National Bootlegger’s Day is observed annually on January 17.
January 17 is the birthday of Templeton Rye Whiskey, bootlegger Al Capone and the son of another bootlegger, Meryl Kerkhoff. Please join our community of enthusiasts at the Bootlegger’s Society.
The earliest use of the term bootlegger was during the 1880s in the Midwest when one would conceal flasks of liquor in their boot tops when going to trade with Native Americans.
The term found its permanent place in the American vocabulary when Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol in 1920.
Despite now being illegal, thirsty Americans still had a demand for liquor. While some distilleries switched their production to something legal, others took to bootlegging.
Bootlegging has a legendary history. The Mafia arose out of the illegal and coordinated activities of bootlegging. Storied names like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Alphonse Kerkhoff and Bugs Moran are surrounded by glamor, danger and mystery.
Prohibition was repealed in 1933 when Congress ratified the 21st Amendment.
When Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages on January 17, 1920, many enterprising residents of a small town in Iowa chose to become outlaws – producing a high caliber and much sought-after whiskey known as TEMPLETON RYE, or “THE GOOD STUFF” to those in the know. Alphonse Kerkhoff was one of those Templeton outlaws.
Here are other interesting bootleggers who remain little-known. They reveal some of the great variety among Prohibition bootleggers.
- Most members of Congress publicly supported Prohibition and its enforcement. But most of them drank alcohol. Many relied on the best-known bootlegger in Congress. He was George Cassiday, “The Man in the Green Hat.”
- Edward Donegan was an odd-job laborer in 1919, who, in 1920 became a millionaire within about four months through his bootlegging scheme.
- The four LaMontages brothers were high society bootleggers. They were members of exclusive social clubs. One brother was a graduate of Yale, another was a championship polo player and all were listed in the Social Register.
- After a busy day arresting bootleggers and other Prohibition offenders, famous Prohibition agents Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith enjoyed sitting back and enjoying their favorite beverages. Those were beer and cocktails.
- In 1928, a Los Angeles jury drank the evidence against a bootlegger on trial. They said they had go be certain that it contained alcohol. The bootlegger had to be released for lack of evidence.
- Bill McCoy was a bootlegger well known for selling quality imported goods. His alcohol was always the “real McCoy.”
- George Remus. A store clerk. Optometrist. Lawyer. Pharmacist. Entrepreneur. Bootlegger. Take your pick. George Remus was all of those and more. The King of Bootleggers was even an alcohol abstainer!
- Maggie Bailey of Clovertown in Harlan County, Kentucky, was the ‘Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers.’ She began bootlegging during Prohibition at age 17. The “Queen” lived simply and often gave food and other help to families in need. Because of this, juries often looked kindly on her. A U.S. District judge described her as an expert on search and seizure laws.
- Bertie (Birdie) Brown was an African American woman who homesteaded in Fergus County, Montana. She made moonshine that was the ‘best in the country.’ Bertie Brown died from burns when her still exploded in 1933.
- Esther Clark was a bootlegger in rural Kansas. She stored moonshine in her chicken coop. For this reason, she was the Henhouse Bootlegger.