Vintage Photos of Prohibition in Boston

Prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, in place from 1920 to 1933. The ban was mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the Volstead Act set down the rules for enforcing the ban and defined the types of alcoholic beverages that were prohibited. Prohibition ended with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, on December 5, 1933.

The introduction of alcohol prohibition and its subsequent enforcement in law was a hotly debated issue. The contemporary prohibitionists (“dries”) labeled this as the “Noble Experiment” and presented it as a victory for public morals and health. The consumption of alcohol overall went down by half in the 1920s; and it remained below pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s.

Anti-prohibitionists (“wets”) criticized the alcohol ban as an intrusion of mainly rural Protestant ideals on a central aspect of urban, immigrant and Catholic everyday life. Effective enforcement of the alcohol ban during the Prohibition Era proved to be very difficult and led to widespread flouting of the law. The lack of a solid popular consensus for the ban resulted in the growth of vast criminal organizations, including the modern American Mafia, and various other criminal cliques. Widespread disrespect of the law also generated rampant corruption among politicians and within police forces.

In the fascinating gallery below, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Leslie Jones Collection, we get a glimpse into the days of prohibition in Boston, Massachusetts. From the Rum Chasers and Rum Runners of the sea, to the speakeasy’s and stills in the city, these Prohibition-era photos provide a glimpse into one of more intriguing periods of U.S. history.

1. Fleet of Rum Chasers in East Boston – c. 1917-1934

2. $175,000 in Liquor Seized by Coast Guard – Jan. 18, 1932

$175,000 in liquor seized in Dorchester Bay by Coast Guard men from Base 5.
Brought to US Customs Appraisers’ stores.

3. Speakeasy Raided and Destroyed by Federal Agents – Feb. 11, 1932

Speakeasy at 153 Causeway Street, raided and destroyed by Federal agents.
The most elaborate joint ever built in Boston.

4. Ice Covered Rum Chaser – Jan. 20, 1926

Rum chaser Dallas clad in ice after fighting severe gale in zero weather for 7+ hours

5. Boston Police Liquor Squad – 1928

Boston Police Liquor Squad led by Oliver Garrett (second from right) dressed up
in evening clothes for visits to Boston hotels on New Year’s Eve.

6. Commissioner and Superintendent at Police HQ – 1935

7. Aerial Photo of a Seized Rum Runner – c. 1917-1934

8. Casks Seized by Police – c. 1930

Police from Division 9 with casks seized during Prohibition.

9. Aerial View of Rum Runners – c. 1917-1934

10. Man Operates Still out of the Back of a Carriage – c. 1917-1934

11. Rum Chasers: Beagle and Cunningham – Jan. 23, 1927

12. Newer Fleet of Rum Chasers: General Green & Frederick Lee – 1928

13. Superintendent Crowley Inspects a Speakeasy – 1930

14. Still Raided and Destroyed at Woburn by Federal Agents – 1934

15. Captured Rum Runner Brought to the Appraiser’s Stores – c. 1917-1934

16. Coast Guard Seizes a Rum Runner – c. 1917-1934

17. Still Explosion Kills Man in Reading – 1930

18. Fleet of Rum Chasers in East Boston – Dec. 30, 1928

19. Boat Suspected of Selling Alcohol is Inspected – c. 1917-1934

Boat with sign “Fresh Fish and Fruit” delivers bottled drinks to men on pier
(possibly selling illegal alcohol).

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