Rum Runners: A Short, But Profitable Prohibition-Era Career

By | March 6, 2019

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Sailors of the I'm Alone, suspected rum runner sunk by gunfire in the Gulf of Mexico, are jailed in New Orleans. Source: (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

When the United States Congress finally caved to pressures from temperance groups and passed the 18th Amendment in 1920, the country went dry. Alcohol production, sales, and distribution was suddenly a federal offense. The law that was intended to turn hard-drinking, money-squandering men into suitable husbands and providers, did little to curb the appeal of alcohol. Far from forcing people to go sober, the amendment prohibiting alcohol, called Prohibition, only led people to seek out creative and illegal ways of getting their booze. In the spirit of true American entrepreneurialism, many individuals set out to make their fortune from Prohibition by becoming rum runners. 

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Pouring out booze at the start of Prohibition. Source: (

What Were Rum Runners?

As the name implies, rum runners ran alcohol…not just rum…into places where it could be sold. Rum running differed from bootlegging in that the alcohol was really just being delivered from one place to the next, not being manufactured as bootleggers did, however, the term rum runner was really used to mean someone who smuggled alcohol via water. Rum runners made use of the nation’s waterways to distribute the illegal booze. Transporting and selling booze were both illegal activities. So rum runners had to be creative.