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American Spirits:The Rise and Fall of Prohibition: brings the Roaring '20s to life at the History Center


February 13, 2018

At the Senator John Heinz History Center, the “Smithsonian’s home in Pittsburgh,” visitors to explore an exhilarating era of bootleggers, flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, and suffragists as part of a new traveling exhibition, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, making its final stop on a nationwide tour.

Created in partnership with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, American Spirits is the first comprehensive exhibit about America’s most colorful and complex constitutional hiccup.

The 9,000-square-foot exhibit brings the story of Prohibition vividly to life – from the dawn of the temperance movement, through the Roaring ’20s, and up to the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment.

Highlights include:

More than 180 rare artifacts, including Pittsburgh’s first “Tommy Gun,” flapper dresses, temperance propaganda, flasks used for bootleg liquor during Prohibition, and a hatchet famously flaunted by temperance advocate Carry Nation;

Immersive areas like a re-created speakeasy – a term purportedly coined by saloon owner Kate Hester in the 1880s, just outside of Pittsburgh in McKeesport;

Two classic Prohibition-era vehicles, a 1922 Studebaker and a 1932 Model 18 Ford V-8 (the favorite of Clyde Barrow and John Dillinger); and

The dazzling Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine – a 20-foot-long, carnival-inspired contraption that traces how the temperance movement culminated in the passage of the 18th Amendment.

Visitors can learn to dance the Charleston (a popular Prohibition-era dance craze), track down rumrunners in a custom-built video game, and pose for a mugshot beside a lineup of some of the era’s most notorious gangsters like Al Capone and Meyer Lansky.

 The Smithsonian-affiliated History Center will also display a model of a Prohibition-era “rum runner” motorboat, on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The American Spirits exhibit at the History Center examine Pittsburgh’s deep connections with the regulation of alcohol, which has been a catalyst for civic dissent since the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791-1794. During the Prohibition era, Pittsburgh – with its immigrant population heavily involved in the liquor business – earned a reputation as one of the “wettest” cities in America.

The exhibit will include several local artifacts that showcase Western Pennsylvania’s long history with alcohol, including items from the region’s new wave of spirits distributors like Wigle Whiskey, Maggie’s Farm Rum, and more.

The American Spirits exhibit, which will be on display through June 10, is included with regular museum admission: $16 for adults; $14 for seniors (62+) and active duty and retired military; $6.50 for students and children ages 6-17; and free for children 5 and under and History Center members.

The American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition exhibition is presented by The Bognar Family and sponsored by Robert J. & Bonnie Cindrich and Latasha Wilson Batch; with support from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, The Heinz Endowments, and Richard King Mellon Foundation.

For more information, including behind-the-scenes photos and a full lineup of public programs, visit


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