18 Vintage Photos From Prohibition

Americans are fascinated by prohibition, as evidenced by the success of shows like Boardwalk Empire and the many movies based on Al Capone. But for all the discussions and reenactments of the period, it’s still rare to actually look back on photos from the period. Here are a few scenes from the fight against alcohol, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Road to a Dry America

The American Temperance Society started all the way back in 1826—almost 100 years before national prohibition. Within the following years, more groups popped up, including the Prohibition Party, formed in 1869, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which started in 1873, and the Anti-Saloon League of America, created in 1893.

After the Prohibition Party formed, they started trying to get a president elected in their name –just like all American political parties do. Here is a picture of their sixth convention, held in 1892 at the Cincinnati Music Hall. Interestingly, while the party is still around, the 1892 convention led to the group’s most successful presidential election ever, securing their candidate, John Bidwell, 270,770 votes.

The most successful of all temperance groups was the Anti-Saloon League of America, which at one point was the most powerful lobbying group in the country.

The group’s sixteenth convention took place in Atlantic City in 1915, which is fun to look at these days, given that the same location is now the setting for a massively popular show about bootlegging. To view the full panoramic image, go here.

Of course, for some campaigners, getting prohibition passed in America wasn’t enough. They wanted the whole world to go dry. One of the most famous international prohibitionists was W.E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson. Unfortunately for Johnson though, not everyone was so excited to ban alcohol, and when he went to speak in London in 1919, he was captured by a mob of students and had to be rescued by the police. Here he is returning to America afterwards; you can see a larger version here.

Johnson’s career started to wind down at that point. Only two years later, he was booed off stage at two different venues in Canada. Despite the intimidation he received in London and Canada, he continued to tour the world speaking about prohibition throughout the rest of the twenties and then retired from public life in 1930.

Politicians Taking Sides

While prohibition didn’t go into effect nationwide until 1920, many states had already outlawed alcohol within their borders. Indiana was one such state. In fact, Governor James Putnam Goodrich signed the act into law in 1917, captured forever in this image.

Of course, not everyone supported prohibition. These men made up the “Wet Block” of Congress, who worked to repeal the prohibition legislation as soon as it was passed.

While it is sometimes hard to illustrate a political position in one picture, Representative John Phillip Hill of Maryland did an excellent job of illustrating his intent to make America a wet country again.

Prohibition-supporter William D. Upshaw of Georgia had an easy enough time taking a photo rebuttal –he simply showed himself keeping the capital dry with the use of an umbrella. Upshaw was such a well-known supporter of temperance that he earned the nickname “the driest of the drys.” In 1932, he even ran as the presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party.

Playing Cat and Mouse

Before there were drug dogs, there were booze hounds, but not the kind you’re thinking of. These pooches were specially trained to sniff out alcohol, like the flask in this man’s back pocket. This image was more than likely set up and taken for the sake of news reporters, but the idea, thought up by Colorado probation agent Commissioner Haynes, was still quite ingenious.

Moonshiners developed some pretty clever tricks of their own though. These shoes were known as “cow shoes” because they would leave a series of footprints that looked like cow tracks, making it harder for prohibition agents to tell where bootleggers were going.

With stills occasionally being hidden in the middle of nowhere, like this one, you can easily see just how useful some cow shoes would be in trying to hide any trace of your illegal activities.

One of the most popular ways of getting good booze into the country was to sneak it in at night via boat. But not all rum-runners got away with it –here is one unfortunate crew being stopped by some very heavily-armed coast guards back in 1924.

A huge problem faced by prohibition officers though was the simple fact that people smuggling and drinking booze weren’t all big-time criminals or shady-looking street characters. In many cases, the people flouting prohibition were everyday, hard-working Americans who just wanted a drink or those who knew they could make a few extra bucks helping those who had a taste for the drink. In fact, these two sweet-looking Navy nurses were even arrested and tried for smuggling liquor into the country.

Accidents Waiting to Happen

While police preferred to catch bootleggers at their warehouses, all too often the arrests ended up involving car chases. Police chases are always dangerous, but because the vehicles involved lacked seat belts, power steering, anti-lock brakes and a variety of other safety features we take for granted, the results were often deadly.

This Stutz touring car was particularly poorly adapted for racing and the driver immediately passed away when the vehicle, traveling at seventy miles an hour, crashed into a tree. The liquor that wasn’t destroyed in the crash was seized as evidence.

Interestingly, it was these very car chases that led to the creation of stock car racing and, eventually, NASCAR. That’s because bootleggers knew they had to be able to escape the police, so they started modifying their vehicles to better maneuver and to achieve higher speeds. The drivers would deliberately bring the chase up dangerous, curvy mountain roads hoping the police wouldn’t be able to maneuver the deadly curves as well as they could. The best drivers with the best cars may have gotten killed in car accidents or arrested after a serious crash, but they never got caught by speedy officers like these gentlemen. But, to be fair, Washington D.C. is hardly the ideal place for a high-speed chase.

Taking it Off the Streets

Raids, like this one that took place in the basement of a popular Washington D.C. lunchroom, were a fairly common occurrence during prohibition.

Unsurprisingly, with all of these raids going on, the government ended up with quite a lot of extra booze in its hands, all of which was supposed to be destroyed. In some cases, local officials like Mayor W. Hurd Clendinen of Zion City, Illinois, would make the destruction into a public spectacle in order to feed the reporters news of great bootlegging successes.

Just as commonly though, the police would just dump out the booze in the sewer nearest the location of their bust.

Of course, unlike the booze, the stills had to be kept around for use as evidence later on. Here Lieutenant O.T. Davis, Sergeant J.D. McQuade, George Fowler of the IRS and H.G. Bauer posed with the biggest bootlegging still captured up until that point in 1922.
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In the end, we learned that even if the average American might have consumed a little less alcohol, the resulting proliferation of organized crime just wasn’t worth the handful of benefits achieved through prohibition. The “Noble Experiment” failed and the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

Svetlana Ivanova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
What It's Like to Live in Yakutsk, Siberia, the Coldest City on Earth
Svetlana Ivanova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Svetlana Ivanova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

The residents of Yakutsk, Siberia are experts at surviving harsh winters. They own thick furs, live in houses built for icy environments, and know not to wear glasses outdoors unless they want them to freeze to their face. This is life in the coldest city on Earth, where temperatures occupy -40°F territory throughout winter, according to National Geographic.

Yakutsk has all the features of any other mid-sized city. The 270,000 people who live there have access to movie theaters, restaurants, and a public transportation system that functions year-round. But look closer and you’ll notice some telling details. Many houses are built on stilts, and if they’re not, the heat from the building thaws the permafrost beneath it, causing the structure to sink. People continue going outside during the coldest months, but only for a few minutes at a time to avoid frostbite.

Then there's the weather. The extreme low temperatures are cold enough to freeze car batteries and the fish sold in open-air markets. Meanwhile, a thick fog is a constant presence in the city, giving it an otherworldly aura.

Why do people choose to live in such a harsh environment? Beneath Yakutsk lies a literal treasure mine: Mines in the area produce a fifth of the world’s diamonds. Valuable natural gas can also be recovered there.

While Yakutsk may be the coldest city on Earth, it’s not the coldest inhabited place there is. That distinction belongs to the rural village of Oymyakon, 575 miles to the east, where temperatures recently dropped to an eyelash-freezing -88°F.

Snow-covered road.
Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna- CAFF, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Road covered in snow.
Magnús H Björnsson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Church surrounded by snow.
Magnús H Björnsson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[h/t National Geographic]


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