Izzy Einstein And Moe Smith: Prohibition's Most Feared And Decorated Agents

During the latter part of the 19th century, America was under attack. But it wasn't foreign countries or other outside forces that were the problem — the threat to America during this time came from within, and her name was alcohol. At the turn of the century, the growing movement known as prohibition was gaining steam and would soon become the law of the land via the 18th Amendment. This amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol across the country and was ratified by Congress in 1919 (per Britannica).

Though the government thought banning alcohol would solve a lot of America's problems, more of the opposite proved to be true. Bootlegging and speakeasies popped up across the country, and making and selling illegal alcohol became big business. As such, the government needed to crack down on the criminal activity that was on the rise. According to the ATF, the Prohibition Unit was created and hired both men and women as prohibition agents to help combat these illicit activities. Two of the best were Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith.

Who were Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith?

Austrian-born Isidor "Izzy" Einstein was born sometime during the 1880s and came to the U.S. in 1901 (per Alcohol Problems and Solutions). He married and had a family, including seven children. Einstein was also not always in law enforcement. In fact, censuses taken in 1910 and 1920 show that he was a merchant and then a mail sorter. When prohibition went into effect, Einstein decided to become a prohibition agent. It seemed like a strange choice for a man who had no experience and an unconventional appearance, unlike that of most law enforcement officers. At 5-foot-5-inches and 225 pounds, he wasn't the intimidating figure you often picture. Lucky for him, it wouldn't matter.

Moe W. Smith was a friend of Einstein's and was an American citizen born in New York around 1887. He did have a wife and child and reportedly worked as an insurance agent and a United States marshal. He went along with Einstein's plan to apply to be a prohibition agent, and both were given the job. The duo became known as "Izzy and Moe," and though they were not your typical cops, they turned out to be very good at their job.

How Successful Were They?

Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith made a name for themselves for a couple of different reasons. First was the fact that both men had a thing for disguises. In order to apprehend the somewhat brilliant criminals still making and selling alcohol, the two men would often play dress up in order to get close. It was also helpful that Einstein reportedly spoke multiple languages, including Hungarian, German, Polish, and Yiddish (per Alcohol Problems and Solutions). Some of the duos disguises included a violinist, a fisherman, a streetcar conductor, a judge, and even a Polish count. 

The second reason they became household names was the fact that they had a nearly perfect conviction rate. Izzy and Moe used their unique set of skills to apprehend many people who were participating in the illegal alcohol trade. According to New York Daily News, these two made nearly 5,000 arrests and confiscated more than 5 million bottles of liquor over the five years that they worked together. Tales of their busts made it into the papers, and surprisingly enough, the public found them quite funny and endearing. Unfortunately, their newfound popularity ended up being their downfall, and despite their massive success as agents, they were let go from the department in 1925.