Rum Wars

Well, it was pretty obvious what would happen. Could anyone have been surprised? An hour or two after Prohibition laws went into effect, people started trying to get around them. And they were very successful.

One of the best ways was to have booze delivered by water. In those days,the law established a 3-mile off-shore boundar, so if a boat full of liquor from Cuba or Canada or any of the Caribbean islands waited three miles off shore to sell its liquor, they were not breaking any laws. Dozens of little boats would come out to meet it, buy booze, and take it home. They were breaking laws, but the risk was pretty small. In effect, the off-shore boats were a floating wholesale liquor store. Some called it “Rum Row.” The Coast Guard was supposed to prevent this exchange, and this was called the Rum Wars.   

The ocean is a big place and the Coast Guard had little luck. So the law was changed to twelve miles to make it harder for the boats to operate. It did make it harder. But it didn’t stop the trade. By the middle of the Roaring Twenties, there were hundreds of boats operating along Rum Row selling booze. There was no end to clever smuggling devices. 

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Published in: on October 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Can you provide any sources for the “u-boat smuggler” story. I would love to know more about that one.

    • Hello Derek, I first heard that story about the U-boat on the Ken Burns PBS documentary about Prohibition. Sorry I can’t document it further than that. Mary

  2. There were no world war one u-boats that fell into private hands. Furthermore, there would e no use for these as it would e easier to unload than using an expensive torpedo. There is no Ken Burns PBS documentary that claims this.

    • You could be right, Pardot. I remember getting this tidbit from Ken Burns’ show, but my memory isn’t perfect. I’l ltry to watch it again some time and check.

      • I have just finished watching Ken Burns’ entire Prohibition series (again–and it was great the second time through!) and you are absolutely correct, Pardot, there is no mention of the torpedo delivery. I can’t remember where I got that tidbit, and since it can’t be attributed, I’ve revised the post. It must be a myth! Many thanks for pointing out the error. My apologies . . .


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