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Rum Running and the Roaring Twenties

Prohibition on the Michigan-Ontario Waterway

On January 17, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment took effect in the United States, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, use, or importation of alcoholic beverages. Yet the resulting peace and tranquility predicted never materialized. The Prohibition experiment failed dismally in the United States, and nowhere worse than in Michigan. The state's close proximity to Canada, where large amounts of liquor were manufactured, made it a major center for the smuggling and sale of illegal alcohol. Although federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies attempted to stop the flow of liquor into Michigan, an astounding seventy-five percent of all illegal liquor brought into the United States was transported across the Detroit River from Canada.

Using police and court records, newspaper accounts, and interviews with those who lived during the time, Philip P. Mason has constructed a fascinating history of life in Michigan during Prohibition. He regales readers with stories of the bungled efforts by officials at every level to control the smuggling and sale of illegal alcohol. Most entertaining are the creative smuggling efforts undertaken by citizens of all walks of life-the poor, middle class, and affluent, upstanding citizens and organized criminals and gang members.

By 1928 Prohibition was a major issue in the presidential campaign. In 1933, with the support of President Franklin Roosevelt, Michigan's governor William Comstock, and other leaders, the Twenty-first Amendment was passed, repealing Prohibition. Michigan was the first state to ratify the amendment on April 10, 1933, and soon the Detroit River was returned to pleasure boats and fishing and commercial vessels whose holds no longer carried illegal liquor.

About the Authors

Philip P. Mason (1927-2021) was a Distinguished Professor of History at Wayne State University and director of the Archives of Labor & Urban Affairs at the Walter P. Reuther Library. He was the author of The Ambassador Bridge and the editor of Copper Country Journal, amongst other publications. Professor Mason received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan; he was awarded 2009 Historical Society of Michigan Lifetime Achievement Award.


"Mason takes you back to the era when Detroit was on top of the world, a boom town throwing off the new wealth of the auto industry and creating a new way of life for the working class."—Crain's Detroit

"This book provides an insightful, entertaining look at the excesses and failures of Prohibition in the US and particularly Michigan where popular ferry service between Windsor and Detroit provided the perfect avenue for transportation liquor."—Inland Seas

"Rum Running and the Roaring Twenties succeeds in capturing the essence of the era, when flappers, urban development, fads, and speakeasies dominated American culture."—Midwest Book Review

"[Mason] provides an overview of some lesser-known aspects of Prohibition in the Michigan–Ontario border country."—Detroit Sunday Journal

"A sound, informative, and immensely entertaining book about Prohibition in Southeastern Michigan."—The Flint Journal

"Mason has constructed a fascinating history of the Prohibition era."—

Paperback / softback
May 14, 2024
$25.99 USD

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Rum Running and the Roaring Twenties

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