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Lewis Lapham: Smut Laws Jump Started Domestic Porn Biz

Peter Andreas, author of
Peter Andreas, author of "Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America." Photographer: Peter Goldberg/Oxford University Press via Bloomberg

March 16 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government cracked down on the importing of sexy pictures in 1842, adding obscene books in 1857. As a result, Congress jump-started the domestic porn industry.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

New technologies made it simple to reproduce a single copy of an illicit text, while photography created life-like sexual images more cheaply. Railroads and mail deliveries enabled simpler and easier distribution than ever before.

Congress passed tough new laws in 1873, called the “Comstock Act,” after anti-vice zealot Anthony Comstock. Empowered by federal law and made a special agent of the U.S. Mail, Comstock created sting operations by posing as a customer.

By the time he died in 1915, Comstock had nabbed 4,000 smut lovers and peddlers. He’d also seized 50 tons of books and 4 million pictures.

I spoke with Peter Andreas, author of “Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America,” on the following topics:

1. Colonial Rum Trade

2. Revolutionary Privateers

3. Illicit Industrial Revolution

4. Prohibition

5. War on Drugs

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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