Things You Always Wanted to Know About 1927



Photo credit: Library of Congress

As I’ve written previously (“How to use trivia to strengthen your writing”), trivia is not trivial. Intersperse it judiciously, and it will give your work depth and make it entertaining. Too: trivia is just plain fun and educational. That’s why I collect snippets of it as I read.

Here’s a batch about Prohibition, aka the 18th Amendment, which, from 1920 to 1933, outlawed the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.


  • When Prohibition was instituted, the alcohol industry was the fifth-largest industry in America, generating $2 billion a year.
  • The amount of drinking increased during Prohibition and made criminals out of ordinary people, who bought it illegally or made their own. In NYC, the number of drinking establishments doubled to about 32,000. In Chicago, 20,000 bars remained open.
  • The U.S. murder rate increased by nearly a third following the passage of Prohibition.
  • The Government allowed the production of alcohol for products like paint thinners, antifreeze, lotions, antiseptics and embalming fluid, all of which were diverted into the bootleg trade.
  • To discourage the use of “legal” alcohol, the Government tainted it with strychnine, mercury and other poisons. Although reports vary, one claims that nearly 12,000 people died from drinking poison-laced alcohol.
  • About 1,500 Prohibition agents were initially hired by the Government (1 agent for every 75,000 Americans); they were paid less than garbage men.
  • A speakeasy’s average weekly payout to police and public officials was about $400. (In NYC, this amounted to about $150 million a year.
  • Of the 50 million gallons of whiskey confiscated by the Government during Prohibition, two-thirds were missing by the end of it.
  • Doctors could prescribe whiskey and were, as a group, earning $40 million a year from doing so.

I gathered this information from Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 Bryson is one of my favorite writers. He’s funny without being yuck-yuck and really knows how to illustrate a point, capture a time or simply entertain. My favorite Bryson books are A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir.

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