“Spirited-Prohibition in America,” a traveling exhibition from the National Constitution Center in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, transports visitors back to the time of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists, and real-life legends, such as Al Capone and Carry Nation.
The project explores the history of Prohibition, including the dawn of the temperance movement; the enactment of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transport of intoxicating beverages; and the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment in 1933. Visitors experience America’s 1920s as the country was split between “wets” and “drys,” speakeasies flourished, legal authorities gave chase to gangsters, and people creatively discovered ways to circumvent the law.
“Spirited” surveys the inventive and ingenious ways lawmakers and the American public responded to Prohibition. Legal provisions for sacramental wine, medicinal alcohol, the preservation of fruit, and the efforts of breweries to stay in business led to the popularization of products like “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine,” “near beer,” and Coca-Cola. Visitors will learn how transportation networks and clever disguises were used to run liquor from state to state, how speakeasies gave way to the popularization of jazz, and the Charleston dance craze.
The project features semi-immersive environments that encompass the sights, sounds, and experiences of this fascinating period in American history. Through the exhibition, visitors learn about the amendment process, the changing role of liquor in American culture, Prohibition’s impact on the roaring 20s, the changing role of women, and why current liquor laws vary from state to state.
Through strong visual and interactive elements, the exhibit demonstrates how America went from a nation drowning in liquor in the 1800s, to campaigns of temperance, and the upswing and downfall of outlawing Prohibition.