The Volstead Act, also known as the National Prohibition Enforcement Act, passed on October 28, 1919. The law was named after Andrew John Volstead, a Republican representative from Minnesota who spearheaded the legislation through Congress.
The act provided for enforcement of the recently ratified 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The amendment only specified that alcoholic beverages were illegal, it did not define what type of beverages were considered alcoholic or what the penalties were for violating this law. President Woodrow Wilson attempted to block passage of the Volstead Act, but Congress was able to overturn his veto.
An illegal beverage was defined as having more than one-half of one percent alcohol content and it empowered the Department of Internal Revenue with the enforcement of the law. Simple possession of alcohol was subject to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison. Manufacturing or selling liquor adds on another $1,000 and another six months in prison for the first offense, and $2,000 and five years in prison for subsequent offenses. During the course of Prohibition over 600,000 arrests were made, resulting in almost 400,000 convictions.
The act did not apply to wine meant for “sacramental purposes” or for alcohol that was prescribed by a doctor for medicinal purposes. All priests, rabbis, and doctors had to apply for a special permit every year in order to be able to distribute the alcohol.
The Volstead Act was declared null and void with the passage of the 21st amendment.