Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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Alcohol Myths of the Prohibition Era


The prohibition movement of 1920 represented one of the most formidable political organisations in US history. Removing the need for alcohol in American society called for a monumental propaganda campaign. Some of the more outlandish and blatant myths perpetuated by prohibitionists are detailed below.

Alcohol Turns Blood Into Water

The “Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction,” a branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, believed that federal prohibition could eliminate domestic violence. Belief was instilled amongst those that would listen to them that alcohol had a drastic effect on a person’s blood – apparently turning it to water. 

Merely Smelling Alcohol Could Deform Unborn Children

In Alfred Ploetz’s pamphlet, The Influence of Alcohol Upon Race, he actually suggested that pregnant mothers could bear “defective offspring” simply by taking in the very scent of alcohol.

Some Bootleg Wines Were Made With Cockroaches

In an effort to slander Madeira Wine, dry preacher T. P. Hunt of Wyoming, Pennsylvania claimed that it was common practice for Portuguese winemakers to “put a bag of cockroaches” into a bottle of ordinary liquor and leave it there until dissolved to create the distinctive flavor.

Most Beer Drinkers Die of Dropsy

Mary Hannah Hanchett Hunt, a former Massachusetts school-teacher, claimed then-recent scientific findings “proved” that the majority of beer drinkers die of dropsy. Though some have recently suggested that alcoholism is indeed linked to the disorder, Hunt’s assertion is, mildly-put, a huge exaggeration. 

Alcohol Can Give You a 25-Pound Liver

One prohibitionist claimed that, when drinking, “in some cases the liver reaches an enormous weight, fifteen, and even twenty to twenty-five pounds being not uncommon.” 

Drunkards’ Brains Can Be Used As Torches

Prohibitionist George McCandlish claimed to have witnessed the autopsy of a heavy drinker: “After removing the top of the skull, for the purpose of examining the condition of the brain, they tested it for alcohol by holding a lighted match near it, and immediately the brain took fire and burned with a blue flame, like an alcohol lamp.” 

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