Prohibition – Creative ways of Hiding Alcohol

Beginning in the 1920s and lasting until 1933, the US lived under the shadow of the 18th Amendment. Which prohibited manufacturing, sale, and transportation of alcohol. Naturally, the inventiveness of the American spirit kept alcoholic spirits flowing the entire time.

A year after the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, which detailed the specifics of how the amendment would be enforced. People had to start getting creative if they wanted to keep drinking. The amendment didn’t stop people from drinking alcohol, just from making, selling, or transporting it.

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Hiding the Booze

Photo of a women hiding alcohol in a book flask.
Credit: https://www.history.com/news/bootlegging-photos-prohibition-1920s

Those with enough money were able to stockpile booze for the entire year before the laws went into effect. People unable to stockpile were only able to buy alcohol if they used it for sacramental purposes or if their doctor wrote them a prescription. Everyone else looking to wet their whistle took to smuggling from small-scale personal use up to large-scale operations.

The go-to method was the easiest. The flask has been around since early humans started carrying around water in leather vessels. There was no simpler method of squirreling away a few sips of your favorite spirit.

Numerous examples of failed attempts didn’t deter people from trying variations of the theme. Hiding booze in plain sight was made even easier through the invention of the hollow cane. It proved effective and popular enough that it lasts to this day.

The Various Ways to Have a Drink

A photo showing two women hiding bottles on alcohol on their clothing during prohibition.
Credit: https://www.thejournal.ie/prohibition-america-alcohol-twenties-910365-May2013/

Someone looking for an even more discreet option could purchase a flask that looked like a book. Would-be smugglers relied on innovation to help them carry their liquor from A to B. But had they been successful we probably wouldn’t know that people tried hiding bottles in loaves of bread, or hollowed-out baseball bats or construction materials, and other professional tools of the trade.

Hopeful smugglers enlisted the animal kingdom to help them hide their hooch. Secret compartments were created in dead critters as well as respective fauna.

For a better return of the risk, you have to look a the practices of the high-level smugglers. They build hidey holes into cars and boats and organized elaborate systems of completing the task. The operation became extremely organized. The ironically sophisticated crime that cropped up in response to America’s effort to crack down on crime grew beyond simple smuggling and into the realm of rum-running.

The Windsor-Detroit Tunnel

A photo of rum running operations on the Detroit river during prohibition.
Credit: https://www.clickondetroit.com/all-about-michigan/2018/12/05/how-rum-running-became-one-of-detroits-biggest-industries-during-prohibition-era/

The pipeline from Ontario, Canada into Michigan known as Windsor-Detroit Tunnel brought so much alcohol into the supposedly dry US that the $215 million per year industry became the second largest in the state of Detroit. The multiple islands in the Detroit river made policing difficult. And any attempt made by the authorities to curtail the illegal influx was circumvented with things like speed boats.

Impressive as it was all of this effort paled in comparison to what rum runners were doing under the water with torpedoes. In 1932, federal agents saw strange ripples in the Detroit River. They discovered that rum runners were filling empty torpedoes with liquor after fitting them with air compartments that allowed them to float. They then used a cable and a motorized pulley system to transport 40 cases of booze every hour into the US from a Canadian boathouse a mile away.

the more crime there was the more raids the authorities needed to perform and the more law-abiding citizen was hassled in the process. Public opinion shifted away from temperance. The onset of the Great Depression underscored the impracticality of the prohibition era. Legal alcohol production would mean the creation of new jobs. So in 1933, 21st Amendment repealed the 18th ending what many referred to as America’s noble experiment.

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