Mark Twain once said, "It is the prohibition that makes anything precious." The United States learned that lesson the hard way not long after January 17, 1920, when it made the nation’s fifth-largest industry largely illegal, a move near-universally panned ever since. Smuggling alcohol during Prohibition became its own industry, and naturally, gang violence meant to lubricate that smuggling increased, as well.
But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and some of the ways people hid alcohol during Prohibition were quite inventive indeed. If it hadn’t all come to a fortunate end in 1933, hiding liquor might have become another major industry. Read on for some of the most ingenious tricks people devised for concealing alcohol during the messy, embarrassing experiment known as Prohibition.
The Torpedo Trick
Popular Science reported in 1932 about federal agents spotting "mysterious ripples seen by moonlight near the shore of the Detroit River." An investigation uncovered hollow "torpedoes," much like the ones in the 1926 photograph above, rigged to "an underwater cableway." In what the magazine called "one of the most ingenious rum-smuggling devices yet disclosed," the agents found bottles of booze that were being "reeled in" via a motor in a Canadian boathouse a mile away.
The 1926 "torpedoes" served a similar function: far from just being a clever place to stash bottles, they were rigged with an air compartment... so that the torpedoes float and can be towed," according to the original caption.
The Hollow Cane Trick
The Library of Congress labels this one "Woman seated at a soda fountain table is pouring alcohol into a cup from a cane, during Prohibition; with a large Coca-Cola advertisement on the wall, 2/13/22."
So-called "flask canes" or "tippling sticks" are still a thing, even in the booze-soaked wonderland of 21st century America. One site even targets veterans by putting seals from the various branches of the US military on top of the cane. War is hell, after all, so who are we to judge?
The Thigh Flask Trick
"Flask" might not be quite the right word for these behemoths. The original 1928 caption called them "tins" concealed by a "floppy overcoat." No word on how exactly these were held in place, but it they were full, they must have given this young flapper quite the workout.
The Cow Shoes Trick
No, there isn't booze in the heels: these are "cow shoes" used by forest-dwelling moonshiners during the Prohibition to hide their tracks. A 1922 edition of St. Petersburg, Florida's Evening Independent traced the idea to one of literature's greatest detectives: "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."
The paper called the shoes "the latest trick device of still tenders."