Prop Spotlight: The Still

Introduction

For eleven years, the cornerstone of the Swamp was the homemade distillery. Presumably, Hawkeye and Trapper built it together and it was a daily presence in their lives. Later, B.J. came to love the contraption just as much as Trapper. Over the years it was destroyed — once by Frank, once by B.J. — only to be rebuilt and returned to glory. Hawkeye called the gin it dispensed, often strong enough to curl your toes, the breakfast of champions.

Three Episodes, Three Stills

The still went through three incarnation during the first three episodes produced. Not the first three aired, the first three produced. CBS often aired episodes out of order, as was and is a common practice with sitcoms. In each of these episodes the still looked very, very different. In “M*A*S*H – The Pilot” (originally broadcast September 17th, 1972; production number J301), which was the first episode produced and aired, the still is a large metal barrel with a copper coil at the top. It sits on a small portable stove. Frank, in a rage, grabs the still and winds up throwing it to the ground. We never see it repaired.

“M*A*S*H — The Pilot”

The second episode produced was “Henry, Please Come Home” (originally broadcast November 19th, 1972; production number J302) although it was the ninth episode to be aired. When Frank is placed in command he marches into the Swamp with an aide and an MP and confiscate the still at gunpoint. It is now a large glass jar connected with the same tubing to various glass beakers. Although Hawkeye, Trapper and others are shown drinking at the end of the episode we never see the still returned to them.

“Henry, Please Come Home”

Finally, in “To Market, To Market” (originally broadcast September 24th, 1972; production number J303), the third episode produced and the second aired, the familiar still makes its debut, with a large round glass beaker connected to a metal pipes and assorted other glass beakers and, of course, the same copper coil.

“To Market, To Market”
The Still Over The Years

In “Cowboy” (originally broadcast November 12th, 1972) Trapper is shown hard at work on a new batch of gin.

“Cowboy”

Later, in “Alcoholics Unanimous” (originally broadcast November 12th, 1974) Frank is once again in charge and orders Radar to take apart the still. Thankfully Trapper is able to make quick repairs.

“Alcoholics Unanimous”

When the 4077th has to break down camp and leave for safer grounds in “Bug Out” (originally broadcast September 21st, 1976) Hawkeye stocks up on gin before B.J. begins to take apart the still for transportation. Frank soon arrives and insists that the still cannot be transported on military trucks because it is not military equipment. B.J. explains that the heating coil is from an ammo truck, the funnel is from the generator shed and the filter is made with shredded skivvies (Frank’s, to be exact).

“Bug Out”

Later in the episode, Radar informs Hawkeye that the still is being transported via Wat San Lee’s cab along with Radar’s animals and Klinger’s dress collection.

“Bug Out”

In “The Merchant of Korea” (originally broadcast December 20th, 1977) Hawkeye and B.J. roll up the netting on the Swamp and set up chairs just outside the tent. They extend the tubing from the still to a table set between them for easy access.

“The Merchant of Korea”

In “Temporary Duty” (originally broadcast February 13th, 1978) Roy Dupree speaks poorly of the still’s alcohol and attempts to improve on the engineering but instead breaks the coil.

Temporary Duty
“Temporary Duty”

Distraught over his daughter calling Radar, recently discharged, Daddy, B.J. trashes the still and slugs Hawkeye in “Period of Adjustment” (originally broadcast October 22nd, 1979).

“Period of Adjustment”

At the end of the episode Hawkeye, B.J. and Klinger rebuild the still.

“Period of Adjustment”

In “The Moon is Not Blue,” after General Rothaker bans booze on base, Hawkeye and B.J. return to the Swamp to discover that Colonel Potter has reluctantly removed their still for the duration of Rothaker’s visit. Its return is not shown on screen.

The Moon is Not Blue
“The Moon is Not Blue”
The Still At The Smithsonian

Following the end of production on M*A*S*H in January 1983, 20th Century-Fox donated the O.R. set and the Swamp set to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Included was the still. An exhibition was held at the National Museum of American History from July 1983 to January 1985. When the exhibition closed, the sets were packed up and placed in storage. The still is likely in a box somewhere in a warehouse.

Here’s a photograph of the still as it appeared in the exhibition from The Complete Book of M*A*S*H:

The Still at the National Museum of American History

Originally published on June 26th, 2009
Last updated September 12th, 2012

33 Comments

  • Eye of the Hawk says:

    The still is one of the most intricate props in the show, it looks like they put a lot of work into it. I already created a replica of the signpost, andthe still is my next project… hope it doesnt blow up in my face! :)

  • jeremiah says:

    I would love to have some good pic or a diagram of the still think it would realy look cool next to my real still would be even better if i could make it functional

  • Sander Tel says:

    L.S. Does anyone know if a still like the prop on mash actually works or can be made into a working gin still? If so could he/she be letting me in on the technology please. I could do with a belt about now ;-)

    Regards, Sander (sandertel@yahoo.com)

  • PersonofInterest says:

    It looks like it is largely for show. The copper coil needs to have more coils and/or be submerged in water to condense the alcohol or else you lose a lot as alcohol vapor. The plastic tubing at the top of the “pot” that connects it to the copper coil doesn’t sound like a good idea (hottest vapor hitting 1950′s plastic? – at a minimum I think the flavor would be affected). Several tubes appear to be completely for show (e.g. large plastic tube passing above and behind the coil). I am not sure about the heat stability of surgical tape, but I think the tape itself was mostly cloth back then – which might work. Now I am getting into the guessing area, but the metal array with the glass flasks hanging below it looks like something we used in P-chem to react different gases together and collect the resulting chemical. I can’t quite figure out how the copper coil outlet ties into the system, but it may be through the surgical tubing on the left of the array. Is so, the array is useless unless they are adding the “gin” to some flavoring agent in the flasks (juniper would be nice). Otherwise, they can just tap it straight from the coil to the glass like I think they did in the show.

    Sorry for the overly technical answer! :)

    • hawk-ear says:

      thank you i just started to study the mash still myself and it was all for show…

    • bruce says:

      I’ll take all the info I can as i’m presently in the process of building a similar working model { actual size } to put to real use, personal that is , not for profit

  • Taco Cabeza says:

    “with a large round glass beaker connected to a metal pipes ”

    It’s a boiling flask. Did you learn nothing from my chemistry class?
    -Walter White

  • Kenn Koncicki says:

    BTW, the Father-Daughter luncheon was when she was graduating College…..she also thanked me for introducing her to Country Music and Superman….now she is a Pediatrician….Did the fine doctors of Mash have an influence on her going into medicine?, I hope so…

  • Matt Kaufman says:

    And what kind of liqour does it produce? “Finest Kind”, naturally.

  • Larsorr says:

    In the 80′s the show would come on where I lived at 10:30 pm weeknights. Started recording the shows (with commercials) at that time. Had a box of approximately 32 VHS tapes. My daughter was born in 1990 and introduced her to the show when she was 8. Loved the show, wore out the tapes. Two years ago she bought me the entire 11 season boxed set including a bunch of extra goodies. We still watch it together when we get the chance. We try to out trivia the other about the show and it’s characters.

  • Jan says:

    I watch MASH every night I have the whole set of seasons and I love it over and over.It does not matter if the still was to perfection it was and is fine just like it is. That show will never go away.

  • ken says:

    my favorite “still” quote is from Hawkeye, “aah, the nectar of the Gods.”

  • Steve Rosse says:

    Did anybody else ever play “Spot Radar’s hand?” I think there are only three episodes in the whole canon where the audience can see Radar’s “flipper” hand. Usually he hides it with a pen or clipboard or microphone.

  • jim says:

    i need a parts list. can anyone help ???

  • Ziv says:

    I agree about the parts–I would love to see a set of instructions for building my own.

  • Lulu Hotlips says:

    I would love to ‘illegally’ create a similar working still for my gazebo turned Swamp! Like you all though, I can’t seem to find instructions but I would like to share this page I came across.

    http://www.stillcooker.com

    Hopefully it’ll serve some use!

  • Vodka says:

    I am hence obliged for your blog post.Really looking forward to recite extra. Great.

  • Stacy says:

    Do you know what they put in the still to look like gin? Water I would guess!

  • Christy says:

    I’m currently working on the still prop and it has been fun yet a big pain in the butt. The biggest challenge had been the big glass orb. But THANK YOU THANK YOU for this blog because having all those pictures together has helped A LOT! If the still isnt a totally embarrassment I will post photos. I have a lot of weathering and such to do. Any ideas or tips would be awesome!

  • Charlie says:

    What did they put in the still ?

  • Wish to know, is M.A.S.H., One of my very favorite shows, Coming back to the history channel this fall (2013). Thank you, D. B.

  • McCheese says:

    The only M*A*S*H* still that ever had a chance of actually working was the very first one.

  • Colin says:

    As a fan of the series, and a bit of a tinkerer myself, i thought i would clear a few things up.

    A basic still just converts “mash” to alcohol. Mash is usually wheat/sugar/potatoes or any other basic carbohydrate mixture that’s been fermented. The mixture is gently heated, and at a certain temperature, the gas is condensed and out comes 97 percent pure ethanol. (Look up spirit distilling for the fine process, one of the chemicals that come out is methanol which is deadly poisonous)

    You can drink that ethanol.. if you are crazy. Its moonshine. I
    The first sane step is filtering. That ethanol is usually filtered through charcoal multiple times. (Or skivvies as in MASH)

    The next step is to dilute it to 50 percent of spring/still water, and that gives you a basic 100 proof spirit. Its a base. If the mash is potatoes, you could call it vodka.

    That still in MASH looks kinda of like that step. Its not gin, its just vodka.

    Once you have that basic spirit, THEN you can do things with it.
    Gin itself is a basic infusion. The ethanol water mixture is boiled/infused with juniper berries and a few other herbs. Filtered, and then bottled. It doesnt age.

    Gin is a two step batch process, so that still in MASH couldnt actually be used to make gin.

    HOWEVER.
    If the large glass bottle contained juniper berries, and they were stealing medicinal ethanol, it could be used to make gin. They would be able to get a hold of a lot of ethanol thanks to being in a hospital, and the process to convert ethanol to gin is a lot less “explosivey”

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