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A lopsided battle

Alcohol smuggling in the U.S. reached record heights during prohibition, and this despite endless seizures and the destruction of huge quantities of liquor.

A watchful bailiff supervises workers as they pour the contents of a barrel down the sewer.

Liquor flowed freely … down the sewers!


Workers rip open barrels to dump the alcohol; the empty barrels pile up along a gentle slope.

Barrels are emptied of their contents before being sent to the scrapyard.


Officers throw bottles and crates of beer and alcohol into a pit.

Whisky and beer, bottled and in kegs; nothing is overlooked.


The mule at left is wearing a long, loose-fitting coat; on the right, once her coat is off, we can see that bottles can be hidden in folds at the bottom of the dress.

Women were used as mules because customs officers were less likely to search them.


Customs officers had their hands full. An officer stationed in Sutton from 1925 to 1965, oftentimes working the trains, tells us about those crazy years.

A dramatisation of Gérard Veilleux discussing the prohibition period. (captions available in both French and English). View this video with an English transcript.

By the mid-1920s, organized crime had taken control of the illegal liquor trade. Smugglers had more ways to outwit customs officers: things like very fast cars, sometimes armoured; weapons; smoke screens; and more sophisticated ways to disguise packages and hiding places. At the same time, though, the risks of the trade increased, as this local bootlegger tells us.

What smugglers did during prohibition (captions available in both  French and English). View the video with an English transcript.