“ …The manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States… is hereby prohibited.”(18 th Amendment).
On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, prohibiting the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol throughout the United States.This radical law passed amidst obvious controversy, plagued by a seemingly never-ending battle between wets vs. dry’s.Throughout the nation, alcohol and all activities related to it were criminalized overnight, leaving people longing for the “devil’s drink.”The prohibition of alcohol was not enough, however, to override the basic economic principles of supply and demand.All over the country, the other side of the law related to alcohol was now a booming, lucrative business.Regardless of its legality, people wanted, or rather needed their booze.And Floridians were no exception.
Florida presented a unique opportunity for those illegally manufacturing, transporting, and selling alcohol during Prohibition.See, Florida is a state with two distinct cultures, due to its bipolar geographic nature.Along the coast, port cities such as Miami, Ybor city in Tampa, and Jacksonville became famous for their rum-running and connections to the Caribbean.Those craving their fill of exotic drinks could easily quench their thirst in these cities, or many cases actually simply travel to locations such as the Bahamas for their fill their stomachs.While these port cities were thriving along Florida’s coast, the interior of Florida thrived in a different way.
Florida’s rural areas inland from the coast were not exempt from the illegal profits made during prohibition.Moonshining was serious business, and very popular.Even before the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, moonshining was common practice by farmers, although not to the level seen during prohibition.With the banning of alcohol being consumed through legal channels, moonshining exploded in rural Florida.In many cases, homebrew beers and liquors were actually used as a form of currency.Seen as a way to circumvent the law and its specific semantics banning the “sale” of alcohol, alcohol was often used as a bartering tool for other daily-use products.This was futile, as the Florida courts convicted those attempting to barter with alcohol regardless, but it does show the mindset in which moonshiners operated.Even after prohibition was repealed on December 5th, 1933 with the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution, moonshining was still common, as the homebrew alcohol was often cheaper than the legal alternative, as well as much stronger than the 3.2% alcohol content legal beer then contained after prohibition’s repeal.With moonshining now directly affecting state revenues due to the loss of taxes paid on legal beer by the purchasing of moonshine, those producing unregulated beer found themselves under harsher punishment and enforcement than they had been during the era of prohibition.In an ironic twist, in many ways, it was safer to moonshine when alcohol was illegal across the board.
See, the biggest thing one must understand when studying moonshining in rural Florida is the fact that since the nineteenth century, brewing one’s own alcohol was simply a way of life.Stills and distilleries were common throughout farmlands and agricultural areas.The remoteness of the farms and fields necessitated farmers to brew their own liquors and beers if they desired them.In many ways, the ability to concoct a proper moonshine instilled a sense of pride in oneself.Coastal regions did not offer much in the way of fertile soil, and the infrastructure to bring imported alcohol into the middle of the state was not pervasive enough to provide such luxuries to agriculturalists that worked the farms.Moonshining was their only option.Either that, or buy the moonshine from those who made it locally.In many ways too, the sale of one’s moonshine was more profitable than the crops of the fields the farmers tended.The grains and such that were grown on the land could be sold, yes, but when turned into alcohol the value of those grains and stocks grew to be much higher than the raw goods.
One interesting effect moonshining had on the rural Florida economy was via an unlikely source: NASCAR.The city of Daytona on Florida’s eastern coast is currently considered the Mecca of the NASCAR community, but that was not always the case.Unlike port cities in Florida, which grew out of the import and rum-running business, Daytona flourishes because of Daytona International Speedway and the activities surrounding the speedway.NASCAR’s origins are built on moonshining.Bootleggers used to race their cars, which were modified for higher speeds in order to outrun pursuers such as policemen and other government officials.These backwoods races then evolved into organized events, and racetracks started popping up all throughout the central Florida area.Shortly after people began racing their cars gambling on the races started popping up.Gambling became a source of income for some of the moonshiners.Some moonshiners became so good at racing they quit brewing.Daytona is, of course, world famous, but there are other venues outside of Orlando, Tampa, and New Smyrna with similar histories.
Moonshining caused many health concerns while brewing and consuming.It's probably obvious that there are no health standards, no regulatory bodies, which govern the production of moonshine.For generations, moonshine has been made in home- made stills, hidden from sight.The forest, or a swamp, is often the easiest place to locate a still; those located closer to home can be found in barns, chicken coops, or buried underground.These places are breading grounds for germs and disease.Even though the alcohol kills most of the germs and bacteria growing in the area, people have had experiences of going blind or neurological damage. A reporter from the New York Times said "The instant he swallowed the stuff he feels as if he were sunburned all over, his head begins to buzz as if a hive of bees had swarmed there, when he closed his eyes, he sees six hundred million torch-light processions all charging at him, ten abreast, and when he opens his eyes the light blinds him and everything seems dancing about."Lead was the hidden killer of people drinking moonshine.Lead was indictable by taste in the moonshine. The other danger came from brewing moonshine.Stills were very unstable and would explode from time to time.If the stills were not in a well-ventilated area, the vapors form the alcohol could easily ignite.
Moonshine was not the growing product during prohibition.In Ybor City, Cigar sales rose during prohibition.Ybor City had a growing Cuban population.The growing Cuban population caused an influx of Cuban Cigars.Many Cuban immigrants would roll cigars and sell them to people in Tampa.Many people would also sell the cigars to speakeasies.The customers would enjoy a cigar with the alcohol they would buy.
Prohibition may have ended in December 5, 1933 but it completely changed Florida’s economy.It created a booming demand for moonshine in North and Central Florida.Florida’s illegal economy grew, the longer prohibition went on.Florida is such a diverse state.It has multiple port cities where rum runners could smuggle rum in to the country form the Caribbean.Florida also has swamps and thick forest where people could hide stills to brew moonshine.Florida has such a diverse culture, from the people in the big cities going to the speakeasies and enjoying a drink to people of small town and rural areas trading goods and services for moonshine.Many farmers would brew alcohol or beer at home because they were too far from a city or town where they could get a drink.Prohibition and Moonshining left a lasting effect on Florida culture and economy by a new growing sport.NASCAR became popular because of the moonshiners would modify the engines of their cars to out run the police.Shortly after that they began racing the cars and betting on the races.Moonshining was a risky business not only because of the police but because of the health concerns and dangers of brewing the alcohol.Prohibition had a lasting effect on Florida, to this day people still go out in the woods or swamp to brew homemade alcohol.