July 27, 1924: Reporter tours horde of 300 moonshine stills at the St. Louis County Jail

On this day in Duluth in 1924, the Duluth News Tribune ran a report about the collection of confiscated stills that had piled up at the St. Louis County Jail since Prohibition became law less than four years earlier. Sheriff Frank L. Magie led the tour, which the reporter first described by smell: “First, there is the odor. Not the balsam and pine of the forest or the freshness of water, but the sweet aromatic fragrance of lunarized liquids—moonshine.” He went on to describe the stills as “tall ones, thin ones, fat ones, slim ones, ranging from a pint to 60 gallons in capacity.” He also commented on the range of colors and quality of the stills, noting “still of exacting workmanship and clever patterns” that prove that “owners have invested considerable sums of money for their breweries, with an eye for high profits.” The best of them all—a shiny outfit with a nickel-plated copper boiler “of saloon capacity”—was operated by electricity and “should find a place in an art museum dedicated to the genius of the Volstead era.” (Prohibition was the law of the Volstead Act, named for the Minnesota politician who sponsored it.) The store room also held samples of the liquor made from the confiscated stills, which were described as “ranging in color from a red of the sharpest hue to a lowly yellow and from the clarity of an Iowa mudhole to the purity of Lake Superior on a quiet day.” So why did the county hold onto the stills instead of destroying them? Because of the copper market. “Copper has taken an awful slump,” the chief explained, “and we are waiting for the market to stir up a bit before we ask for a court order to dismantle them…. The proceeds go to school funds you see.” Read more about Duluth during Prohibition here.

In a scene similar to the one that played out in Duluth’s St. Louis County Jail on July 27, 1924, Colorado state Prohibition agents stand amid confiscated moonshine stills in December 1920. (Denver Post Digital Archive Photo)