Detectives During the Prohibition Era

When the Volstead Act was passed in 1919 Prohibition arrived in the U.S. It was the hardest thing to do to keep everyone away from drinking. The Prohibition put a ban on the production, importation, transportation and the sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933

So what does somebody do if alcohol gets banned? They open up the Bureau of Prohibition to enforce this law and its top detectives became Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith. At first, the Bureau wasn’t interested in hiring Einstein, but he convinced them that no bootleggers would pay mind to a middle-aged, stocky and short guy. It worked out just fine when Einstein knocked on the door of a speakeasy and showed his badge they’d still let him in. He was offered a drink because everyone thought it was just a gag. Other times he played it like a real joke taking with him a jug of milk or a jar of pickles and it was amusing seeing a fat man with pickles saying he was an agent.

Izzy Einstein took his friend Moe Smith as a partner. Neither of them had any law enforcement experience. They showed everyone what they could do by making almost 5,000 arrests with a 95% conviction rate. Both Izzy and Moe wore disguises to get into speakeasies. They figured it out as they went along. If the place was near a hospital they’d be in white coats, if it was a place where lawyers went to find drinks they’d go in with law texts and even dressed up as a husband and wife. Their mistake was to become too popular and getting too many other agents to resent them. After just five years with the Bureau, they were fired.

In 1985 there was a made-for-TV comedy crime film that was a fictional account of these two real-life Prohibition-era policemen. Guess who played them? Jackie Gleason and Art Carney.

In the photo, you can see the real ones in disguise.


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