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  • Writer's picturelauraquinnwrites

Who Was Max “Boo Boo” Hoff?

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Welcome to the 3rd segment of Laura’s Library- an exhibition of the research materials I poured over while preparing my historical fiction novel, Thicker Than Water. Part companion reading, part fun facts; it’s shore to become your go-to destination for all things vintage New Jersey or, in this case, good old Philly.

So, just who was Max “Boo Boo” Hoff?

Affection for bow-ties aside, you won’t find him at Jellystone Park but that’s what I’m here for.

Known as the “King of Bootleggers,” Hoff built quite an empire for himself in the Philadelphia area during Prohibition.

His base of operations was the Hotel Sylvania (bottom, left) where legal side-ventures included:

· Owner/operator of several night clubs such as the 21 Club (bottom, right) and the Picadilly Club

· Boxing Promoter (top)

· Administrator of area industrial alcohol firms with ties to George Remus

· Owner/operator of Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company where he laundered his bootlegging revenues. Incidentally, it still operates today as a lux speakeasy Swing by next time you’re in the city- it’s the cat’s pajamas.

Valued at a whopping $5 million dollars (over $85 million today), the liquor ring was larger than that of even Al Capone at the time of its collapse in October 1931.

Speaking of Public Enemy Number 1, while infamous for his shenanigans in Chicago, Capone also spent his fair share of time right here in Philly.

The relationship between the mobsters is described as friendly, with Hoff reportedly entertaining him at the Sylvania as well as visiting him during a stint at Eastern State Penitentiary.

There are also rumors of Capone owning a safe house in South Jersey. Perhaps he was headed there for a golf retreat on his way back from the Atlantic City Conference? Plot fodder for another novel, but I digress.

Following the October raid, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported agents uncovered the following:

· 12 outlaw radio stations

· 6 rumrunning boats

· 2 cutting plants

· 1 massive warehouse in Delaware County, PA (with 2 smaller ones in NY and Atlantic City)

· And a partridge and a pear tree

But the operational head of the liquor ring? None other than J. Frank Hilton, of North Wildwood, New Jersey. You may recall Hilton from my last post. Raymond Rebmann writes:

"The ring operated at what legitimate businesses would consider the wholesale level. No orders below case lots. Liquor was brought in by courier boats from supply ships anchored off New Jersey landed at various drop points and loaded onto trucks. It was then delivered to local warehouses or cutting plants where, depending on the product, it was stored until called for or modified and rebottled. Ordered liquor was then shipped to smaller operations."

Just how will the Culligans interact with the likes of Boo Boo and Frank? Make sure you subscribe to find out.

In the interim, you can read more about Hoff's criminal activities here.

* photos courtesy of the following sources: John Binder Collection, Anne Margaret Anderson, Philadelphia City Archives and the Pennsylvania State Police Museum.

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Jun 26

Hi Laura. I like your article of Hoff! I've written a great deal about him in my recently self-published book on Amazon. City of Sin: Corruption and Crime in Prohibition Philadelphia: Frazier PhD, Paul: 9798327692855: Books

I used to live in Philadelphia and went to Temple University which is where this project started. Are you planning on writing historical fiction set in 1920s Philly?


Feb 13, 2021

Glad you enjoyed the article. A lot more regional history to come!


Feb 13, 2021

Hey, Boo Boo! I never knew this guy existed. And right in our own backward! Or, would it be our side yard since Philadelphia is to the west of us? Keep up the great work, and thanks for the history lesson!

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