The start of U.S. Prohibition in 1920 had many unintended consequences, including the creation of a class of inventive, booze-smuggling entrepreneurs. By 1923, a motley collection of ships was sitting up and down the east coast on “Rum Row,” just outside the three-mile limit. Floating warehouses, they got supplies from the Bahamas and then fed a flotilla of smaller boats.
“You knew right away when a man stopped fishing and started running rum,” said one Massachusetts woman. “His family began to eat proper.” If a smuggler encountered the rare law enforcement official not on the take, he’d dump the cargo overboard. Packed in burlap bags filled with salt, the liquor bottles could easily be retrieved when the salt melted and the bags rose to the surface.
At night, the ships’ lights were so concentrated the ocean resembled a vast cityscape. It may have seemed like a siege, but, in fact, it was the opposite: “Rum Row” was there to provide Americans with the alcohol they wanted but were forbidden by law to have.
1. Temperance & Income Tax
2. Brewers, Saloons & the Free Lunch
3. The Roaring Twenties
4. Rum Row
5. Repeal Fever
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To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at email@example.com.