Rumrunners in Florida

The Prohibition era was defined by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors in the United States. The amendment went into effect on January 17, 1920, and quickly gave rise to new criminal enterprises designed to provide Americans with access to the contraband liquor. Bootlegging, smuggling, speakeasies, and gang activity were rampant until Prohibition was repealed in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.

Lake Worth (Fla) (ca. 1920) Florida Memory

Florida maritime culture, in particular, was impacted by Prohibition. The state’s proximity to the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands meant it was in a prime position for smuggling. Rumrunners, as the smugglers were called, could transport illegal liquor by boat to the Florida coast. The extensive coastline made Florida a difficult place for Prohibition enforcement agents to police.

One of the major ports for liquor in the Bahamas was Bimini, which lay only 45 miles from Miami. A rumrunner could leave Bimini at sunset, drop his cargo on the Florida coast under cover of darkness, and then be back in Bimini by sunrise. Rumrunners were often aided by fishermen wanting to make some extra money by acting as lookouts. Popular drop-off points included Tahiti Beach, Matheson Hammock, Snapper Creek, and the Coral Gables Waterway.

The burden of policing the waters for smugglers fell to the United States Coast Guard. In the early days of Prohibition, they were not well-equipped to deal with the high levels of illegal activity. They didn’t have the manpower to effectively patrol the waters, and the