Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Prohibition Centennial 10/28: America's biggest bootlegger, true crime, 1920s, bourbon

Prohibition Centennial 10/28: America's biggest bootlegger, true crime, 1920s, bourbonThe Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition's Evil Genius (Diversion Books) by Bob Batchelor has been hailed by critics as "definitive" and a "rip-roaring good time for any American history or true-crime fan."

100th Anniversary of Volstead Act October 28; Centennial of Law that Launched Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, Rampant Lawlessness, Turned Regular People into Criminals

What: The Volstead Act, enacted into law on October 28, 1919, defined the parameters of the Eighteenth Amendment. By passing the Volstead Act, Congress formally prohibited intoxicating beverages; regulated the sale, manufacture, or transport of liquor; but still ensured that alcohol could still be used for scientific, research, industrial, and religious practices.

When: Congress voted to overrule President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, passing the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919. Legal enforcement of Prohibition began on January 17, 1920.

Why: Chaos reigned in the early twentieth century. In America, the tumultuous era included millions of immigrants streaming into the nation, and then a protracted war that seemed apocalyptic. The backlash against the disarray sent some forces searching for normality. Liquor was an easy target. Supporters of dry law turned the consumption of alcohol into an indicator of widespread moral rot.

Bob Batchelor, author of The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition’s Evil Genius (Diversion Books) is available for commentary and discussion of Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties. The Bourbon King is the epic tale of “Bootleg King” George Remus, who from his Gatsby-like mansion in Cincinnati, created the largest illegal liquor ring in American history. In today’s money, Remus built a bourbon empire of some $5 to $7 billion in just two and a half years.

People all over the world know the name “Al Capone,” but without George Remus and his pipeline of Kentucky bourbon, there may never have been a Capone. Although largely forgotten today, Remus was one of the most famous men in American in the 1920s, including the shocking murder of his wife Imogene and subsequent high-stakes trial that set off a national sensation.


George Remus: “My personal opinion had always been that the Volstead Act was an unreasonable, sumptuary law, and that it never could be enforced.”

George Remus: “I knew it [the Volstead Act] was as fragile as tissue paper.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “America was going on the grandest, gaudiest spree in history…The whole golden boom was in the air—its splendid generosities, its outrageous corruptions and the tortuous death struggle of the old America in prohibition.” From the essay “Early Success” (1937)

Bob Batchelor: “Prohibition turned ordinary citizens into criminals. Media attention turned some criminals into Jazz Age icons. At the top of the heap stood those few, like George Remus, who took advantage of the new illegal booze marketplace to gain untold power and riches.”

Bob Batchelor: “During Prohibition, ‘bathtub gin’ often contained substances that were undrinkable at best and deadly at worst. A band of rumrunners selling ‘Canadian’ whiskey were actually peddling toilet bowl cleaner. Tests on booze obtained in one raid revealed that the liquor contained a large volume of poison.”

Bob Batchelor: “Remus may have been singularly violent and dangerous, but his utter disregard for Prohibition put him in accord with how much of American society felt about the dry laws. Within the government, the lack of resolve for enforcing Prohibition started at the top with President Warren G. Harding and his corrupt administration.”

About The Bourbon King

“Bob Batchelor’s The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition’s Evil Genius might as well be the outline of a Netflix or HBO series.”

– Washington Independent Review of Books

Two interviews that provide background:



About Bob Batchelor

Book event airing on C-SPAN 2’s Book TV:


Bob Batchelor is a critically-acclaimed, bestselling cultural historian and biographer. He has published widely on American history and literature, including books on Stan Lee, Bob Dylan, The Great Gatsby, Mad Men, and John Updike. Bob earned his doctorate in English Literature from the University of South Florida. He teaches in the Media, Journalism & Film department at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and lives in Blue Ash, Ohio.



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