George Cochran docked in Hudson River for search of herring cargo

George Cochran docked in Hudson River for search of herring cargo


The Hudson River was a hub of activity during Prohibition. The river begins far north of Albany and ends in New York’s upper bay near the Statue of Liberty. It is sometimes  called the North River.


The George Washington Bridge  across the Hudson was not completed until late in Prohibition. So most people and goods crossed the river on ferries. Chases on the river involving Customs or the Coast Guard or the Marine Police and smugglers led to pursuers and pursued having to dodge the ferries. A few times passengers on the ferries  hit the deck to avoid the gunfire!

Train Barges

Clever smugglers brought liquor from the south to NYC  by train, especially in the winter.These trains came from  as far away as New Orleans and Florida as well as from the Chesapeake Bay. When the railroad cars reached the western side of the Hudson River, they were carried cross on barges. This meant railroad cars filled with smuggled liquor often crossed the river under the very noses of enforcers.

Passenger liners

Ocean liners arrived in NYC from Europe and Canada and Latin America on a daily basis in the 1920s. (Plane flight was in its infancy.)  These ocean liners docked on the Hudson. Foreign ocean liners could and did serve their passengers liquor while at sea. Once they docked, some of this liquor was smuggled off  into New York City.


Sites up the Hudson were also destinations for smugglers. Albany was one such location. One rumrunner  came into NY harbor and headed up the river for Albany. But a Customs boat was right behind it.  When the rum captain realized this, he  grounded the boat at Harverstraw-on-Hudson. Then he and his crew jumped overboard and swam ashore.

The Barge Canal (former Erie Canal?) across New York State was used by smugglers, sometimes to deliver liquor to NYC. Canada was the source of  80% of liquor smuggled into the U.S. during Prohibition.  Some went across Lake Erie to Buffalo, and then via the canal to Albany, then down the Hudson to NYC.

In other instances, liquor was smuggled from Montreal to Albany by car and truck, then downriver to Manhattan. Or Canadian liquor was smuggled south by car to Lake Champlain, then by boat down the long lake, and finally trucked to Manhattan or sent by boat down the Hudson.

One midtown Manhattan cafe smuggled beer through Long Island Sound, west across Spuyten Devil Creek and the Harlem River, to the Hudson, then upriver to Kingston. There it was warehoused and/or trucked back to two warehouses in lower Manhattan.

Rum Submarines?

In 1924, two submarines, possibly carrying liquor, were sighted and photographed below the Hudson, off Croton Point. The aerial map-making firm shared the startling image with the Navy. The Navy reported none of its submarines were involved.  The photo ended up in Coast Guard Intelligence files.

Aerial photo of two [rum?] submarines off Croton Point, Hudson River, 1924

Aerial photo of two [rum?] submarines off Croton Point, Hudson River, 1924

[For more, see Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City by Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, SUNY Press, 2013. The book is scholarly and “dense” at  less than 200 pages including photographs, footnotes, primary documents ,bibliography, and  index as well as text. ]