The Mississippi has always been a working river. A huge water highway running north to south carrying freight and people hundreds of miles up and down the river. From the days of canoes to giant steam paddle wheels to today’s behemoth barges and sleek river cruise boats, the river has always been busy.
Unfortunately, due to a little known codicil in the implementation regulations for the 21st Constitutional repealing Prohibition, the entire length of the Mississippi was legally dry between 1933 and 1945. Congress fixed the problem with the “Tippling Rider” to the Flood Relief Bill for the Mississippi River Flood of 1945. But it was a rough couple of years…
During 1933 and 1945, the large barges and passenger vessels were regularly inspected for alcoholic beverages at the embarkation and destination ports. Stops along the way had local inspectors.
However, as Prohibition taught us, like life, booze will find a way. Small boats would supply alcohol and spirit away the empties along the trip. Originally called “fuel boats” to avoid suspicion, they quickly were nicknamed “tavern boats”.
After the fix in 1945, the practice continued as the tavern boats could provide spirits that avoided the surging state taxes. Now known openly by their nickname, boats labelled themselves with the now standard “Tavern” sign. The actually name of the boats were not visible on the boat to make it more difficult to track them. While they were legal, old habits died hard.
The picture above is the tavern boat that operated around the same time as the William M. Black dredge boat. Displayed together to show the symbiosis between the two, this exhibit at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium shows the importance of both types of ships in the Mississippi ecosystem.
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