What ships were used for rum-running?

What ships were used for rum-running?

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So I'm writing a novel taking place during the Prohibition Era, and although I've got the basics down, I'm curious as to whether anybody knows any specifics to how rum-running worked.

What kind of ships were commonly used for transporting alcohol? Also, how long would a trip take?

Any information would help, thank you!

Maritime Drug Smuggling and Rum-Running

A slight chop rocks the P.V. Ferguson as the RCMP patrol boat motors out of Pugwash Harbour. Ahead, some lobster trap buoys, the occasional gull and a few navigational markers are all that bob in the aluminum-hue sea.

Maritime Drug Smuggling and Rum-Running

A slight chop rocks the P.V. Ferguson as the RCMP patrol boat motors out of Pugwash Harbour. Ahead, some lobster trap buoys, the occasional gull and a few navigational markers are all that bob in the aluminum-hue sea. But John Trickett, the 43-year-old captain, nevertheless vigilantly scans the horizon. He knows odd things have a habit of appearing along the nooks and crannies of Nova Scotia's 4,000-km coastline. Last August, for example, a pair of RCMP officers pulled into an isolated cove in the remote seaside community of Tangier and found six men transferring $25 million worth of hashish from their sailboat to waiting vehicles. Today, Trickett and his two-man crew are back roaming the coast searching for their own big bust. "God," Trickett says, "if my father-in-law could see me now."

No doubt, John Bernard MacIsaac, whose home was once a safe haven for bootleggers, would appreciate the irony if he were still alive. His son-in-law, after all, spends his working hours trying to stop international drug cartels from turning isolated stretches of Nova Scotia coastline into a pipeline for moving narcotics into North America. The job has its frustrations: despite 17 major busts during the past 11 years, narcotics enforcement officials are under no illusion that they're beating the drug lords. "It's like a balloon," concedes Fred Gallop, Nova Scotia coordinator for the RCMP's Coastal and Airport Watch Program. "You choke it off in one place and it just pops up somewhere else."

Which is pretty much how it was 80 years ago when rum-runners unloaded booze - not narcotics or today's other popular illicit commodity, illegal aliens - onto isolated Atlantic shores under cover of night. Back then, the law enforcement challenge was even greater: instead of tracking down a South American captain who didn't know Saint John from St. John's, as was the case in one drug arrest last year, authorities chased savvy locals who knew every inch of the ragged coastline. And good folk like the MacIsaacs - whose house on Prince Edward Island's north shore was known as a place to hide liquor - viewed rum-runners as people trying to provide an essential service. "Today, nobody wants to help a drug dealer," says Ralph Getson, the curator of education at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, N.S., "but back then people's sympathies were definitely with the rum-runners."

For one thing, large segments of public opinion were opposed to the prohibition of the day. And enforcing the ban was nearly impossible with the islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon, lying just south of Newfoundland, awash with booze. Some of the liquor from these French-owned isles ended up in Canada's speakeasies. But most of the West Indian rum, British gin, French champagne and Canadian whiskey stacked high in warehouses was bound for "Rum Row" off the U.S. eastern seaboard, where emissaries of gangsters like Al Capone waited for delivery.

The rum trade arrived at the perfect time for the small villages of Atlantic Canada, which were suffering through a cyclical downturn in the fishery. Clement Hiltz, like so many other young, adventurous men from Lunenburg, found it easy to choose between an act that was illegal, but very lucrative, and another season of harvesting cod off the frigid banks of Newfoundland. Recalls the 90-year-old, who still lives in Lunenburg: "I could make more money running one load of booze than I could in a year on the fishing boats."

So, at 15, Hiltz joined seven others aboard the Silver Arrow and headed for St-Pierre. There he would have had plenty of company: some 40 ships crowded the island's docks each month to fill their hulls with liquor. Before long, some of the region's ablest skippers were running booze. They had their pick of the best crews, including, in one case, a Lunenburg teenager named Hugh Corkum who went on to become the town's long-time chief of police before dying in 1989. "These weren't reprobates," says curator Getson. "They were just doing what everyone else was doing."

At first, everyday fishing schooners ran the perilous route south from St-Pierre and Miquelon. Later, smuggling vessels adapted for the job at hand: they were painted in drab tones, sat low in the water and provided extra storage space. It paid to be cautious. The U.S. and Canada separately declared war on the Atlantic rum-runners during the Twenties, and the rum-runners couldn't match the swift, heavily armed cutters' firepower. But they had plenty of guile. Bribes convinced inspectors to turn a blind eye. When the cutters gave chase, the elusive vessels laid smoke screens and disappeared into the coves and bays dotting the coastlines. It didn't hurt that the rum-runners had countless allies on shore like the MacIsaacs willing to stow the contraband in barns, cellars, fields and other "hides."

The smugglers risked not only arrest but their very lives. On March 21, 1929, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter sparked a cross-border dispute by firing upon and sinking the Lunenburg-registered I'm Alone, which was carrying 2,800 cases of liquor while in international waters. One of the smugglers drowned. Two years later, American authorities shot a Lunenburg skipper, William Cluett, who later died, while capturing the Nova Scotia rum-runner Josephine K. at the entrance to New York harbour. And, in 1933, a Canadian agent named John "Machine Gun" Kelly killed a Lunenburg man when he opened fire on a small boat unloading booze outside that town's harbour. "It was scary out there," says Hiltz, who took part in six different rum-running voyages before quitting to return to the fishing boats. "I don't know who we were more worried about: the coast guard cutters or the gangsters on Rum Row who wanted to hijack our load."

Those wild days seem like ancient history as the Ferguson cuts through the Northumberland Strait toward P.E.I. The last Atlantic rum-runner, the notorious Nellie J. Banks - immortalized in a 1980s song by the same name - was finally seized in 1938. But, in some respects, little has changed. Nowadays, the RCMP and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency still struggle to shut down the flow of bootleg St-Pierre liquor into Newfoundland. And the lawbreakers still work the Atlantic coast with their drugs and illegal immigrants.

Nova Scotia remains the destination of choice. But in the past decade there has been a major cocaine bust in New Brunswick and five major drug seizures in Newfoundland. And authorities believe drug cartels are spreading their distribution net to far-off Labrador now that the Trans-Labrador Highway runs right through to Quebec. "Smuggling is kind of a tradition on the East Coast," says Trickett, himself a Newfoundlander. "Maybe that's never going to change." Not as long as there are those thousands of kilometres of jagged coastline and somebody happy to try to earn a dishonest buck.

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The rum-runner Linwood afire. With capture and arrest imminent, the fire was set by the crew of bootleggers trying to destroy the evidence and sink the ship. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

On Jan. 17, 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages, became enforceable by law, launching the strange 13-year hiccup in American history known as Prohibition.

The Volstead Act, the law that operationalized Prohibition, assigned enforcement authority to the Treasury Department – specifically to its new Prohibition Bureau. Anticipating that a few smugglers would try to bring illegal alcohol into the country by sea, the new bureau established a marine division with a small fleet of intercepting boats. Given the severe penalties imposed by the law, the bureau expected few violations.

A rum-running “mother ship” at anchor in international waters, filled with alcohol that would be smuggled in by smaller, faster “contact boats,” the Prohibition equivalent to today’s “go-fasts.” (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The bureau was mistaken. Smuggling alcohol immediately proved profitable, and prevalent, along American coasts, particularly off the Eastern Seaboard.A pioneer bootlegger in these early days was the yacht builder Bill McCoy, who helped establish the practice of taking cargo onto schooners at ports in either Nassau,Bahamas, or Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the French islands off the coast of Newfoundland, and then anchoring in international waters to operate a floating liquor store that sold to smaller, faster launches known as “contact boats.” A regular line of rum ships gathered in perpetuity off the shores of metropolitan New York, known as “Rum Row,” with several other areas – including the Virginia Capes, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Houston/ Galveston – served by their own rum rows.

Rum-runner William S. “Bill” McCoy and other small-time rum-runners were soon superseded by powerful criminal syndicates. (Wikimedia Commons)

Customs and prohibition agents were overwhelmed by the rum fleet. In their fight against maritime smuggling, they focused on seizing contraband as it landed at wharves and, in some cases, on intercepting small craft inshore. It was a losing battle, and the Treasury Department turned to the agency responsible for protecting revenues and preventing smuggling at sea: the Coast Guard.


At the outset of Prohibition, the modern Coast Guard was just 5 years old, and had only recently been transferred back to its peacetime home in the Treasury Department by the U.S. Navy, where more than 9,000 Coast Guard personnel had served during World War I. The reconstituted service had neither the manpower, training, nor resources to carry out a vast coastal interdiction program. By 1924 it was clear to Adm. William Reynolds, Coast Guard commandant, that the service was overmatched against more than 150 rum fleet vessels and an inshore swarm of contact boats, many of them outfitted with 400-horsepower airplane engines the U.S. government sold for $100 apiece after the war.

What followed over the next few years was an unprecedented expansion of the Coast Guard: The service grew from 4,000 to 10,000 personnel, and a fleet of new cutters, specially designed to intercept and catch rumrunners, was rolled out over the next few years, to be aided in their efforts by 25 refurbished Navy destroyers that had been mothballed after the war.

Some 203 wooden-hulled 75-footers, also known as “six-bitters,” with a top speed of 15 knots and deck-mounted 1-pound cannons, entered service between 1924 and 1925. Beginning in 1927, they were joined by the first of 33 125-footers, the well-armed diesel “Buckand-a-Quarters” designed to trail mother ships along the outer line of defense.

A flotilla of “six-bitters.” More than 200 of the wooden-hulled 75-footers, capable of 15 knots and armed with a 1-pounder cannon forward and various small arms, were built between 1924 and 1925. (Naval History and Heritage Command photo)

The fastest ships in the Coast Guard fleet were now the destroyers, which had an obvious limitation: They were too big to be of much use inshore. The service’s small boat fleet underwent a rapid expansion. More than 100 36-foot picket boats were built, with a top speed of around 22 knots. A new round of 78-foot fast patrol cutters began entering service in 1931, and between 1931 and 1932, more than 500 new 38-foot picket boats, faster and capable of longer patrols than the 36-footers, were built.

USCGC Porter (CG 7) circa 1924-30, formerly the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Porter (DD 59), one of 25 ex-Navy destroyers turned over to the Coast Guard to enforce Prohibition and battle rum-runners. (Naval History and Heritage Command photo)

By 1925, a group of forward-thinking Coast Guard officers had convinced their superiors that aerial patrols would provide much wider awareness than surface ships, and a temporary Coast Guard airfield was established in Massachusetts. The service’s first aerial interdiction was in June of that year, and Congress responded by authorizing the purchase of five amphibious planes, to be based at a small air station in Gloucester Harbor.

Lt. Cmdr. Carl Christian von Paulsen (left) in front of a surplus U.S. Navy UO-1 floatplane pressed into Coast Guard service. As commander of Coast Guard Section Base #7, von Paulsen proved the value of aircraft for interdicting smugglers during Prohibition, and unofficially reestablished Coast Guard aviation. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of the Von Paulsen Family)

This overhaul of the Coast Guard created a service that looked and operated nothing like it had just a few years earlier: It was a large, well-equipped and well trained fighting force, prepared for battle in the Rum War. Its adversaries, however, had adapted as well: The plucky Bill McCoys, and the low-rent pirates who tried to rip them off, were quickly absorbed or driven out of business by sophisticated crime organizations. Eventually the entire New York liquor racket was handled by five syndicates. This was one of the great ironies of Prohibition: It created a vast criminal underworld and set off a crime wave unparalleled in U.S. history.

The strategy against these syndicates was simple: With regular cutters and destroyers, the Coast Guard would attempt to break the link between mother ships and contact boats, often circling the larger ships to make their presence known and deter transactions. A second line of defense, led by six-bitters and picket boats, was aimed inshore, at the comings and goings of contact boats.

Within this strategic sphere, tactics and countermeasures became increasingly intricate. To avoid detection, smugglers would sometimes try to bait a Coast Guard vessel into chasing a slower decoy boat while other contact boats loaded their consignments sometimes they merely sent out a radio distress signal to lure the cutter in another direction. Submerged loads of contraband were sometimes towed behind the rumrunner, to be cut loose if capture seemed imminent. Liquor was hidden beneath false bottoms, behind false bulkheads, or under layers of legal cargo. Rather than try to offload smuggled liquor at landings, some “blacks” (the Coast Guard term for many smugglers’ vessels, which were often painted dark colors and ran without lights to avoid nighttime detection) would sink them at assigned drops, tethered to submerged buoys.

The rum-runner Linwood afire. With capture and arrest imminent, the fire was set by the crew of bootleggers trying to destroy the evidence and sink the ship. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

If they were detected in spite of these measures, smugglers practiced several evasive maneuvers: If caught out by a destroyer, a contact boat might ignite a trail of diesel or oil in its wake, creating a smoke screen to obscure its escape the boat could then double back at high speed, knowing the destroyer could never turn in time to catch it. Some smugglers simply sped toward shoals where deeper-draft destroyers or cutters couldn’t follow. If pursued by speedier patrol boats, smugglers might toss cases of liquor in their wake, in the hope of damaging the pursuer’s hull. A few smugglers attempted to turn and ram their pursuers, but this was an act of desperation that had mixed results on several occasions, rum-runners sank themselves in these collisions.

One of the factors working in smugglers’ favor – the 3-mile limit to territorial waters, an international standard established by the reach of an 18th century cannon shot – was eliminated in 1924, when the United States and Great Britain agreed on a new standard: the distance a ship could travel in an hour, which averaged 12 nautical miles. This made it more difficult for rum ships to connect with their contact boats, but the fact that the new boundary was moveable, dependent on the speed of a ship, also muddied ensuing court cases.

CG-8031, a converted former rum-running boat, one of many taken into Coast Guard service. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Rum-runner tactics demanded creativity from Coast Guard skippers. Rum War at Sea, Malcolm Willoughby’s definitive history of the Coast Guard’s Prohibition service, recounts the exploits of Cmdr. Philip H. Scott, who commanded the cutter Seminole in the Rum War’s early days. Scott liked to seize rum-running craft and turn them into patrol boats. On one occasion, dressed in civilian clothes, he cruised around in a seized tug, made conversation with rum-runners – and, when he’d determined they were smuggling, raised the Coast Guard flag and seized their vessels. Scott made many seizures in this way, and in fact the Coast Guard made liberal use of seized craft in their patrol/pursuit fleet throughout Prohibition. According to Willoughby, 649 of these vessels were transferred to the Coast Guard during the period Dr. William H. Thiesen, the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area historian, has figured that more than 450 of these were repurposed by the service.


The surge of new Coast Guard assets at sea and in the air, along with the service’s more varied countermeasures, temporarily knocked the rum-runners off balance, but syndicates had begun to perfect the use of radio communications. One of the first and simplest tactics was for rum ships to transmit over commercial frequencies: Encoded messages, usually groups of random-looking letters, communicating a day’s sales, requests for provisions, the vessel’s location, and other information were sent to management on land. On shore, new technologies allowed hidden pop-up stations to send encrypted locations and instructions for transactions at high frequencies that often went undetected.

Obviously, the Coast Guard needed the ability to gather signals intelligence. In 1924, the Office of Coast Guard Intelligence was established, led by then-Lt. Cmdr. Charles Root. This new office launched a two-pronged attack on rum-runners: First, it set up its own sophisticated radio communications system under the direction of Lt. Frank Meals, an accomplished telegraph operator and commander of the six-bitter CG-210. Meals trained the incoming generation of Coast Guard radio operators and ensured that the service’s communications technology – including a new generation of radio direction-finding equipment that helped cutter crews locate rum ships – remained on the cutting edge.

Expert cryptanalyst Elizebeth Friedman, whose codebreaking made possible the convictions of some three dozen bootleggers and ringleaders. (NSA photo)

Second, Root understood that intercepting illegal transmissions was of little use if they were encrypted. By 1927, hundreds of messages had accumulated in the new office’s files, but thanks to the addition of an expert cryptanalyst, Elizebeth Friedman, the Coast Guard began to make headway within two months of her hiring, the division’s new Cryptanalytic Unit, consisting of Friedman and an assistant, had cleared the backlog of messages. From 1928 to 1930, the unit decrypted about 12,000 messages for the Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies. The messages contained information about illegal activities along all the nation’s coasts, and their decryption meant, in many cases, that the codes of major syndicates had been broken, allowing the Coast Guard to intercept and decode messages in real time – and so enabling seizures or prevention operations at sea.

By the early 1930s, a bigger Cryptanalytic Unit, overseen by Friedman, was supporting a new radio intelligence service at Coast Guard Headquarters. In the New York area, Meals took command of a specialized unit: five 75-foot patrol boats, outfitted with radio direction-finding equipment, to intercept radio signals that could be decoded and disseminated for action. In the last years of Prohibition, the information gathered by this unit revealed the syndicates were smuggling more than liquor their contraband, according to Willoughby, included “Swiss watches, French perfume, contraceptives, firearms, and ammunition for Cuban revolutionists, and aliens.”

In 1933, Friedman’s work for the Coast Guard, and her court testimony, culminated in the convictions of 35 bootleggers and ringleaders for violations of the Volstead Act. The service’s 11th National Security Cutter will be named after her.


Though it often had a cat-and-mouse feel, the Rum War was a shooting war against adversaries who wouldn’t hesitate to fire – at a cutter, or its searchlight, or at the crewmember aiming the searchlight. The method most commonly used by the Coast Guard to persuade an obstinate rum-running vessel to heave to for boarding was to fire a warning shot from a machine gun or cannon – or both – across the vessel’s bow.

People died on both sides of the Rum War at sea. Just past midnight on April 2, 1925, when the six-bitter CG-237 came across a suspected rum-runner in Block Island Sound, the other boat opened fire without warning, striking Chief Petty Officer Karl Gustafson, who was in the pilothouse, in the abdomen. Gustafson died a few hours later in a hospital.

The deadliest Prohibition encounter for the Coast Guard occurred on Aug. 7, 1927, when the six-bitter CG-249, patrolling between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the Bahamas, interdicted a rum-running motorboat. One of the boat’s two occupants, Horace Alderman, somehow managed to bring a gun with him as he was brought aboard the cutter, and he opened fire, killing Boatswain Sidney Sanderlin, Motor Machinist’s Mate Victor Lamby, and a Secret Service agent, Robert Webster. Alderman was subdued by the rest of the crew, tried, convicted of three counts of murder and piracy on the high seas, and sentenced to death. He was hanged in a seaplane hangar at Coast Guard Base 6 at Fort Lauderdale two years later – the only person ever executed on Coast Guard property, and the only person ever executed by the federal government for a Prohibition-related crime.

At the trial, Alderman tried to argue – against the testimony of every witness, including his accomplice –that he acted in self-defense. It was an argument probably meant more for the public than the judge: Tensions were running high in South Florida, where wild shootouts had been lighting up the Miami River waterway for years, and had resulted in the deaths of several smugglers.

Many accounts of the Coast Guard’s Prohibition service, including Willoughby’s, suggest the battle for public opinion may have been irretrievably lost in 1929, when smugglers were killed in two separate Coast Guard interdictions: In March, the Halifax schooner I’m Alone was chased by the cutter Wolcott and sunk after being shelled by the cutter Dexter. I’m Alone’s French-Canadian boatswain drowned, and the incident caused an international row. In December, the rum-rummer Black Duck, a fast, low-profile motorboat that had eluded capture on several occasions, was intercepted by CG-290 in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. CG-290’s commander, Boatswain Alexander Cornell, later testified that the Black Duck had ignored the signal to heave to, and veered suddenly into CG-290’s warning shots, killing three of the men aboard and wounding a fourth.

In these and other cases, the accounts of law enforcement officers and rum-runners differed. Cornell and his crew were cleared of wrongdoing, but the Black Duck incident provoked a lingering bitterness, expressed in protests, attacks on Coast Guard facilities, demands for an impartial committee to re-open the investigation, and a very public airing of grievances, often by respected public figures. John F. Fitzgerald, former Boston mayor and U.S. congressman, pointed out that the Black Duck’s illegal cargo would have been consumed by public officials all over New England. New York Congressman and future New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia declared Prohibition unenforceable.


On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and ending the nation’s ban on alcohol sales. The Coast Guard would never be the same. It had begun the 1920s, arguably, as a life-saving service with law enforcement authority that was mostly regulatory in nature, conducting inspections and ensuring compliance. After being assigned the biggest law enforcement task in its history, the Coast Guard became a paramilitary law enforcement agency with a crucial role in national security and expertise in the interdiction of law breaking vessels. It was also equipped with the resources necessary to do these things, including an aviation branch a large fleet of cutters designed for a variety of tasks offshore, inshore, and in waterways sophisticated intelligence and codebreaking personnel and well-trained crews manning Navy warships. Many crewmembers who served with the Coast Guard’s Destroyer Force later became commanders or senior NCOs on cutters and Coast Guard-manned U.S. Navy ships in World War II.

Between 1923 and 1927 alone, the Coast Guard’s budget and personnel levels more than doubled, and even after the inevitable post-repeal drawdown, the service remained larger and more significant than it had been before Prohibition. It was now an internationally recognized law enforcement organization, and its intelligence service was one of the most respected in the federal government the Coast Guard serves today as a core member of the national intelligence community. Its codebreakers were immediately useful against World War II adversaries. Coast Guard communications procedures and networks, standardized to be in line with those of the U.S. Navy, were immediately useful when the two services were once again combined to serve in World War II – and the joint integration of far more sophisticated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) platforms and capabilities continues to this day.

The Coast Guard’s approach to Prohibition – an interagency collaborative, attacking a problem from every angle and embracing the full spectrum of the service’s capabilities – applied constant pressure on rum running syndicates. The Coast Guard clearly reduced the volume of illegal alcohol flowing into the country, and forced lawbreakers to adopt several changes in tactics. By that measure – and in the way its Prohibition service helped to cement its reputation as the protector of the nation’s maritime domain – its 13 years of Prohibition enforcement were a resounding success that fixed an indelible stamp on the modern Coast Guard.

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Eric S. Ensign, “Intelligence in the Rum War at Sea, 1920–1933” (Washington, DC: Joint Military Intelligence Service, 2001).

Van R. Field and John J. Galluzzo, Images of America: New Jersey Coast Guard Stations and Rumrunners (Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004).

Henry Lee, How Dry We Were: Prohibition Revisited (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1963).

Matthew R. Linderoth, Prohibition on the North Jersey Shore: Gangsters on Vacation (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2010).

Joan Lowell, Gal Reporter (New York: Farrar & Rinehart Inc., 1933).

Gertrude Lythgoe, The Bahama Queen, Prohibition’s Daring Beauty: The Autobiography of Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe (New York: Exposition Press, 1964 Mystic, CT: Flat Hammock Press, 2007, reprint).

Philip P. Mason, Rumrunning and the Roaring Twenties: Prohibition on the Michigan-Ontario Waterway (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1995).

Eric Mills, Chesapeake Rumrunners of the Roaring Twenties (Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 2000).

Alastair Moray, The Diary of a Rum-Runner: The Plain, Unvarnished, Day-by-Day Account of Eleven Months off New York with a Crazy Ship, a Mutinous Crew, Lurking Hijackers and the Inquisitive Federal Authorities (New York: P. Allan & Co., 1929).

Bruce Norman, Secret Warfare: The Battle of Codes and Ciphers (New York: Dorset Press, 1973).

Janice Patton, Sinking of the I’m Alone (New York: McClelland & Stewart, 1973).

Jack Randell, as told to Meigs O. Frost, I’m Alone (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company 1930).

Geoff and Dorothy Robinson, It Came by the Boat Load: Essays on Rum-Running (Canada: Alfa-Graphics Ltd., 1984).

Nora K. Smiley and Louise V. White, History of Key West (St. Petersburg: Great Outdoors Publishing Company, 1959).

Frederic F. Van de Water, The Real McCoy: The Rum-Runner Turned National Hero [William F. McCoy] Whose Quality Liquor and Fair Dealing Perpetuated the Phrase “It’s the Real McCoy” (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1931).

A. Hyatt Verrill, Smugglers and Smuggling (New York: Duffield and Company, 1924).

Harold Waters, Adventure Unlimited: My Twenty Years of Experience in the United States Coast Guard (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1955).

Harold Waters, “Five Flashes East: Exciting Action from Rum-Running Days in Florida,” in 80 Years of Yachting, ed. Bill Robinson (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company 1961), 77–85.

Harold Waters, Smugglers of Spirits: Prohibition and the Coast Guard Patrol (New York: Hastings House 1971).

Harold Waters and Aubrey Wisberg, Patrol Boat 999 (New York: Chilton Company, Book Division, 1959).

Mabel W. Willebrandt, The Inside of Prohibition (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1929).

Malcolm F. Willoughby, Rum War at Sea (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1964).

Evidence and remnants of the rum runners

One of the most famous rum runners was a captain by the name of Bill McCoy who began smuggling rum from Bahamas and especially Bimini into southern Florida. It didn’t take long for the US Coast Guard to realize what he was doing so he would meet smaller boats about 3 miles offshore in order to transfer the rum. This 3 mile limit was based on the US jurisdiction over foreign waters and was soon called the “Rum Line” while the vessels lined up to take the product from McCoy were referred to as “Rum Row.”

One of the most notable pieces of evidence of the rum running era is a ship called the Sapona. It had a concrete hull and ran around during a 1926 hurricane near Bimini, and the remnants of the ship are still visible today above the water line. It is a popular scuba diving site as well as a navigational landmark for numerous boating enthusiasts. Additionally, the US Army used it as a bombing target practice site during the Second World War and most of the original concrete hull is no longer visible as a result. Scuba divers have oftentimes found empty rum bottles at the dive site as well.


It was not long after the first taxes on alcoholic beverages that someone began to smuggle them. The British government had "revenue cutters" in place to stop smugglers as early as the 16th century. Pirates often made extra money running rum to heavily taxed colonies. There were times when the sale of alcohol was limited for other purposes, such as laws against sales to American Indians in the Old West, Canada West, or local prohibitions like the one on Prince Edward Island between 1901 and 1948.

An irony of the history of prohibition in North America is that industrial-scale smuggling flowed both ways across the Canada-U.S.A. border at different points in the early twentieth century. Though Canada never had true nationwide prohibition, the federal government gave the provinces an easy means to ban alcohol under the War Measures Act (1914) and most provinces and the Yukon Territory already had enacted prohibition locally by 1918 when a regulation issued by the federal cabinet banned the interprovincial trade and importation of liquor. National prohibition in the United States did not begin until 1920 (though many states had statewide prohibition before that). For the two year interval, enough American liquor entered Canada illegally to help undermine support for prohibition in Canada such that it was slowly lifted, beginning with Quebec and Yukon in 1919, and including all of the provinces but Prince Edward Island by 1930. As well, Canada's version of prohibition had never included a ban on the manufacture of liquor for export. Soon the black-market trade was reversed with Canadian whisky and beer flowing in large quantities to the United States. Again, this illegal international trade undermined the support for prohibition in the receiving country, and the American version ended (at the national level) in 1933.

One of the most famous periods of rum-running began in the United States with the Prohibition began on January 16, 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. This period lasted until the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, on December 5, 1933.

At first, there was much action on the seas, but after several months the Coast Guard began reporting decreasing smuggling activity. This was the start of the Bimini–Bahamas rum trade and the introduction of Bill McCoy.

With the start of Prohibition Captain McCoy began bringing rum from Bimini and the rest of the Bahamas into south Florida through Government Cut. The Coast Guard soon caught up with him, so he began to bring the illegal goods to just outside U.S. territorial waters and let smaller boats and other captains such as Habana Joe take the risk of bringing it into shore.

The rum-running business was very good, and McCoy soon bought a Gloucester knockabout schooner named Arethusa at auction and renamed her Tomoka. He installed a larger auxiliary, mounted a concealed machine gun on her deck and refitted the fish pens below to accommodate as much contraband as she could hold. She became one of the most famous of the rum-runners, along with his two other ships hauling mostly Irish and Canadian whiskey, as well as other fine liquors and wines, to ports from Maine to Florida.

In the days of rum running, it was common for captains to add water to the bottles to stretch their profits, or to re-label it as better goods. Any cheap sparkling wine became French champagne or Italian Spumante unbranded liquor became top-of-the-line name brands. McCoy became famous for never watering his booze, and selling only top brands. Although the phrase appears in print in 1882, this is one of several folk etymologies for the origin of the term "The real McCoy."

On November 15, 1923, McCoy and Tomoka encountered the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, just outside U.S. territorial waters. A boarding party attempted to board, but McCoy chased them off with the machine gun. Tomoka tried to run, but the Seneca placed a shell just off her hull, and Bill McCoy's days as a rum-runner were over.

The Rum Row

McCoy is credited with the idea of bringing large boats just to the edge of the three-mile (4.8 km) limit of U.S. jurisdiction, and there selling his wares to "contact boats", local fishermen and small boat captains. The small, quick boats could more easily outrun Coast Guard ships and could dock in any small river or eddy and transfer their cargo to a waiting truck. They were also known to load float planes and flying boats. Soon others were following suit the three-mile (4.8 km) limit became known as "Rum Line" and the ships waiting were called "Rum row". The Rum Line was extended to a 12-mile (19.3 km) limit by an act of the United States Congress on April 21, 1924, which made it harder for the smaller and less seaworthy craft to make the trip.

Rum Row wasn't the only front for the Coast Guard. Rum-runners often made the trip through Canada via the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and down the west coast to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Rum-running from Canada was also an issue, especially throughout prohibition in the early 1900s. There was a high amount of distilleries in Canada, one of the most famous being Hiram Walker who developed Canadian Club Whisky. The French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, located south of Newfoundland, were an important base used by well-known smugglers including Al Capone, Savannah Unknown, and Bill McCoy. The Gulf of Mexico also teemed with ships running from Mexico and the Bahamas to Galveston, Texas, the Louisiana swamps and Alabama coast. By far the biggest Rum Row was in the New York/Philadelphia area off the New Jersey coast, where as many as 60 ships were seen at one time. One of the most notable New Jersey rum runners was Habana Joe, [ citation needed ] who could be seen at night running into remote areas in Raritan Bay with his flat-bottom skiff for running up on the beach, making his delivery, and speeding away.

With that much competition, the suppliers often flew large banners advertising their wares and threw parties with prostitutes on board their ships to draw customers. Rum Row was completely lawless, and many crews armed themselves not against government ships but against the other rum-runners, who would sometimes sink a ship and hijack its cargo rather than make the run to Canada or the Caribbean for fresh supplies. [ citation needed ]

The ships

At the start, the rum-runner fleet consisted of a ragtag flotilla of fishing boats such as the schooner Nellie J. Banks, excursion boats, and small merchant craft. But as prohibition wore on, the stakes got higher and the ships became larger and more specialized. Converted fishing ships like McCoy's Tomoka waited on Rum Row and were soon joined by small motor freighters custom-built in Nova Scotia for rumrunning, with low, grey hulls, hidden compartments and powerful wireless equipment. Examples include the Reo II. Specialized high-speed craft were built for the ship-to-shore runs. These high-speed boats were often luxury yachts and speedboats fitted with powerful aircraft engines, machine guns, and armor plating. Often, builders of rum-runners' ships also supplied Coast Guard vessels (such as Fred and Mirto Scopinich's Freeport Point Shipyard). [3] Rum-runners often kept cans of used engine oil handy to pour on hot exhaust manifolds, in case a smoke screen was needed to escape the revenue ships.

On the government's side the rum chasers were an assortment of patrol boats, inshore patrol and harbor cutters. Most of the patrol boats were of the "six-bit" variety: 75-foot craft with a top speed of about 12 knots. There were also an assortment of launches, harbor tugs and miscellaneous small craft.

The rum-runners were definitely faster and more maneuverable. [ citation needed ] Add to that the fact that a rum-running captain could make several hundred thousand dollars a year. In comparison, the Commandant of the Coast Guard made just $6,000 annually, and seamen made $30/week. [ citation needed ] These huge rewards meant the rum-runners were willing to take big risks. They ran without lights at night and in fog, risking life and limb. Often, the shores were littered with bottles from a rum-runner who had hit a sandbar or a reef in the dark at high speed and sunk.

The Coast Guard relied on hard work, excellent reconnaissance and big guns to get their job done. It was not uncommon for rum-runners' ships to be sold at auction shortly after a trial — often right back to the original owners. Some ships were captured three or four times before they were finally sunk or retired. In addition, the Coast Guard had other duties, and often had to let a rum-runner go in order to assist a sinking vessel or other emergency. [4]

Prohibition & Rum Running in Sea View & Humarock

Illegal contraband liquor was a profitable enterprise for the water people. Boat motors were quickly converted over to more powerful and faster ones, and the insides of vessels were gutted for more space. A schoolmate, Alfred A., told me that his stepfather’s lobster boat was a “rum runner.” It had a big motor in it, and was quite narrow & very fast.

Safe unloading areas were located. Bays, harbors, rivers, creeks, and other landing spots were found. Humarock was one of these safe places — or at least more safe than other harbors. Federal funding was weak and the revenuers had to spread themselves thin.

Looking N.E. from Ferry Hill with Fourth Cliff in the background.

The North River mouth was the water highway out to the mother ships that were waiting three miles out to unload their contraband into smaller boats and dories. A very reliable source told me that most of the dories came from Hatch’s Boat Yard and gunning stand. Others came from the North River. Most of the dories were powered by two rowers.

On a good night, a row out to the “Mother Ship” and back, took most of the darkened hours, depending on the weather. On occasion, unfavorable weather would delay the boat-men’s return. Daylight would give them away, so they would row up into a remote creek, cover their dory with marsh grass, and hunker down for the day with nothing to eat or drink ! Up to 20 cases could be safely stacked in the dories, however greed and poor judgment sent many boats floundering and losing their contraband. Some of this contraband would find its way to shore, where scavengers would find liquid gold!

Lookouts were needed to warn the boatmen of any danger that may come about. Lookout posts were stationed from the Sea Street Bridge to Fourth Cliff.

The lookout on the bridge was a well known local that had a non-drinking reputation, and liked to fish. His gear was a tin bucket, bait, a sharp knife, a hand line, a flashlight and cigarettes. Time on was 9 or 10 pm off was daylight, rain or not. If the boats were out, you were on. Over would go the line, baited or not. Sometimes this lookout was joined by a friend — his line would go over with a bottle of hooch tied on the end. This was to be retrieved periodically.

The hooch was unloaded at various locations. The cases were picked up by Chevy 6-cylinder panel trucks. Chevys were quieter than the Ford Model A’s. Canvas snap-on signs were attached to each side with a local milk company logo.

I was told, by the same reliable source, that only once, during this guard’s time on the bridge, did he have to call off a landing.

One night, just before midnight, a big black Packard with four men inside, strangers, stopped on the bridge and asked where so-and-so’s cottage was. The fisherman gave them directions, and off they went. The fisherman/guard flashed a signal to the lookout on the point down river, and the signal was passed on to the cliff.

Packard Autos were one of the finest cars.

That night’s truck was turned around and disappeared . No one else ever reported seeing the car or the men. No one saw them leave no one reported using so-and-so’s cottage. However, this was a subject not discussed, and questions were unthinkable.

My late friend Phil, a Seaview native, told me the following. It seems that Charlie, Phil’s father, took a walk to Pine Island. While coming back, just off the walkway, he saw a newly tracked path in the marsh grass. Off he went to investigate. He found something that was covered over with marsh grass. A case of 11 bottles of hooch!

Even though Charlie was a teetotaler, he was not going to leave this find. He covered it back up and waited until dark. Charlie made his way back through the cedar grove to the edge of the marsh, found the case of hooch, then made it home without being seen, he hoped! He stashed the case in the cellar, where his wife would not find it, as she was death against alcohol.

Within a few days, word reached Charlie, that Wally, a heavy drinker, was on a killing rage. It seems that someone stole his property from the Island. He was telling everyone in Seaview that if he found out who stole his property, he was going to kill them!

You see, the property was never Wally’s. He probably found it stashed in one of the creeks by a boatman. Charlie never uttered a word. Some of Charlie’s friends enjoyed a holiday gift!

This Chevrolet panel truck is much like the ones used to deliver illegalliquor ”Hooch” to the speakeasies.

”Prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into.”

Post-Prohibition Rum Running

In the course of this chase, Captain Charles Root founded US Coast Guard Intelligence, established HUMINT networks in Canada, Cuba, and a score of other rum ports, hired the legendary codebreaker Elisebeth Friedman, designed and fielded the first American SIGINT trawler. The Coast Guard chief engineer Hunnewell filled the coasts with two hundred patrol ships within less than a year, and then proceeded to reverse engineer the fastest of the rum-runners and field them too. Commandant Billard founded interagency and international task forces, which ultimately resulted in full tactical integration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including positive hand-offs and radio intelligence cross-cue. By the end of the case, the Coast Guard could fix a rum-runner by their radio transmission, send a patrol aircraft along the bearing line, visually acquire the craft and orbit overhead until the a boarding ship could make the intercept.

The Rum War built the Coast Guard, founded only a few years prior from the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service. It also advanced technologies critical to the Second World War – small craft (PT Boats – basically rum-runners with torpedoes, Higgins Boats – crewed by both Coastguardsmen and ex-rumrunners), codebreaking (Friedman’s USCG cell broke the Japanese merchant codes prior to the war) and radio direction finding. This case deserves more study, both as a maritime border control campaign, but also as a contest between two highly adaptive flat network. The Coast Guard achieved an enviable victory over bureaucracy at the outset, which allowed them to keep pace with their well-funded adversaries.

As a teaser, I submit the following account of the post-repeal suppression campaign, excerpted from my forthcoming dissertation.
I also include two animated infographics of capture records and intel reports, respectively. I hope that it will challenge standard conceptions of the Rum War, and entice the reader to read further. For further reading, I recommend the standard Coast Guard account, Rum War at Sea, by CDR Malcolm Willoughby.

Repeal, 1933.Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on a platform that included the repeal of that act. He delivered on this promise in the early part of 1933 – the 18 th Amendment prohibited ‘intoxicating liquors,’ while the Volstead Act defined ‘intoxicating liquors’ as anything 0.5% Alcohol by Volume. As the 21 st Amendment worked its way through the system, the Cullen-Harrison Act reset the Volstead definition to 3.2% ABV and thereby legalized light beers. This saw a brief drop in liquor traffic, though the trade rebounded quickly. Rum-running had almost returned to 1932 levels, at least off of New York, when the 21 st Amendment drove rum-running to an absolute low during the case. This lasted for about six months.

An period newspaper article entitled “Rum Runners Want Repeal, U.S. Informed,”[2] explains the rumrunners’ optimism toward their post-repeal prospects. Both Canada and Finland attempted their own forms of Prohibition, and both experienced major smuggling problems following repeal. Rumrunners expected the same to be true of the United States, due to a combination of high expected liquor taxes, reduced enforcement expenditures and diminished legal leverage following repeal.

The country would want a ‘peace dividend,’ which meant less money going to the Coast Guard. Additionally, the Coast Guard would now need to establish the origin of alcohol, rather than just its presence, in order to arrest a rumrunner in US waters. Once the liquor was ashore, it now became far easier to transport. Therefore, that rum-runners no longer needed to concentrate at urban centers close to the point of demand, and the Coast Guard would need a “less concentrated and more wide-flung patrol of the coasts.”[3] These reduced the opportunity cost of smuggling, and so long as there was enough of a margin in the liquor taxes to make money, there was no reason to stop running.

The Coast Guard attempted to calculate this margin. Shortly following repeal, Gorman estimated that imported liquor in the New England area cost $9.90/gal, $9.30 of which was composed of State, Internal Revenue and Customs taxes.[4] The smuggler, paying the same price for liquor, could land liquor for $1.10/gal. The price they would expect to receive on the beach was $1.90/gal in Maine, $2.50/gal in Massachusetts, and $3.25/gal in New York. This yields a margin of more than two dollars per gallon. A September 1934 calculation found legal liquor selling for $8/gal, with bootleg at $6/gal. Even with this premium for licit drink, the rumrunner still had margin of about one and a half dollars per gallon.[5]

Profits were lower than during Prohibition, but the risk was lower as well due to diminished enforcement leverage. Making matters worse, Americans thirsted for aged whiskey, and none would be available domestically for quite some time. Since the rumrunner bases at St. Pierre had a great deal of capital tied up in smuggling, there was no sense in dismantling the industry quite yet.

‘Peace Dividend.’ Even before repeal, the Intelligence Office noted in 1933 that:

Vessels formerly in the rum running traffic, which had been laid up for months and in some cases years, are now being outfitted and rushed back into the illicit traffic. Recent official reports from Canadian sources indicate during the past month a resumption of activity comparable only to the situation which existed several years ago before the Coast Guard was organized to effectively combat smuggling. International rum syndicates are quite evidently under the impression that law enforcement will be more lax than formerly that penalties meted out for violations of the Customs laws will be much lighter and that in general there will be less risk and more profit in liquor running…

It therefore appears to this office from a study of smuggling conditions in foreign countries and from knowledge of the present activities of the rum-smuggling rings, that there can be no curtailment of Coast Guard anti-smuggling operations until the international smuggling organizations now operating are put out of existence, and it can be said almost with certainty that this will not occur within the next two years.[6]

Institutional militaries try to minimize the inevitable drawdown that follows the end of a war, and these gloomy predictions must have sounded like that familiar chord. Policy analysts from early think tanks broadly agreed, estimating $50 Million per year lost per year to liquor smuggling.[7] This was more than 10% of the expected alcohol excise tax income. Still, increasing enforcement of liquor laws during the Depression in the immediate wake of Prohibition was too politically difficult. From a 1934 account, “repeated requests of the Coast Guard for funds, necessary to carry out its duties, particularly to control smuggling, and to protect the revenue of the Government, have been denied.”[8] The Coast Guard would draw down.

Destroyers departed the force entirely, with the last of them returned to the Navy by 1934. The ‘six-bitters’ took a major hit, dropping from 58 in 1934 from 203 in 1931.[9] The cruising cutters, and larger patrol boats retained most of their force. Picket boats were halved from 195 to 109. The number of lifesaving stations remained stable, but the suppression-oriented section bases fell from nineteen to three. Aircraft inventory and the number of 165-foot patrol boats continued to grow through July 1934. These two types of craft partially offset the patrolling vacuum left by the destroyers. The patrol craft and bases were not offset at all.

The manning situation was worse. According to a 1934 memo, “Not only has the Coast Guard felt these losses of men and units, but the drastic, quick retrenchment occasioned thereby, has been a serious blow to the morale and, therefore, the efficiency of the remaining force… funds for the payment of enlisted personnel for the current year are inadequate, and unless the situation is relieved, it will be necessary to discharge or disrate, or furlough without pay, additional men.”[10] The memo’s author, likely the Commandant, asserts “such a step would be a serious reflection upon the Federal Government in breaking faith with men of long and faithful service to their country… a breach of implied contract on the part of the Government.”[11] This was a disheartening time for the service.

In some cold solace, the dour predictions of resurgent smuggling proved correct. By the summer of 1934, there were as many boats hovering off of New York as in 1928 and climbing fast. An estimated $30 Million of revenue was lost in 1934, and if unchecked, 1935 promised to double that number at least. Since the Canadians had been losing something in the range of $30-45 Million per year under similar conditions, this should not have been a surprise.[12] The form of this smuggling was familiar – the trade picked up where it left off with the same radio-linked swift stealth ships.

Rebuilding. Given that the Coast Guard ‘peace dividend’ was only $10 Million per year, the government began to see the reduction in forces as a bad investment. The half-sized, demoralized force could be swarmed and defeated, especially without its scouting destroyers or an adequate number of replacements. The second half of 1934 saw a reversal of the decline and a re-capitalization of Coast Guard forces. This buildup registered primarily in the new large patrol boats and in Aviation, and it allowed the Coast Guard to complete a restructuring it began in 1930.

Admiral Billard launched a service reorganization project during his last year as Commandant.[13] Admiral Hamlet carried it through to completion as the drawdown set in, doing away with the various overlapping lifesaving, patrol and cruising forces and consolidating regional divisions under single commanders. Henry Morgenthau, the new Secretary of the Treasury, asked Coast Guard to take the lead of all Treasury organizations in these districts – having one clear commander who curated diverse capabilities aided interagency coordination.

The divisional structure also worked well with the growing intelligence and aviation capacities, provided the relationships within these divisions were as flat as the Commandant’s guidance intended. Notably, when these organizations were run hierarchically, these special units did not do as well. Commanders that directed actions from the top, yet lacked the technical knowledge to grasp these capabilities, failed to make effective use of these cells. Case in point – Wheeler and the aforementioned breakdown with his Intelligence Lieutenant in the California Division.[14] In general, though, this structure allowed the diverse technical capabilities developed over the course of the campaign to be smoothly brought to bear at the front lines.

The return of funding put substance on the divisional framework. By the beginning of 1935, 18 Thetis-class 165’ patrol ships were operational. This was up from nine half a year prior, and six as of 1932. These were Wheeler’s replacement for the Destroyers – six knots faster than the ‘buck-and-a-quarters’ and designed with a tight turning radius, they could stay with the new generation of fast rum ships at a fraction the cost of a Destroyer. They performed this task well, and along with the still-new Lake-class fast cutters, the remaining half of the patrol fleet, and the still-rapidly-advancing SIGINT capabilities.

The Secretary of the Treasury built a seven-fold plan for the renewed campaign. From a 1935 memo recounting the strategy, “the measures undertaken included:

a) Provision of funds to permit of increased activity by the Coast Guard and stimulation of effort on its part as the marine patrol agency. [NB: Support.]

b) Determination of the sources of supply of contraband and negotiations to obtain the assistance of other governments in checking the illicit traffic. [Diplomacy.]

c) Coordination of the efforts of all Treasury Department law-enforcement agencies having any connection with the problem by means of regional coordinators and the establishment of a ‘law-enforcement’ council or committee at Washington, composed of representatives of the various agencies. Frequent conferences at Washington and in the field contributed to this coordination. [Interagency Fusion.]

d) A study of the legal deficiencies hampering effective efforts against the smugglers and the drafting of a bill strengthening enforcement powers, for presentation to Congress. [Legal, Anti-Smuggling Act of 1935.]

e) Stimulation of sources of information to permit of intelligent action being taken. [Intelligence.]

f) Vigorous prosecutions where cases could be made. [Courts, a major prior deficiency.]

g) Close cooperation with agencies of the Canadian Government, which has a problem of like character. [NB: International Fusion.]”[15]

These were all the result of costly lessons learned. With this strategy in place, the last major campaign began.

The combination of a recapitalized patrol fleet, robust intelligence capabilities, and a burgeoning air fleet formed the final model of the rum war. The Commandant explained this fusion of sea, air and intelligence in a 1934 tactics bulletin:

The Intelligence boat (or any unit suitably equipped) detects black radio traffic and obtains a radio bearing. The air station of plane (standing by) is notified of the bearing of the “black.” The plane takes the air and flies to the position of the patrol boat and passes over her on the course (corrected navigationally) corresponding to the bearing. Upon reaching the black the radio-equipped plane circles overhead and calls for radio bearings from all direction-finder units… The bearings are transmitted by units taking them together with the latter’s positions to a designated patrol unit, and the plot places of the position of the “black” which can then be sought and trailed.

If the rumrunners abandoned their radios, the aircraft could still search for them. There was no way to outrun or hide from an aircraft, other than inclement weather. And the circling aircraft could call a cutter at its convenience. This rumrunner-hunting model offered no ready counter.

Remarkably, this model parallels the “Find-Fix-Finish” approach of counter-terror fame.[1] In order to beat this approach, the rumrunners would have had to re-boot their entire business model. This would have been costly. Social support had begun to turn against them following repeal – no longer romantic outlaws, legal alcohol had made the rumrunners just outlaws. From an intelligence memo in 1935:

Unmentioned previously herein is the effect of a changed public attitude following Repeal. This has been very helpful in contributing to control. Many who were hostile to enforcement efforts during Prohibition are today either indifferent or openly favorable.[2]

Therefore, they could no longer recoup losses or recapitalize the way they once had. A reboot was impossible, and the end of the large-scale illicit liquor trade was just a matter of time.

Only $6.5 Million was lost from the treasury due to liquor smuggling in 1935, around 20% of the 1934 number. The last spike of the rum trade was in the early summer of 1935, and it fell precipitously from there. From the same 1935 report:

As a result of the cumulative effect of the efforts expended by the Government the organizations and individuals promoting smuggling have suffered a severe blow. Efforts are being exerted by them to develop new methods of supply such as chartering vessels to transport cargoes from Europe for delivery on the high seas to smaller vessels or to run directly into large ports where maritime traffic is great and there is the possibility of slipping in as a legitimate vessel not subject to routine inspection. This is an effort on the part of those to whom ‘easy money’ has been the fondest recollection of the heyday of the smuggling traffic. There will always be smuggling in some form and amount but liquor and alcohol smuggling as evidenced during the last fiscal year is declining as a major problem under the pressure exerted by the Government.[3]

What little of the trade remained had fizzled out by 1936, with the liquor ships melting back into the Nova Scotia fishing fleet, or in a few cases, hardening into opium or migrant smugglers. Coast Guard Intelligence ceased tracking suspected Rumrunners entirely on account of irrelevance by 1939. Operational life returned to traditional lifesaving missions and routine law-enforcement by 1936 with the end of organized rum-running.

[1] Charles Faint and Michael Harris, “F3EAD: Ops/Intel Fusion ‘Feeds’ The SOF Targeting Process,” Small Wars Journal, 2012, http://smallwarsjournal.com/author/charles-faint-and-michael-harris.

[1] Bruce Yandle, “Bootleggers and Baptists-The Education of a Regulatory Economists,” Regulation 7 (1983): 12.

[2] Unidentified Clipping. RG 26, NARA.

[4] Cost Calculation Memo. RG 26, NARA.

[6] Intelligence Memo. RG 26, NARA.

[7] Newspaper Clippings. RG 26, NARA.

[12] Lawlor, Rum-Running. 93. ‘The customs revenue went down between $70 and $90M in two years’ – it is unclear whether this is per year or total, but I assumed the former. Since the 1930 US Dollar was 2.07 Canadian dollars, dividing by two accounts for the currency conversion. Depending on the estimate, this could be cut in half once more if the $75-90M was an aggregate number. Either way, there was some non-trivial sum of smuggling losses.

[14] Wheeler CA memo, 1934 (?). RG 26, NARA.

[15] Parker(?) 1935 Memo. Reflected verbatim in Waesche 1938 Memo. RG 26, NARA.

The Great Depression Hits

Work begins on the new Southampton dry dock, to be known as the King George V Graving Dock.

December 11

Work halts on Job #534 because of the Great Depression and an inability to secure further bank loans. The hull plating is 80% completed and the ship stands nine stories high.

July 26

The King George V Graving Dock is officially opened with King George V and Queen Mary steaming into the dry dock aboard the Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert. The dock is the largest in the world at the time. It is 1,200 feet long, 135 feet wide at its entrance, 59 feet deep, holds 58 million gallons of water, and can hold any ship up to 100,000 tons.

January 1

What ships were used for rum-running? - History

Wood tar has been used by mariners as a preservative for wood and rigging for at least the past six centuries. In the northern parts of Scandinavia, small land owners produced wood tar as a cash crop. This tar was traded for staples and made its way to larger towns and cities for further distribution. In Sweden, it was called "Peasant Tar" or was named for the district from which it came, for example, Lukea Tar or Umea Tar.

At first barrels were exported directly from the regions in which they were produced with the region's name burned into the barrel. These regional tars varied in quality and in the type of barrel used to transport it to market. Wood tars from Finland and Russia were seen as inferior to even the lowest grade of Swedish tar which was Haparanda tar.

In 1648, the newly formed NorrlSndska TjSrkompaniet (The Wood Tar Company of North Sweden) was granted sole export privileges for the country by the King of Sweden. As Stockholm grew in importance, pine tar trading concentrated at this port and all the barrels were marked "Stockholm Tar". By 1900, NorrlSndska TjSrkompaniet had lost its control of the pine tar export business, and other exporters were again working out of other ports and marking their product accordingly. Nevertheless, over the centuries "Stockholm Tar" has come to mean a high quality light colored wood tar.

Gamble 1 describes one of the earliest Swedish methods of making tar in Norrland (Northern Sweden). The peasants dug up and cleaned the roots of Swedish pine trees (Pinus silvestris) in the late summer. They then transported the roots to the burn site where they were split and stacked to weather during the winter.

" The 'dale' or burning ground, was built of logs in a scientific manner. It was built on a slope which sometimes forms one side, in the shape of a funnel, with a spout at the lower end of the slope. The outer walls of the 'dale' were built with logs split in two, and a layer of earth was then placed thereon before the interior was lined, either with clay, iron sheet, or thick cardboard." 2

In the summer, the split roots or fatwood were stacked in the kiln and covered with peat and turf. Brush wood was used to provide heat, but the heat was controlled so that the remaining fibers were not burned and the roots give up their liquid. This tar was high in turpentine and was in great demand. 3 By the turn of the 20th century , this traditional way competed with more modern methods of production. Although it produced higher quality tar, it was labor intensive and could not be competitive in the world market.

From the beginning, Britain's colonies in North American were encouraged to produce pine tar and pitch, and to collect gum from pine trees for later shipment to England. These fledgling industries in New England and the Carolinas were encouraged by the Bounty Act of 1705. At that time England had been cut off from its Scandinavian supplies by Russia's invasion of Sweden-Finland. " By 1725 four fifths of the tar and pitch used in England came from the American colonies. " 4 This supply remained constant until the American Revolution in 1776, when England was again forced to trade with the Dutch for Scandinavian products. As the population of the United States grew and moved west, forests were cleared. The southern states began to monopolize the production, because of the type of trees in this reagon. By 1850 most of the U.S. production of tar and pitch was in North and South Carolina. As the 19th Century progressed the tar, pitch, and turpentine manufacturing spread south and west into the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. By 1900, rosin and turpentine were the dominant products, and the states of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama were the three major producers. 5

As the maritime uses of pine tar deminished over the latter half of the 19th century so did its production in the U.S. During this time technological advances had taken place which made it possible to produce tar, but as a by product. The process of destructive distillation was incorporated to manufacture soft wood charcoal and the by products of pine tar in kilns using Long-leaf or Cuban pine. 6 These kilns or retorts ". varied in capacity from one to ten cords. They were usually horizontal, cylindrical, steel vessels set in brickwork, with the fire box at one or both ends, and are charged and discharged at one or both ends. . By this plan fat wood is piled in a pit or brick kiln, so arranged that the tar, when formed, runs to a point where it may be collected, and dipped into barrels." 7 The term " fat wood" or "light wood" 8 refers to yellow pine that is devoid of its bark and growth wood. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, stumps and blow downs were used to make this type of product because of their relative low cost. "If a pit is used, the wood is covered with earth, and if a brick kiln this is closed nearly air tight and the wood burned very slowly until charred. In this process nothing is recovered but tar and charcoal." 9

Many different heat sources were used to produce distillation. At some works gasses and oils were collected from the top of the kiln and run through a condenser to produce "wood turpentine" and "pine oil". The average yield for one cord (4,000 lb.) of "light wood" might be:

Wood turpentine 8 to 15 gal.
Total oils including tar 65 to 100 gal
Tar 40 to 60 gal.
Charcoal 25 to 35 bushels or 403 to 564 lbs. 10
Because of its strong odor, wood turpentine was used as a substitute for second grade gum turpentine in exterior paints and varnishes. Tar and tar oils were added to paints, stains, disinfectants, soaps, and floating oils. The oakum and cordage industry used the majority of the pine tar produced.

At Mystic Seaport Museum pine tar is used for protective coatings on both cordage, oakum, and wood. Standing rigging is inspected regularly and replaced when necessary. When it is wormed, parceled, and server a mixture of pine tar and varnish 11 is used between the layers to protect the natural fibers, and a final coating is applied which will become hard and shiny when dry. We have also had success re-tarring oakum which has partially dried out.

"Our intent was to create a solution that would be absorbed into the fibers of the oakum in order to preserve the fibers. The mixture also had to be able to dry out sufficiently in the open air and not be "sticky" to the touch.

To a quart of pine tar, add approximately one gallon of paint thinner (we used 'Thin-X' by SCL Sterling Corp. '100% mineral spirits') or more, and thoroughly mix until the tar is good and thin. Into a 5 gallon metal pail, the thinned pine tar was mixed with turpentine - enough added to fill the pail. 12 "

The Museum's use of pine tar as a wood preservative is limited. A soaking oil of turpentine, 13 boiled linseed oil, pine tar, and Japan dryer 14 is used on some work boats and collection vessels. This mixture has been called "Old Down East Deck Coating" by some people. A variation of this coating for a wood preservative below ground eliminates the Japan dryer, and the other three ingredients are of equal measure by volume.

For at least the past decade, we have been purchasing pine tar from Natrochem in Savannah, Georgia. Natrochem's supplier is Auson Chemical Industry, Gsteborg, Sweden. We learned from Auson that they make many grades of pine tar for many different uses, but the product exported to the U.S. is EU-588 15 (Natrotar 588), and is a "so-called old fashioned type of tar", and is a byproduct of soft wood charcoal production. 16 Today, Auson makes tar mostly from ordinary pine wood, and controls the amount of phenolic substances (pitch, water, acetic acid, and impurities such as soot and cellulose) by using vacuum distillation which operates at a temperature range of 175-2800 C. Soft wood tars contain resinous, fatty, terpenic ingredients which, when applied on wood, allow the wood to breathe and not rot from within. 17 Auson also receives every year limited quantities of "peasant tar" 18 produced in old fashioned dales. In Sweden, this tar is twice the price of the next lower grade, and it is not usually exported due to the domestic demand.

The continuation of pine tar in the American market place is not dependent on its maritime uses. If it were not for soaps, shampoos, veterinary medicines, and tree limb treatments there would not be enough of a demand for Natrochem to import pine tar in bulk just for maritime uses. Many products which were used only for the repair and maintenance of vessels have been lost forever because the demand for them is not sufficient to keep them in the marketplace. We can only try to support , through use, products that we feel are essential to our field.



Wood Tar - Pine Tar General

Wood Tar is a viscous, blackish brown liquid, translucent in thin layers. It has an empyreumatic odor and sharp taste. The chief constituents are volatile terpene oils, neutral oils of high boiling point and high solvency, resin and fatty acids. The proportion of these vary in the different grades of tar, also according to tree species and the part of the tree used, type of carbonization oven ect. Fat wood tar made from stumps of the pine tree has always been recognized as the best tar, since it contains much of the ingredients which protect the living tree. However, stumps are hard to find and expensive, so ordinary pine wood is mostly used nowadays.

General: A dark colored, old fashion type of pine tar obtained as a byproduct through destructive distillation of pine wood in the manufacture of charcoal. Thinned with turpentine to a standard viscosity.

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