Old Photos: 27 Rare Prohibition Era Photos
The Prohibition era was an extremely difficult time in 20th century American history. During this period, from 1919 until Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, it was against the law in the United States to make, sell, or consume alcohol. Americans, however, loved their alcohol and banning it actually resulted in a whopping 70% increase in alcohol consumption during the Prohibition years.
People went to great lengths to both make and find alcoholic beverages. Criminal gangs, in particular, exploited the system. These operations distilled their own whiskey, beer, gin, moonshine and other types of alcohol or simply illegally imported it by air and sea from other countries. The sale and distribution of alcohol netted huge profits for their illegal liquor businesses and also resulted in literal war between gangs and police across the country.
In this collection of rare Prohibition era photos, you’ll get a glimpse of what everyday life was like for not just the average citizen, but also police officials as they sought, found and destroyed millions of gallons of booze throughout America.
Prohibition Era Photos: Several people standing outside the Krazy Kat Speakeasy in Washington, DC – circa 1920s. (themobmuseum.org)
Alcohol is seen pouring out the third floor windows of a building after an illegal distillery is discovered and destroyed by Prohibition agents during a raid. Detroit, Michigan – December 10, 1929. (Public Domain)
Above and Below Photos… Bootleggers and moonshiners wore special ‘cow shoes’ to hide their footprints from police and prohibition agents – 1922. (Library of Congress)
According to The Evening Independent (May 27, 1922):
“A new method of evading prohibition agents was revealed here today by A.L. Allen, state prohibition enforcement director, who displayed what he called a “cow shoe” as the latest thing front the haunts of moonshiners. The cow shoe is a strip of metal to which is tacked a wooden block carved to resemble the hoof of a cow, which may be strapped to the human foot. A man shod with a pair of them would leave a trail resembling that of a cow. The shoe found was picked up near Port Tampa where a still was located some time ago. It will be sent to the prohibition department at Washington. Officers believe the inventor got his idea from a Sherlock Holmes story in which the villain shod his horse with shoes the imprint of which resembled those of a cow’s hoof.”
Woman holding a poster that says ‘Abolish Prohibition! – 1931. Near the end of Prohibition in 1933, many women had organized in efforts to repeal the law as gang violence and illegal distilling of alcohol had become a huge problem throughout major cities in America. Along with gang members, innocent bystanders were also killed or seriously injured in the violence. (Library of Congress)
Photo shows Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Public Safety Director, Smedley D. Duckboards Butler, destroying kegs of beer with an axe and dumping the alcohol into the Schuylkill River – 1924. (Library of Congress)
Lt. O.T. Davis, Sergt. J.D. McQuade, George Fowler of Internal Revenue Service and H.G. Bauer with the largest still ever taken in the national capitol and bottles of liquor – November 11, 1922. (Library of Congress)
A rather happy looking group of New York law enforcement officials dumping illegal alcohol during Prohibition – 1920. (Public Domain / New York Daily News)
Bandleader Ted Lewis is seen here celebrating the end of Prohibition at the Hollywood Club with his ‘Broadway Beauties’ in 1933. (Public Domain / Dan Kelleher / New York Daily News)
To the delight of most everyone, except the mobsters profiting from illegal alcohol sales, Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, when the U.S. government ratified the 18th amendment.