If You grew up in Newark and are too young
to collect Social Security, you probably have no conception of how
a federal law -- the 18th Amendment -- affected Newarkers during
an era called "Prohibition."
The Prohibition era lasted for 13 years from 1920 to 1933, during
which the sale, manufacture, or import of alcoholic beverages was
a violation of Federal law.
The law1, which
became effective on January 16, 1920, directly impacted nearly 2,000
Newarkers working in various local breweries, and Newark's 1,400
saloons and restaurants that relied heavily on the sale of alcoholic
The law gave rise to a new illicit industry: bootlegging -- the
illegal sale and transport of alcoholic beverages.
In the Prohibition era, Newark became the bootleg capital of the
United States. According to a Federal crime hearing in Washington
in 1951 (Kefauver Committee) during the Prohibition era 40 percent
of all illegal alcohol was funneled into the United States through
a Newark bootleg kingpin.
Why was bootlegging so successful, and how did Newark become its
First of all, the law was largely unpopular and loosely enforced.
In Newark, a Federal enforcement agency was opened at the corner
of Broad and West Kinney Streets. However, its small staff was virtually
helpless to stem the flow of illegal alcohol in and through Newark.
Local law enforcement was also hampered by the almost open co-operation
of police, prosecutors, and the courts, who were in the pay of the
bootleggers, or otherwise uninterested in enforcing the law2.
Newark's Bootleg Kingpin
The virtual czar of bootlegging in most of the city of Newark
was Abner (Longy) Zwillman, whose criminal activities also included
gambling and control of labor unions heavily involved with Newark's
economy, including the retail clerk's union. He also had a grip
on cigarette vending machines in New York and New Jersey.
Part of Newark's territorial control of liquor distribution was
shared with First Ward crime boss "Ritchie the Boot" Biordo
after a brief gang war.
As a result of that war, Zwillman convinced Biordo that they would
thrive better through cooperation, and Biordo carried two bullets
in his body permanently as a reminder of that war.
A Look Behind Zwillman's Success
What contributed largely to Zwillman's success was that, despite
the fact that his operations involved lots of 'muscle' and every
type of crime including murder, his criminal enterprises, especially
in his home Third Ward, a heavily-Jewish neighborhood, had a sort
of romantic aura, and Zwillman was viewed by many as a successful
businessman, who was generous in his Third Ward neighborhood, and
to Newark's poor and needy.
Liquor Importation from Canada
Zwillman was linked to international syndicates that brought liquor
to America, and especially New Jersey, from Canada and Smuggling
The liquor-laden ships came up to the 12-mile line offshore from
where it was transferred to speedboats, and brought ashore to be
loaded on waiting trucks operated by bootleggers. The New Jersey
shore was referred to as "Rum Row."
The Ship-to-Shore Speed Boats
The speed boats were mostly operated by fishermen and provided
them with supplemental income. They provided ship to shore transport
from the 12-mile limit in boats equipped with high-speed engines,
sometimes muffled for sound, and usually painted gray so they could
not be easily seen or heard.
Typical were boats of 50 to 80 feet in length, capable of doing
33 miles per hour, and fast enough to outrun Coast Guard interceptors.
The Shore-to-Warehouse Trucks
Longy became the principle supplier for hundreds of speak easies
that sprung up in and around Newark.
His trucks for transporting the offloaded liquor shipment from
the boats were a fleet of three Mack Bulldog (AC Model) trucks,
originally built as armored vehicles for use in the first World
The offloading was done at night at both Newark Bay and Long Branch,
and trucked back to the Third Ward warehouse near Prince Street
Young Third Ward toughs were picked up in the neighborhood for
these nighttime runs, and were paid $20 for a night's work -- the
equivalent of a week's salary for many Newark factory jobs.
One captain who secured and handled the men for the night truck
runs was a Newark boxer from Prince Street, who was paid $50 for
Longy's men rode shotgun on these runs to protect the trucks from
highjackers. After each run, they'd walk over to a nearby Turkish
bath house, where they'd shower, grab a bite, then nap until morning
Other Newarkers in Bootlegging
Many other Newarkers were involved in various aspects of bootlegging.
One former Newarker recalled that his father, resident in the Weequahic
Section on Lehigh Avenue during Prohibition, had been a bootlegger,
coloring and bottling illicit alcohol, and that "the whole
street on Lehigh Avenue was in on it."3
Such was the prevalence of bootlegging in the Weequahic-Clinton
Hill area, that a merchant on Clinton Place operated a bottle store
where bootleggers could purchase whiskey bottles in a variety of
shapes and styles.
The Social Side of Zwillman
So public was Zwillman's persona, that in 1927, he established
in his Third Ward neighborhood at 88 Waverly Avenue a political
club which became a clearing house for city businessmen and politicians,
and a place where jobs and favors were freely dispensed.
The Third Ward Political Club had several hundred members and
celebrated its first anniversary in 1928 with a dinner dance.4
The Political Club was one of two bases of operations for Zwillman.
The Club was mainly for social and political contacts. His business
operations were conducted from an office in the Hotel Riviera at
the intersection of High Street and Clinton Avenue, where he also
had his residence.
End of Prohibition
A repeal of the 18th Amendment, known as the 21st Amendment, was
signed into law on March 22, 1933, ending Prohibition after 13 years.
In Newark, as elsewhere, breweries were allowed to sell 3.2 percent
beer on April 7, 1933. In Newark, only the Krueger Brewery of the
many Newark breweries was ready for manufacture, and, on the stroke
of midnight, April 6, 1933, the Krueger Brewery at 75 Belmont Avenue
opened its brewery doors to the awaiting crowds and permitted them
to take away as much beer as their stomachs could carry.
It took two days to restore the street in front of the brewery
back to normal.
Zwillman After Prohibition
When Prohibition ended in 1933, Zwillman, still a young 29, switched
from being a bootlegging kingpin to gambling as his major source
of income, and mainly to legitimate businesses that were connected
with liquor. These included liquor wholesalers, a liquor store retail
chain, night clubs, and even the famous Tavern Restaurant in Newark.
Some Prohibition-Era Slang
Smuggler of Alcoholic beverages: Rumrunner
Bootleg liquor/alcohol: Booze, brew, giggle water,
hooch, jake-leg, vino
Moonshine: Home-made whiskey (sometimes made in
outdoor stills by the light of the moon).
Bathtub Gin: Alcohol mixed in bottles too tall
to be filled from a sink tap and commonly filled under a bathtub
Illegal Saloon: Speakeasy, gin mill, whoopee parlor.
(The 'speakeasy' got its name because one had to whisper a code
word or name through a slot in a locked door to gain admittance).
Drunken bum: Rummy
Drink liquor: Booze up
Being drunk: Bent, blotto, crocked, fried, juiced,
lushed, ossified, splifficated
Rum dum: Constantly drunk