Prohibition Agents

Newspapers of the day referred to him as the Incomparable Izzy, Honest Izzy, and America’s Premier Hooch Hound. Izzy referred to his successful operations as the “Einstein Theory of Rum Snooping.”

Isidor “Izzy” Einstein (1880–1938) and Moe W. Smith (1887–1960) were United States federal police officers, agents of the U.S. Prohibition Unit, who achieved the most arrests and convictions during the first years of the alcohol prohibition era (1920–1925).

The Bureau of Prohibition was the United States federal law enforcement agency formed to enforce the National Prohibition Act of 1919, which enforced the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution regarding the prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.

It was first established in 1920 as a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. On April 1, 1927, it became an independent entity within the Department of the Treasury. Later they became part of the Department of Justice, then the F.B.I., and then switched back to the Treasury and renamed the Alcohol Tax Unit.

Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith were known nationally for successfully shutting down illegal speakeasies[1] and using disguises in their work. Izzy was born in 1880 into a Jewish family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He grew up speaking Yiddish and likely was educated in a yeshiva; he also learned Hungarian, Polish, German, and a smattering of other European languages. Einstein emigrated as a young man to the United States in 1901.

Izzy and Moe Facts

Izzy had a knack for languages and for dressing up, so every day he would dress a different way and put on a different voice, and go into an outlawed drinking establishment and order a drink. When it would come, he would always say the same thing as he cuffed them: “There’s sad news here. You’re under arrest.”

Moe W. Smith was born about 1887 in New York City. As a young man, he was a boxer. Einstein had worked as a cigar salesman, and postal clerk managed a small fight club, and owned a cigar store. He signed up as Prohibition Agent No. 1. He then invited fellow Mason, Moe Smith to join him as his partner. They were both rather rotund and disarmed many of their quarry by their unthreatening appearances. They claimed to have used more than 100 disguises and were never detected.

Einstein developed what he called the “Einstein Theory of Rum Snooping”. They made most of their arrests unarmed as they rarely carried weapons. Their disguises included appearing as “streetcar conductor, gravedigger, fisherman, iceman, opera singer” and as the state of Kentucky delegates to the Democratic National Convention of 1924 held in New York.

Izzy and Moe Facts

He arrested bartenders as a German pickle packer, a Polish count, a Hungarian violinist, a Yiddish gravedigger, a French maitre d’, an Italian fruit vendor, a Russian fisherman, a Chinese launderer, and an astonishing number of Americans: cigar salesman, football player, beauty contest judge, street car conductor, grocer, lawyer, librarian, and plumber. Once, he even dressed up as a black man in Harlem. One day when posing as a department store truck driver he purchased liquor at the Luna Hotel in New York. Afterward, he delivered a little C.O.D. of his own: “Come on Down to the Federal Building”.

At one place in Detroit, the bartender refused to serve him because he insisted he was that “Izzy Epstein.” “You mean Einstein don’t you?” Izzy said. When the bartender insisted it was Epstein, Izzy bet him a drink. When the bartender poured him a drink, Izzy cuffed him and said, “There’s sad news here.” He even got to bragging he could get off the train and catch a bootlegger within 30 minutes.

The public which looked upon them with as much delight as ever it looked on Robin Hood was denied their adventures — adventures as thrilling as those of Sir Launcelot, as those of Richard Cœur de Lion, as those of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Time Magazine

They made 4,932 arrests and achieved a 95% conviction rate. They confiscated 5 million gallons of liquor, worth an estimated $15 million. As a result of their work, thousands of bartenders, bootleggers, and speakeasy owners were sentenced to jail.

Izzy and Moe Facts

They frequently scheduled their raids to suit the convenience of the reporters and the newspaper photographers and soon learned that there was more room in the papers on Monday mornings than on any other day of the week. One Sunday, accompanied by a swarm of eager reporters, they established a record by making seventy-one raids in a little more than twelve hours.

Only once did Izzy fail; it was in Washington, D.C. But in Chicago and St. Louis, he found liquor in 21 minutes. It only took 17 in Atlanta and a mere 11 in Pittsburgh. But in New Orleans, he broke all expectations by arresting someone in 35 seconds. He had gotten into a cab and asked the driver where he could cure his thirst. When the driver reached back with some drink, Izzy cuffed him and, you guessed it, said, “There’s sad news here.”

Some Known Disguises
  • German pickle packer.
  • Polish count.
  • Hungarian violinist.
  • Jewish gravedigger.
  • French maitre d’.
  • Italian fruit vendor.
  • Russian fisherman.
  • Chinese launderer.
  • Streetcar conductor.
  • Ice deliverer.Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith in Disguise
  • Opera singer.
  • Truck driver.
  • Judge.
  • Traveling cigar salesman.
  • Street cleaner.
  • Texas cattleman.
  • Movie extra.
  • Football player.
  • Beauty contest judge.
  • Grocer.
  • Lawyer.
  • Librarian.
  • Rabbi.
  • College student.
  • Musician.
  • Plumber.
  • Delegate to the Democratic National convention.

In November 1925, they were laid off with 36 other agents from the New York Office in a reorganization plan by General Lincoln C. Andrews of the national bureau. He resented the favorable coverage that Einstein and Smith received, which gained far more attention than higher officials. Both men went into the insurance business and did well, despite the Great Depression. Einstein worked for the New York Life Insurance Company.

Izzy and Moe Facts

Einstein wrote an autobiography telling of their exploits, called Prohibition Agent No 1. It was published in 1932. It had almost a million readers.

Einstein and Smith’s achievements inspired the television film, Izzy and Moe (1985), directed by Jackie Cooper. Jackie Gleason starred as Izzy and Art Carney as Moe. Einstein’s great-grandson appears in the film.

  1. A speakeasy also called a blind pig or blind tiger is an illicit establishment that sells alcoholic beverages, or a retro-style bar that replicates aspects of historical speakeasies. Speakeasy bars came into prominence in the United States during the Prohibition era (1920–1933, longer in some states). During that time, the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States. Speakeasies largely disappeared after Prohibition ended in 1933. The phrase “speak softly shop”, meaning a “smuggler’s house”, appeared in a British slang dictionary published in 1823. The similar phrase “speak easy shop”, denoting a place where unlicensed liquor sales were made, appeared in a British naval memoir written in 1844. The precise term “speakeasy” dates from no later than 1837 when an article in the Sydney Herald newspaper in Australia referred to ‘sly grog shops, called in slang terms “speakeasy” in this part – Boro Creek. In the United States, the word emerged in the 1880s. A newspaper article from March 21, 1889, refers to “speakeasy” as the name used in the Pittsburgh-area town of McKeesport, Pennsylvania for “a saloon that sells without a license”. Speakeasies were “so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors”. Although failing to account for earlier usage outside the U.S., a common American anecdote traces the term to saloon owner Kate Hester, who ran an unlicensed bar in the 1880s in McKeesport, supposedly telling her rowdy customers to “speak easy” to avoid attention from authorities. Many years later, in Prohibition-era America, the “speakeasy” became a common name to describe a place to get an illicit drink. [Back]

Further Reading


Alcohol Problems and Solutions

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: