Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Idioms.


bootlegging, in the United States, the illegal distribution or production of liquor and other highly taxed goods. First practiced when liquor taxes were high, bootlegging was instrumental in defeating early attempts to regulate the liquor business by taxation. After the appearance of local and state option, those areas that voted to prohibit liquor were supplied with bootlegged liquor. There was also considerable smuggling from foreign countries in order to evade customs duties. In the period of prohibition (1920–33) these activities increased greatly, and by 1930 they were well organized as a large illegitimate industry. Certain areas were dominated by gangs that fought to defend or extend their territory. Infamous gangsters such as Al Capone in Chicago and Legs Diamond in New York City were heavily involved in bootlegging. The retail outlet in the prohibition period was the speakeasy, though a house-to-house delivery system to established customers was also well developed. A high degree of organization also prevailed in international liquor smuggling. The combination of graft and violence accompanying this industry became so intolerable that it was an important factor in the final repeal of prohibition. Bootlegging remains a practice in many areas where prohibition is still in practice. Other highly taxed products may also become a target for bootleggers, e.g., a system of bootlegging untaxed cigarettes into New York City existed in the early 1970s.


See K. Allsop, The Bootleggers (1961, repr. 1970); A. Sinclair, Prohibition: The Era of Excess (1962, repr. 1964); H. Waters, Smugglers of Spirits (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The CID department at the Sharjah Police stressed that even though bootlegging had been declining in the last three years, it apparently is rearing its ugly head again.
"To catch offenders involved in bootlegging operations red-handed it requires undercover work, follow-up and sting operations.
"Printed Music," discusses the bootlegging of song the sheets in the 1930s, fake books, and the photocopying sheet music.
Mushtaq Ahmad filed a case against 17 Indian men for inflicting injuries to his leg in the bootlegging gang fight and sought a compensation of Dh1.5 million.
The men have been in jail since 2009 for the murder of Khan and for assaulting three others during a bootlegging fight in the Al Sajja labour camp off the Sharjah-Dhaid Road.
Many have looked upon the case as a wrong-headed effort to lower the boom on software bootlegging. The lower court itself had characterized the case as insignificant.
"I have guys coming to us looking for space all the time, but we don't want bootlegging and all those sloppy uses in the building."
Bootlegging; romanticism and copyright in the music industry.