8499, ext. 225.



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