In the frigid winter of 1875, federal agents tracked Charles L. Lawrence, an intimate of Boss Tweed and the most promiscuous smuggler in American history. Leading a network spanning four continents and lasting half a decade, "Charley" smuggled silk worth $60 million into the United States.
Since the American Revolution, smuggling had tested the patriotism of the American people. Distrusting foreign goods, Congress instituted high tariffs making the custom house the nation's protector. It waged a "war on smuggling", inspecting every traveller for illicitly imported silk, opium, tobacco, sugar, diamonds and art. The Civil War's blockade of the Confederacy heightened the obsession with contraband but smuggling entered its prime during the Gilded Age and only as the United States became a global power did smuggling lose its scurvy romance.