The history of the great Moonshine smuggling

Making moonshine is a memorable part of American history. Practice started in the late 18th century, just before the Revolution, moonshine making seemed as natural as farming. What put the label “illegal” to moonshine and how smuggling shaped the life of moonshiners?

The roots of Moonshine

The word “moonshine” was used firstly in England to describe illegally distilled spirit, as /no wonder/ distillers worked mainly at night, under the moonlight. Though moonshine is referred to whiskey, it can be any alcohol. It remained as a word describing whiskey, because of its Scotch- Irish origins.
In the year before the Revolution many Scotch-Irish immigrants came to America bringing their traditions, and… the moonshine recipe. The immigrants resided in isolation in the Appalachian Mountains, making their living with farming and distilling spirits. Homemade whiskey was their currency, until the Revolution time.

homemade whiskey - moonshine
Modern Moonshine.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
September 1774 By G. TerryPublished: 

The Whiskey Rebellion

The Revolution came with its casualties and like every war act with its subsequent taxes. The young government needed money to fill the treasury, and it enforced an excise tax upon spirits. This action seemed devastating to moonshiners. They tempted to attack every tax collector knocked on their door. Farmers’ resistance was high; they realized how the tax is affecting their primary income. From random violent acts, moonshiners grew into a bigger organization.

The conflict between citizens and government reached its peak in 1794 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where President George Washington sent his troops to meet the rebellion. For good and for bad, the rebellion didn’t last long, and by the end of the day, the riot ended.

moonshine distillery

More taxes and the Civil War

moonshine makerFor the next, almost hundred years moonshine still wasn’t illegal. The tax remained for those years, as well as whiskey distilling. The next milestone in the violent moonshine history became the Civil War. Again money was needed to fund the expensive war, which meant, even more, taxes.
The public opinion for moonshiners was still favorable- people trying to make their living, while the state is twisting their arms. But with the Civil War taxes moonshiner begun to attack and even pursue tax collectors and government’s agents. Moonshiners defended their distillers desperately and brutally, enforcing locals, who might have eventually revealed their secret locations.
Soon the Ku Klux Klan joined forces with moonshiners, which eventually changed society moods. By the end of 1880 the temperance movement- which bans alcohol production and consumption and was formed 60 years earlier- was flourishing.


Not until the Prohibition moonshine, neither alcohol drinking and producing was illegal. The 18th Amendment, so hated by many but loved by moonshiners banned alcohol production and consumption. Moonshiners have never been luckier. Since people were unable to find alcohol anywhere, their whiskey became highly desired. The demand of moonshine was so high that distillers opened literally in every city.

Since drinking was illegal, so as transportation of alcohol was. The term bootlegger quickly became fashionable, meaning a person who smuggles booze. The automobile revolution was a smuggling revolution too- bootleggers soon realized they could hide the alcohol inside the car.

moonshine bottles

Now, if have ever wondered how NASCAR was born, you should know the 18th Amendment played a serious role. Smugglers, trying to escape the law acquired good driving skills, running away with the moonshine. As NASCAR wrote on their website “…NASCAR’s roots are soaked to the very tips in moonshine…”.

moonshine and nascar

Along with the enormous demand and good business running behind the curtains, many moonshiners started to “cook” their liquor sugar-based, making it cheaper, or some even delivered poisonous drinks. With the end of Prohibition and the spread of dangerous spirits, the moonshine market lost its charm and clients.

Moonshine today is usually used to describe the type of the spirit- namely whiskey. And yes, we have moonshine today, which is still illegal and as poisonous as before. There is a strange kind of charm in this liquor struggle, which has left to The history of the great Moonshine smuggling modern society colorful, yet violent history and many nicknames of the moonshine.

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