On January 17, 1920, the United States made the nation’s 5th largest industry illegal with the beginning of the Prohibition era. It was a very difficult time for those who made their living making and distributing booze.
But as always, we found a way to get around the government’s unfair ruling. Bootleggers started making whiskey deep in the woods and other hidden areas, risking their lives to make a gallon or two to sell. And smugglers would transport alcohol on the backroads, hiding from the law as they attempted to take the illegal substances several miles away from their homes.
People were arrested and many were even killed in an effort to give American citizens what they wanted, despite the rules of the government. And while there were many who met their fate, sometimes people got lucky when they were creative with their smuggling skills, such as these.
The Thigh Flask Trick
Actually, “flask” may not be the right word to use for these large tank-like tins that could be attached to the legs and concealed by a large, floppy overcoat. No one is quite sure how they were held in place, but if they were full they could have given anyone quite the workout while they were walking around town.
Using Torpedoes to Transport Alcohol
In 1932, Popular Science magazine reported that federal agents saw “mysterious ripples seen by moonlight near the shore of the Detroit River,” An investigation uncovered hollow torpedoes rigged to an underwater cableway. The magazine called it “one of the most ingenious rum-smuggling devices yet disclosed,” the agents found bottles of rum that were being “reeled in” using a motor in a Canadian boathouse a mile away.
The Hollow Cane Trick
Known as “flask canes” or “tippling sticks” , these hollowed out canes that were used to hold alcohol during the Prohibition are still around today. They provided a simple and easy way to hold quite a bit of liquor as you go into town to enjoy a “soda” with friends. There would be plenty to go around and who would actually suspect a sweet little old lady with a cane would be toting around a walking stick filled with booze anyway? Bless her heart.
The Cow Shoes Trick
Cow shoes were commonly used by moonshiners during the Prohibition to help hide their tracks while they were making shine out in the woods. The 1922 edition of the ST. Petersburg, Florida’s Evening Independent traced the idea to one of literature’s greatest detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Officers believe that the inventors of these shoes, which have “hoofs” attached to the bottom to resemble a cow footprint, got his idea from a Sherlock Holmes story in which the villain shod his horse with shoes the imprint of which resembled those of a cow’s hoof.” The paper called the shoes the “latest trick device of still tenders.”
The Four Swallows Trick
This fake book “flask” with the clever title Spring Poems: The Four Swallows is actually, as the name implies, four flasks in one. Using all four vials, a sneaky drinker could get girl-drink drunk on a pretty complicated cocktail.
One of the book flasks are on display at the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, but there is also a Getty Images photo from Ullstein Bild showing a woman “modeling” the book, which confirms that its vintage. The caption reads “A woman using a dummy book, bearing the title ‘The Four Swallows,’ as a hiding place for liquor during Prohibition, 1920s.”
The Booze Mule Trick
From the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, this circa-1920s photo depicts a man showing off his trick for transporting booze throughout Detroit. He reportedly only showed this to the press, for obvious reasons, and remained anonymous.
A shocking 75% of all the alcohol smuggled into the US during Prohibition crossed the border at the so-called “Windsor-Detroit Funnel,” the nickname for waterways between Michigan and Ontario. By 1929, the second largest industry in Detroit, believe it or not, was “rumrunning,” which netted $215 million per year.
The Bootlegger’s Life Preserver
A lady named Jennie MacGregor was arrested by federal agents in Minneapolis on April 10,1924 for the insane get-up that dispensed “wet goods”. It was known as a “bootlegger’s life preserver” based on the note on the back of the original photograph. The New York Times purchased the photo 10 days later, and published it in their weekly Mid-Week picture under the caption “A Perfect 36”.
David Dunlap of the Times’ “The Lively Morgue” blog guesses this was a reference to “Tennessee, the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women’s suffrage?”