15 Surprising Laws That Once Existed in the USA

The legal landscape of the United States has undergone significant transformations throughout history. Many activities considered commonplace today were surprisingly outlawed in the past.

This article examines some strange laws from the past in the United States. We’ll see how these laws have changed, showing how things are different today.


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Believe it or not, dancing wasn’t always welcome in the US. In New York City, a law called the “cabaret law” made it illegal to dance in most bars and restaurants. This law, which was passed in 1926, was supposed to target clubs where people of different races danced together. Even though hardly anyone followed the law, it wasn’t until 2017 that it was finally removed from the books.

Shopping On Sunday

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Shopping on Sundays was illegal in the US. The “Sunday laws” or “Blue Laws” restricted shopping to make Sundays a day of rest. Throughout history, these laws have come and gone in different parts of the country.

While most places got rid of them in the 1960s, a few towns, like Bergen County, New Jersey, still have them in effect today.


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You might be surprised, but alcohol was illegal in the US for a period. From 1920 to 1933, a law called Prohibition banned the making, selling, and even importing of alcoholic drinks. Some people in government thought it would make America a better place. But it backfired. People made illegal alcohol (bootlegging), and gangsters got stronger. In the end, the law was scrapped, and alcohol sales became legal again.

Birth Control Pills

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Even though birth control pills were approved for safety by the US in 1960, they weren’t readily available. Doctors couldn’t prescribe them, and for a while, only married women could legally get them. Thankfully, a Supreme Court decision in 1965 opened things up a bit. This long road to access ultimately gave women more control over having children, paving the way for greater reproductive freedom.

Voting Under 21

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During the Vietnam War, 18-year-olds were drafted to fight, yet they couldn’t vote till they were 21. Parents were outraged; their children risked their lives without a say in their country’s decisions. In 1971, the 26th Amendment changed that, granting 18-year-olds the power to shape policies through voting.

Interracial Marriages

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Interracial marriage, once unthinkable and even illegal in the US, has undergone a dramatic transformation. Anti-miscegenation laws banning marriage between races have existed for centuries. In 1967, the landmark Loving v. Virginia case overturned these laws, making interracial marriage legal nationwide. Interracial marriage is thriving. Nearly 1 in 6 newlyweds choose to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity.


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Marijuana’s legal status in the US is a story of dramatic change. Once uniformly prohibited, it’s seen a surprising shift. Over half the country has legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, a stark contrast to just a couple of decades ago, when such laws were unimaginable.

Drinking On Election Day

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In Kentucky, it was illegal to purchase alcohol from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening on Election Day. The rationale behind this ban dates back to the pre-Prohibition era. At that time, political parties and candidates would often use alcohol to influence voters or buy votes. This law remained in effect until 2013 when it was finally overturned. Now, Kentuckians can legally purchase alcohol on Election Day without any time restrictions.


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Abortion has undergone significant legal changes in the United States. Before the 1973 Roe v. Wade landmark decision, abortion was largely illegal across the country, with only a few exceptions. Roe v. Wade established a woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion, balancing privacy rights with the state’s interest in protecting potential life. The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation ruling overturned Roe v. Wade.


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Pinball machines were surprisingly banned in New York during WWII for being a distracting gamble. Over 2,000 machines were confiscated. Thankfully, a 1972 court ruling recognized pinball as a game of skill, not chance, and lifted the ban. Pinball’s return sparked a cultural phenomenon, becoming more than just a game with its artistic designs, clever mechanics, and enduring nostalgia.


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Cross-dressing used to be illegal in the US. In the 1800s, many states and cities had laws against wearing clothes associated with the opposite sex. However, fashion changes and evolving social views made them difficult to enforce. These laws were mainly used for harassment and often dismissed in court. Thankfully, most have been overturned, allowing for more freedom and acceptance of gender expression.

Women Property Rights

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In the 1800s, married women in the US had almost no property rights. Their belongings went to their husbands upon marriage. Slowly, laws changed, with some states allowing women to own property and control their earnings. However, complete control over their assets remained elusive for many women throughout the century.

Fortune Telling

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In the 1990s, several states in the US banned fortune telling, mainly when done for profit. However, as the decade progressed, some of these states either dropped their bans or had them overturned. One notable case occurred in Nebraska, where Michael Argello faced charges for operating a fortune-telling business violating a Lincoln Ordinance. The matter eventually reached the Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of First Amendment rights. Interestingly, some states like Pennsylvania still maintain restrictions on fortune telling.

Embellishing The National Anthem

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Michigan once had an unusual law related to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Until 2015, this law stipulated that the national anthem could not be played, sung, or otherwise rendered in any public place within the state, whether it was a theater, motion picture hall, restaurant, or café unless performed in its entirety, without embellishments of other melodies. But here’s the kicker: the song was explicitly forbidden during dancing or as an exit march.


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Jim Crow laws, named after a racist minstrel show character, enforced racial segregation in the South from the 1870s to the mid-1900s. These laws separated Black and white people in schools, transportation, and even water fountains. The Civil Rights Movement eventually dismantled Jim Crow, but the fight for racial equality continues.

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