Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith

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Izzy (right) and Moe at a New York City bar, 1935

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). They were known nationally for successfully shutting down illegal speakeasies and for using disguises in their work.

They made 4,933 arrests. In late 1925, Izzy and Moe were laid off in a reorganization of the bureau of enforcement. A report in Time magazine suggested they had attracted more publicity than wanted by the new political appointee heading the bureau, although the press and public loved the team. By 1930 both men were working as insurance salesmen.

Early lives and educations[edit]

Isidor Einstein (sometimes spelled Isadore) was born in 1880[1] into a Jewish family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[2] He grew up speaking Yiddish and likely was educated in a yeshiva; he also learned Hungarian, Polish and German, together with a smattering of other European languages. Einstein emigrated as a young man to the United States around 1901.

Moe W. Smith was born about 1887[1] in New York City. As a young man, he was a boxer.[citation needed]

Marriages and families[edit]

Around 1906, Einstein married Esther (born c. 1888, Austria/Galicia; immigrated c. 1891), an immigrant from Galicia. They had at least seven children together, but two died young before 1910. Surviving children were Joseph (c. 1910), Charles (c. 1912), Edward (c. 1914), Albert (c. 1916), and Milton (c. 1927).[3]

Before 1920 Smith married Sadie Strauch, a Jewish native of Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who had immigrated to New York and was a native Yiddish speaker. In the 1920 census, Moe and Sadie Smith (born c. 1891, imm./nat. 1898 or 1900) were recorded as living with her brother, Benjamin Strauch in Brooklyn.[4] Their daughter Estelle was born c. 1925.


Izzy Einstein's badge.

Einstein had started work as a salesman and later served as a postal clerk. He struggled to support his family, including his father, on that salary. Smith first worked as a cigar salesman, and then managed a small fight club. He also owned a cigar store.[5]

The ratification in 1919 of the amendment to establish Prohibition in the United States required federal and local police forces to recruit new members rapidly in order to enforce the law. With no background in law enforcement, but speaking several languages (Yiddish, Hungarian, German, Polish, with a little Russian, French, Spanish and Italian) in addition to English, Einstein signed up as Prohibition Agent No. 1.[6] In a short time, he invited his friend Moe Smith to join him as a partner. (They were both Masons, and may have met in the fraternal group. Though both were personally indifferent to temperance, they felt the law must be upheld, no matter how hard it was to enforce.[7])

Einstein and Smith were both rather rotund and apparently disarmed many of their quarry by their unthreatening appearances. They claimed to have used more than 100 disguises and were never detected.[6] Einstein developed what he called the "Einstein Theory of Rum Snooping". They usually did not carry weapons and made arrests while unarmed. 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, where they found only soda being served. Several times Einstein went to a bar and identified himself as a Prohibition agent. The bouncer, thinking he was joking, laughed and let him in.[8] One time he took bets in the joint that he was the agent whose picture was up on the wall. When the customers paid up, he arrested them.[5]

As Prohibition Bureau agents, they were the most famous and successful, known nationally for making thousands of arrests and gaining a high rate of convictions. They made 4,932 arrests, and achieved a 95% conviction rate. They confiscated 5 million gallons of liquor, worth an estimated $15 million.[6] As a result of their work, thousands of bartenders, bootleggers and speakeasy owners were sentenced to jail.[8]

Einstein and Smith used the press to build support:

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.[5]

In November 1925, the partners were among 38 men laid off from the New York office after a reorganization plan announced by General Lincoln C. Andrews of the national bureau. He and other officials in Washington, D.C. appeared to resent the favorable coverage that Einstein and Smith received, who gained far more attention than higher officials.[5][9] Andrews was reported as disapproving of Prohibition agents who gained publicity, and Einstein and Smith's exploits had been well covered by the press, both tabloids and major papers such as The New York Times; their successes were sensational. As Time magazine wrote at the time,

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.[10]

Later lives[edit]

Both men went into the insurance business and did well, despite the Great Depression. Einstein worked for the New York Life Insurance Company.[6] He died at age 57, February 17, 1938,[1] several days after having a leg amputated.[8] He was buried at Mount Zion Cemetery, Queens County, New York.

Smith lived until 1960, when he died from a stroke in Yonkers, New York.[11]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Einstein wrote an autobiography telling of their exploits, called Prohibition Agent No 1. It was published in 1932. It had almost a million readers.
  • At their deaths, each man was featured in an obituary in the national magazine Time, which noted their joint achievements during Prohibition as the "funniest and most effective team" of federal agents, who made more than 4,900 arrests and confiscated an estimated 5 million bottles of illegal liquor.[8][11]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Nash, Jay Robert (1990). Encyclopedia of World Crime: D-J. CrimeBooks. pp. 1078–1079. ISBN 978-0-923582-02-9.
  2. ^ O'Brien, Jane (9 March 2015). "When Americans drank all day long". BBC News. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  3. ^ U.S. Census, 1930. Manhattan, New York, New York, sup. dist. 21, enum. dist. 31-136; block P(?), sheet 6B. 7 Apr 1930.
  4. ^ U.S. Census, 1920. Brooklyn, Kings, New York, sup. dist. 3, enum. dist. 198, assem. dist. 4, sheet 20A. 13 Jan 1920.
  5. ^ a b c d Asbury, Herbert (2002). "The Merry Antics of Izzy and Moe". In Hyde, Stephen; Zanetti, Geno (eds.). Players. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 9781560253808.
  6. ^ a b c d Miller, Nathan (2003). New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America. Simon and Schuster. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-1-4391-3104-6.
  7. ^ Jenis, Albert. "Izzy and Moe", Reprinted from Empire State Mason, Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Quote: "Bro. Moe W. Smith was raised a Master Mason in Emanuel Lodge No. 654 on November 8, 1922. His friend, Bro. Isadore "Izzy" Einstein, was affiliated with Emanuel Lodge on December 13, 1922." Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d "Izzy Einstein", Time, February 28, 1938.
  9. ^ Rapczynski, Joan and Zywocinski, Florence. Prohibition as a Reform, New Haven, CT: Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1998.
  10. ^ ""PROHIBITION: Izzy and Moe"". Time. November 23, 1925. Archived from the original on May 8, 2008. Retrieved 2011-04-11.(subscription required)
  11. ^ a b "Moe W. Smith", Time, December 26, 1960. Retrieved April 11, 2011. (subscription required)
  12. ^ "Nowhere to Go But Up – Broadway Musical – Original | IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved 2023-05-20.
  13. ^ Taubman, Howard (1962-11-12). "The Theater: 'Nowhere to Go but Up'; James Lipton Musical at Winter Garden Prohibition Agents Izzy and Moe Portrayed". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-05-20.

Further reading[edit]

  • Einstein, Isidor. Prohibition Agent No 1, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1932. OCLC 1300718

External links[edit]