By Ashley Rodrigue
In January of 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment became a law, banning the manufacture, transportation, importation, and sale of intoxicating liquors in the United States. Known as Prohibition, the amendment was the culmination of more than a century of attempts to remove alcohol from society by various organizations. Following Prohibition, large cities and states went dry in 1918, thus not allowing Americans to legally drink or buy alcohol. With all of these events taking place at such a critical time in our nations history, it would ultimately lay the foundation to a culture that thrived in the wake of Prohibition. This culture would be solely responsible for the illegal production, importation, and selling of alcohol. They were known as Bootleggers.
Bootlegging helped lead to the establishment of American organized crime; this persisted long after the repeal of Prohibition. The distribution of liquor was necessarily more complex than other types of criminal activity, and organized gangs eventually arose that could control an entire local chain of bootlegging operations, from concealed distilleries and breweries through storage and transport channels to speakeasies, restaurants, nightclubs, and other retail outlets. Bootleggers had other major sources of supply however. Among these, were millions of bottles of medicinal whiskey that were sold across drugstore counters on real or forged prescriptions. In addition, various American industries were permitted to use denatured alcohol, which had been mixed with hazardous chemicals to render it unfit for drinking. Millions of gallons of this were illegally diverted, “washed” of hazardous chemicals, mixed with regular tap water, perhaps a dash of real liquor for flavor, and sold to speakeasies or individual customers. Eventually, bootleggers took to bottling their own concoctions of spurious liquor, and by the late 1920s stills making liquor from corn had become major suppliers. The bootleggers would produce their batches in the mountains of North Carolina and the Virginias, tucked away in the cover of the ravenous landscape. To avoid detection by the local police, the bootleggers would pack their modified vehicles full of the illegally distilled liquor and deliver to their customers by way of moonlight. This tactic would ultimately lead to the famous phrase that we Americans have adopted. They were called moonshiners. Although still considered a highly illegal practice, people to this day pride themselves in the ability to produce their own moonshine.