Moonshine and Stills

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Photograph of mountain moonshine still. Courtesy of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library.

Tension between the government and alcohol producers is long-standing, dating back to 1794 when a whiskey tax was imposed leading to the “Whiskey Rebellion”. The Civil War saw the reinstatement of excise taxes on whiskey and tobacco in an effort to raise funds for the troops. The government kept the taxes in place after the war to help fund the reconstruction of the nation. After the Civil War the Revenue Bureau of the Treasury Department was formed with revenue collectors or “revenuers” acting as a police agency and going after moonshiners.

Congress increased the whiskey tax in 1894 with the intent to raise more money. The unintended consequence of this higher tax was to create a larger demand for the (illegal) untaxed liquor. Many distillers chose to sell their product illegally rather than pay the higher taxes. Moonshining grew in popularity at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. As pressure was put on legitimate distillers by temperance and prohibition movements the demand for moonshine increased.