Kennedy Family Made Money in Bootlegging: Never happened!

Simone Graham – Editor: I was preparing a Facebook post for National Bootlegger’s Day when I remembered that Joe Kennedy, President Kennedy’s father was supposed to have made money in bootlegging.  I was looking for a few lines about this juicy urban myth to spice up the post. It turns out he did not make his money in spirits by bootlegging! Yes, he was in involved with the liquor industry, but not according to present day rumor. Noah Rathaus’, Daily Beast writer, research gives the facts below.

According to lore, Joe Kennedy built the family’s fortune by bootlegging. Just as George Washington is now known ‬for his rye whiskey distillery and Harry Truman’s love of bourbon famously helped him defeat his formidable opponent Dewey, the Kennedy family was synonymous with East Coast rum running.

circa 1939: American Ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy (1888 – 1969) with the English statesman Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) outside Downing Street, London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The only problem with this story is that none of it is true.

In Last Call, author Daniel Okrent goes into great detail about how he couldn’t find any credible information to support the allegation that the Kennedy patriarch illegally sold alcohol during Prohibition, even though it is now normally treated as fact.

“Somerset [Joe Kennedy’s importing company] emitted the scent that hovered around most marriages of politics and commerce, but it was in every respect perfectly legal,” wrote Okrent. But, “From such acorns, nourished by a lifetime’s accumulation of rumors, enemies, and vast sums of money, arose the widely accepted story of Joseph P. Kennedy, bootlegger.”

Joseph Kennedy Sr. 1988 – 1969, prominent U. S. businessman , political figure, and Father of President Kennedy, Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy.

What is true is that during the waning days of Prohibition, Kennedy traveled to Europe with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s son James, who helped him obtain importing contracts for Dewar’s, Gordon’s Gin, and Haig & Haig. “Jimmy’s presence next to Joe at business meetings signaled to the British business leaders that if they wanted to please the new administration, here was a good way to do it,” wrote Laurence Leamer in The Kennedy Men. Somerset Importers got permits to sell medicinal whiskey in America, too, which allowed Kennedy to sign the importation agreements legally. Prohibition was repealed soon after his trip, leaving him in excellent shape to supply a very thirsty America with high-quality booze from the United Kingdom.

In 1946, he sold Somerset Importers to former mobsters Longy Zwillman and Joseph Reinfeld.

Hersh theorizes that this was done so JFK could run for a seat in Congress. – The Daily Beast

One Response to Kennedy Family Made Money in Bootlegging: Never happened!

  1. David S says:

    It seems strangely similar to what pot growers did in this country in order to be able to sell pot for recreational use through the underground. Get a license to sell to folks with a prescription and keep the recreational product underground where everyone kept the secret with a wink and an nod.

    Off the top of my head I can’t think of a lot of medicinal uses for alcohol, but if there is I am sure that they had that covered. Enough anyway to produce large amounts of moonshine grain alcohol. I don’t think your author’s ran into anyone willing to spill the beans and you can bet that Kennedy made damn sure nobody did.

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