Rum-running or bootlegging is the illegal business of smuggling alcoholic beverages where such transportation is forbidden by law. Smuggling usually takes place to circumvent taxation or prohibition laws within a particular jurisdiction. The term rum-running is more commonly applied to smuggling over water; bootlegging is applied to smuggling over land.
It is believed that the term bootlegging originated during the American Civil War, when soldiers would sneak liquor into army camps by concealing pint bottles within their boots or beneath their trouser legs. Also, according to the PBS documentary Prohibition , the term bootlegging was popularized when thousands of city dwellers sold liquor from flasks they kept in their boot legs all across major cities and rural areas. [ by whom? ] that some ships carried $200,000 in contraband in a single run.The term rum-running was current by 1916, and was used during the Prohibition era in the United States (1920–1933), when ships from Bimini in the western Bahamas transported cheap Caribbean rum to Florida speakeasies. However, rum's cheapness made it a low-profit item for the rum-runners, and they soon moved on to smuggling Canadian whisky, French champagne, and English gin to major cities like New York City, Boston, and Chicago, where prices ran high. It was said
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It was not long after the first taxes were implemented on alcoholic beverages that someone began to smuggle alcohol. The British government had "revenue cutters" in place to stop smugglers as early as the 16th century. Pirates often made extra money running rum to heavily taxed colonies. There were times when the sale of alcohol was limited for other reasons, such as laws against sales to American Indians in the Old West and Canada West or local prohibitions like the one on Prince Edward Island between 1901 and 1948.
Industrial-scale smuggling flowed both ways across the Canada–United States border at different points in the early twentieth century, largely between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. Although Canada never had true nationwide prohibition, the federal government gave the provinces an easy means to ban alcohol under the War Measures Act (1914), and most provinces and the Yukon Territory already had enacted prohibition locally by 1918 when a regulation issued by the federal cabinet banned the interprovincial trade and importation of liquor. National prohibition in the United States did not begin until 1920, though many states had statewide prohibition before that. For the two-year interval, enough American liquor entered Canada illegally to undermine support for prohibition in Canada, so it was slowly lifted, beginning with Quebec and Yukon in 1919 and including all the provinces but Prince Edward Island by 1930. Additionally, Canada's version of prohibition had never included a ban on the manufacture of liquor for export. Soon the black-market trade was reversed with Canadian whisky and beer flowing in large quantities to the United States. Again, this illegal international trade undermined the support for prohibition in the receiving country, and the American version ended (at the national level) in 1933.
One of the most famous periods of rum-running began in the United States when Prohibition began on January 16, 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. This period lasted until the amendment was repealed with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933.
At first, there was much action on the seas, but after several months, the Coast Guard began reporting decreased smuggling activity. This was the start of the Bimini–Bahamas rum trade and the introduction of Bill McCoy.
With the start of prohibition, Captain McCoy began bringing rum from Bimini and the rest of the Bahamas into south Florida through Government Cut. The Coast Guard soon caught up with him, so he began to bring the illegal goods to just outside U.S. territorial waters and let smaller boats and other captains, such as Habana Joe, take the risk of bringing it to shore.
The rum-running business was very good, and McCoy soon bought a Gloucester knockabout schooner named Arethusa at auction and renamed her Tomoka. He installed a larger auxiliary, mounted a concealed machine gun on her deck, and refitted the fish pens below to accommodate as much contraband as she could hold. She became one of the most famous of the rum-runners, along with his two other ships hauling mostly Irish and Canadian whiskey as well as other fine liquors and wines to ports from Maine to Florida.
In the days of rum running, it was common for captains to add water to the bottles to stretch their profits or to re-label it as better goods. Often, cheap sparkling wine would become French champagne or Italian Spumante; unbranded liquor became top-of-the-line name brands. McCoy became famous for never adding water to his booze and selling only top brands. Although the phrase appears in print in 1882, this is one of several folk etymologies for the origin of the term "The real McCoy".
On November 15, 1923, McCoy and Tomoka encountered the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca just outside U.S. territorial waters. A boarding party attempted to board, but McCoy chased them off with the machine gun. Tomoka tried to run, but Seneca placed a shell just off her hull, and William McCoy surrendered his ship and cargo.
McCoy is credited with the idea of bringing large boats just to the edge of the 3-mile (4.8 km) limit of U.S. jurisdiction and selling his wares there to "contact boats", local fishermen, and small boat captains. The small, quick boats could more easily outrun Coast Guard ships and could dock in any small river or eddy and transfer their cargo to a waiting truck. They were also known to load float planes and flying boats. Soon others were following suit, and the three-mile limit became known as "Rum Line" with the ships waiting called "Rum row". The Rum Line was extended to a 12-mile (19 km) limit by an act of the United States Congress on April 21, 1924, which made it harder for the smaller and less seaworthy craft to make the trip.
Rum Row was not the only front for the Coast Guard. Rum-runners often made the trip through Canada via the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway and down the west coast to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Rum-running from Canada was also an issue, especially throughout prohibition in the early 1900s. There was a high number of distilleries in Canada, one of the most famous being Hiram Walker who developed Canadian Club Whisky. The French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, located south of Newfoundland, were an important base used by well-known smugglers, including Al Capone, Savannah Unknown, and Bill McCoy. The Gulf of Mexico also teemed with ships running from Mexico and the Bahamas to Galveston, Texas, the Louisiana swamps, and Alabama coast. By far the biggest Rum Row was in the New York/Philadelphia area off the New Jersey coast, where as many as 60 ships were seen at one time. One of the most notable New Jersey rum runners was Habana Joe,[ citation needed ] who could be seen at night running into remote areas in Raritan Bay with his flat-bottom skiff for running up on the beach, making his delivery, and speeding away.
With that much competition, the suppliers often flew large banners advertising their wares and threw parties with prostitutes on board their ships to draw customers. Rum Row was completely lawless, and many crews armed themselves not against government ships but against the other rum-runners, who would sometimes sink a ship and hijack its cargo rather than make the run to Canada or the Caribbean for fresh supplies.[ citation needed ]
At the start, the rum-runner fleet consisted of a ragtag flotilla of fishing boats, such as the schooner Nellie J. Banks , excursion boats, and small merchant craft. As prohibition wore on, the stakes got higher and the ships became larger and more specialized. Converted fishing ships like McCoy's Tomoka waited on Rum Row and were soon joined by small motor freighters custom-built in Nova Scotia for rum running, with low, grey hulls, hidden compartments, and powerful wireless equipment. Examples include the Reo II. Specialized high-speed craft were built for the ship-to-shore runs. These high-speed boats were often luxury yachts and speedboats fitted with powerful aircraft engines, machine guns, and armor plating. Often, builders of rum-runners' ships also supplied Coast Guard vessels, such as Fred and Mirto Scopinich's Freeport Point Shipyard.Rum-runners often kept cans of used engine oil handy to pour on hot exhaust manifolds in case a screen of smoke was needed to escape the revenue ships.
On the government's side, the rum chasers were an assortment of patrol boats, inshore patrol, and harbor cutters. Most of the patrol boats were of the "six-bit" variety: 75-foot craft with a top speed of about 12 knots. There was also an assortment of launches, harbor tugs, and miscellaneous small craft.
The rum-runners were often faster and more maneuverable than government ships, and a rum-running captain could make several hundred thousand dollars a year. In comparison, the Commandant of the Coast Guard made just $6,000 annually, and seamen made $30/week.[ citation needed ] Because of this disparity, the rum-runners were generally willing to take bigger risks. They ran without lights at night and in fog, risking life and limb. Shores could sometimes be found littered with bottles from a rum-runner who sank after hitting a sandbar or a reef in the dark at high speed.[ citation needed ]
The Coast Guard relied on hard work, reconnaissance, and big guns to get their job done. It was not uncommon for rum-runners' ships to be sold at auction shortly after a trial – ships were often sold back to the original owners. Some ships were captured three or four times before they were finally sunk or retired[ example needed ]. In addition, the Coast Guard had other duties and often had to let a rum-runner go in order to assist a sinking vessel or handle another emergency.
Prohibitive alcohol laws in Finland (total ban of alcohol from 1919 to 1931), Norway (liquor above 20 per cent abv 1917–1927) and the Swedish Bratt System which heavily restricted the sale of alcohol made these three countries attractive for alcohol smuggling from abroad. The main product used for smuggling were rectified spirits produced in Central Europe (Germany, Poland, Netherlands etc.). Alcohol was legally exported on large ships as tax-free produce via ports like Hamburg, Tallinn, Kiel and particularly the Free City of Danzig. Similar to the Rum Row near the U.S. coast, these ships usually did not leave international waters and the alcohol was clandestinely loaded onto smaller boats that illegally brought it into the destination countries. Despite various efforts led by Finland to fight contraband (Helsinki Convention for the Suppression of the Contraband Traffic in Alcoholic Liquors of 1925), the smugglers managed to bypass anti-smuggling laws, e.g., through the use of flags of convenience.
For multiple reasons (including the avoidance of taxes and minimum purchase prices), alcohol smuggling is still a worldwide concern.
In the United States, the smuggling of alcohol did not end with the repeal of prohibition. In the Appalachian United States, for example, the demand for moonshine was at an all-time high in the 1920s, but an era of rampant bootlegging in dry areas continued into the 1970s.Although the well-known bootleggers of the day may no longer be in business, bootlegging still exists, even if on a smaller scale. The state of Virginia has reported that it loses up to $20 million a year from illegal whiskey smuggling.
The Government of the United Kingdom fails to collect an estimated £900 million in taxes due to alcohol smuggling activities.
Absinthe was smuggled into the United States until it was legalized in 2007.Cuban rum is also sometimes smuggled into the United States, circumventing the embargo in existence since 1960.
A go-fast boat is a small, fast power boat designed with a long narrow platform and a planing hull.
Prohibition is the act or practice of forbidding something by law; more particularly the term refers to the banning of the manufacture, storage, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The word is also used to refer to a period of time during which such bans are enforced.
The Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution established the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. The amendment was proposed by Congress on December 18, 1917, and was ratified by the requisite number of states on January 16, 1919. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment to be repealed.
Moonshine is high-proof liquor that is usually produced illegally. The name was derived from a tradition of creating the alcohol during the nighttime, thereby avoiding detection. In the first decades of the 21st century, commercial distilleries have begun producing their own novelty versions of moonshine, including many flavored varieties.
The Rum Patrol was an operation of the United States Coast Guard to interdict liquor smuggling vessels, known as "rum runners" in order to enforce prohibition in American waters. On 18 December 1917, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was submitted to the states by Congress. On 16 January 1919, the amendment was ratified and the Liquor Prohibition Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, transportation, importation, or exportation of intoxicating liquors, came into effect on 16 January 1920.
The Jersey Skiff is a beach launched boat first appearing around the end of the 19th century. They were first used as fishing boats, to be launched through the surf, sailed to the fishing grounds and then retrieved through the surf.
William Frederick "Bill" McCoy, was an American sea captain and rum-runner during the Prohibition in the United States. In pursuing the trade of smuggling alcohol from the Bahamas to the Eastern Seaboard, Capt. McCoy, found a role model in John Hancock of pre-revolutionary Boston and considered himself an "honest lawbreaker." McCoy took pride in the fact that he never paid a cent to organized crime, politicians, or law enforcement for protection. Unlike many operations that illegally produced and smuggled alcohol for consumption during Prohibition, McCoy sold his merchandise unadulterated, uncut and clean.
Frederick Chamberlayne Billard served as the sixth Commandant of the United States Coast Guard from 1924 until his death. Billard's military career began with his appointment to the School of Instruction of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1894. Among his experiences before becoming Commandant, Billard commanded several cutters, served as aide to two Commandants and also served twice as superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy. After rising through the ranks, he was appointed to serve as Commandant in January 1924 and with the appointment, the rank of rear admiral. His leadership of the Coast Guard during the Prohibition era required careful planning and use of available resources to accomplish the mission while making sure that other required missions were not slighted. He was very involved in the training of his officers as a superintendent of the United States Coast Guard Academy and he was responsible for the purchase of the permanent location of the academy at New London, Connecticut. Because of his emphasis on training, formalized coursework for enlisted personnel and standardized testing procedures for advancement in rating occurred while he was Commandant. Billard was supportive of newly available technologies such as aircraft and radio communication in order to accomplish the mission. The Coast Guard's involvement in oceanography was instituted during his tenure. He emphasized integrity in the Coast Guard's dealings with the public and expected his officers and men to be honest in order to preserve the image of the Coast Guard. Shortly after his appointment to an unprecedented third term as Commandant, Billard died of pneumonia in May 1932.
A rum row was a Prohibition-era term (1920–1933) referring to a line of ships loaded with liquor anchored beyond the maritime limit of the United States. These ships taunted the Eighteenth Amendment’s prohibition on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although rum prevailed along Caribbean shores, other beverages were popular elsewhere.
Rocco Perri was an Italian-born organized crime figure in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was one of the most prominent Prohibition-era crime figures in Canada, and was sometimes referred to as "King of the Bootleggers" and "Canada's Al Capone".
Roy Olmstead was one of the most successful and best-known bootleggers in the Pacific Northwest region during American Prohibition. A former lieutenant in the Seattle Police Department, he began smuggling alcohol from Canada while still on the force. Following his arrest for that crime, he lost his job in law enforcement and turned to illegally importing and distributing alcohol as a full-time and highly profitable occupation. Eventually, wiretaps of his phones provided sufficient evidence for his arrest and prosecution, despite an appeal that reached the Supreme Court regarding the legality of the wiretap.
In the United States, prohibition was a nationwide constitutional law that strictly prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.
Alcohol laws are laws in relation to the manufacture, use, being under the influence of and sale of alcohol or alcoholic beverages that contains ethanol. Common alcoholic beverages include beer, wine, (hard) cider, and distilled spirits. The United States defines an alcoholic beverage as "any beverage in liquid form which contains not less than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume", but this definition varies internationally. These laws can restrict those who can produce alcohol, those who can buy it, when one can buy it, labelling and advertising, the types of alcoholic beverage that can be sold, where one can consume it, what activities are prohibited while intoxicated., and where one can buy it. In some cases, laws have even prohibited the use and sale of alcohol entirely, as with Prohibition in the United States from 1920 to 1933.
Rum-running in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was a major activity in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, the State of Michigan, in the United States, banned the sale of alcohol, three years before prohibition became the national law in 1919. From that point forward, the City of Windsor, Ontario was a major site for alcohol smuggling and gang activity.
Malahat, a large 5-masted lumber schooner from Vancouver, BC, was known as "the Queen of Rum Row" in her day. She became famous for rum-running on the US Pacific Coast between 1920 and 1933. The Vancouver Maritime Museum says that Malahat delivered "more contraband liquor than any other ship."
HMCS Reo II was a former rum-running vessel turned military vessel from Meteghan, Nova Scotia. Built in 1931, the ship was used for rum running for five years until Prohibition ended, and was turned into a coastal freighter. She was commissioned during World War II by the Royal Canadian Navy as an auxiliary minesweeper. Declared surplus by the navy in 1945, she was sold to private interests in 1946. Reo II ended up in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia under the care of the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society. In 1984 Reo II was deemed unfit for repair, and was scuttled off Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1985.
Blaise Diesbourg, born in 1897, was also known as "King Canada," and was a major figure in the liquor smuggling and bootlegging business around Windsor, Ontario during the American prohibition period. His success brought him in contact with Al Capone, who arranged a deal with Diesbourg to supply him with regular shipments of alcohol by plane. Diesbourg took the name "King Canada" at this time as an alias to hide from legal authorities.
United States v. Lee, 274 U.S. 559 (1927), is a significant decision by the United States Supreme Court protecting prohibition laws. The Court held 1) the Coast Guard may seize, board, and search vessels beyond the U.S. territorial waters and the high seas 12 miles outward from the coast if probable cause exists to believe that the vessel and persons in it are violating U.S. revenue laws, and 2) the Coast Guard's use of searchlights to view contents of a vessel on the high seas does not constitute a search and thus does not warrant Fourth Amendment protections.
The United States Coast Guard wooden-hulled 75-foot patrol boats were built during Prohibition to help interdict alcohol smugglers. Their nickname was derived from the slang term "six bits" meaning 75 U.S. cents.
The United States Coast Guard wooden-hulled 36-foot picket boats were built during Prohibition to help interdict alcohol smugglers.