Bootlegging and the Prohibition

Bootlegging and the Prohibition - Wooden Barrel

To bootleg or to be a bootlegger means that you are trading in illegal wares, especially alcohol.
The term bootleggers came about in King George III reign and was the nickname given to smugglers that would hide illegal packages in their large boots – hence the name bootleg.

There are 2 terms for bootlegging. You have bootleggers who were the land smugglers and then you have the rum-runners who were basically bootleggers but on ships.


These days however, the term bootlegging is usually associated with the days of prohibition where alcohol was smuggled around due to high demand..

Although many countries have had some kind of alcohol prohibition at times, the most well known time of prohibition was in the US.
The prohibition was brought in under the Eighteenth Amendment to the US constitution. This eighteenth amendment started the national prohibition of alcohol which began  in 1920 and was fought daily until its repeal in 1933.

So what was the prohibition?
The prohibition put an end to the legal sale of every type of alcohol. As you can imagine, this did not go down well and created a huge demand  of illicit dealings.Schooner
The start of the bootlegging in the US came when  liquor was smuggled across the Mexican and Canadian borders. It of course started off on rather a small scale but this however grew quite rapidly as the demand grew.
The rum-runners where getting what they could to the coasts and unloading for sale however the US coastguard soon caught on and although there were a few ships that could outrun them, it became far too risky and so came the next phase.

Medicinal whiskey could be sold across the counter at drugstore providing a doctor’s prescription accompanied the request. Money changed hands and soon enough they could not get supplies fast enough.
Next was the alcohol that was allowed to be used by various industries in the US however it was not pure alcohol. It was mixed with various nasty chemicals to make it unsafe to drink . There was of course a work around for this. The bottles of denatured alcohols were diverted and essentially washed clean of the obnoxious chemicals and became safe enough to drink. This alcohol was also mixed with tap water and if they had it a splash of real liquor for flavour. Yuk! I cannot imagine that this would be good at all.

Still, the demand was higher that the alcohol they could smuggle into the US and so bootleggers took it upon themselves to start making their own concoctions. By the late 1920’s this was going really well and still that made their liquor from corm were the most popular and in the most demand. The high demand led to some sloppiness and some faulty batches which were still sold and given the name gutrot. You can imagine why…. these bad concoctions were so bad that they caused numerous medical conditions such as blindness and on occasion even death!

Al CaponeCue the Mafia. The bootleggers paved the way for organised crime in the form of the Mafia.  It started off that each gang had their own territory which dealt with taking over and controlling entire bootlegging operation in the area. They dealt with the distilleries, opening illegal breweries right through to the distribution of the illegal booze to the speakeasies, the nightclubs and restaurants.  These operations were huge and needed many people to help them operate successfully.  The demand did not let up which lead to rival gangs working together.  Al Capone was said to be a great mafia boss and bootlegger until he was caught..

There were many arrests and many speakeasies and distilleries were found and closed down. This did not stop the operations at all and as soon as one was closed down, another was opened.
Numerous bribes led to many officers of the law turning a blind eye and some of these men were often found in speakeasies themselves. Almost everyone who drank liquor would have a hip flask on their persons so that if the opportunity arose to be able to top up their stock they would.6oz Plain Pewter Cushion Hip Flask

Prohibition was repealed and abandoned in 1933 much to the happiness of the public. Legalisation of alcohol again was welcomed however as the government wanted more control they imposed strict rules and regulations for the sale and distribution of alcohol and also imposed high taxes.

As you can imagine, the mafia were none too happy which lead to their focus changing from bootlegging to drug trafficking, loan sharking and racketeering.  The list goes on…

Thankfully, there are only a few places across the globe these days where liquor is prohibited and I am glad that I do not live in such a place as I love my hip flask and rum.