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. Smuggling alcohol during Prohibition became its own industry, inciting the growth of illicit activity and organized crime.
But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and some of the ways people hid alcohol during Prohibition were very inventive. If it hadn’t all come to an 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 controversial experiment known as Prohibition.
The Hollow Cane Trick
The Library of Congress labels this photo, "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."
The Torpedo Trick
Historians estimate that up to 75% of alcohol consumed during the Prohibition era in the United States came from bootlegging operations between Windsor, Canada, and Detroit, MI, across the Detroit River.
Reportedly, ordinary people as well as gangsters transported up to forty cases of alcohol an hour via alcohol-filled "torpedoes" pulled across the river using an underwater cable system.
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."
Women also concealed their liquor in smaller and more discrete flasks like the "garter flask" worn by French actor Mademoiselle Hortense Rhea in the 1926 photo seen above.
The Cow Shoes Trick
Moonshiners with stills hidden in the woods wore "cow shoes" during the Prohibition to hide their tracks. A 1922 edition of St. Petersburg, FL'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."