Prop Spotlight: The Still


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.


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

60 Replies to “Prop Spotlight: The Still”

  1. What’s the name of the glass vase looking thing they held the martinis in? I know it’s something medical can’t remember though.

  2. I loved watching with my dad just the way he would laugh when Hawkeye, Trapper or Honeycutt would insult Frank. And the Coronal in charge would 2nd it. He’s resting now waiting his heavenly saviors return. But the look on his face of pure joy recalling all the similar stunts he and his men pulled. When going to “summer camp” for 2 weeks in the summer, every summer back in the, 60’s, and 70’s. Back then the cable network would run the program, Mash for hours. Sometimes 4 or 6 in a row. The good ol’ days !

  3. Had a blast recreating the still for a theatre production 4 years ago then last month they called to say they cold not hang onto it any longer would I like it back? Now I’ve got it in my garage.
    The last prop I detailed this way ended up at the entrance to Colossus at Magic Mountain, Glad it was well care for and it made it home.

    1. John,

      I’m in a small theater company as well and we are getting ready to do M.A.S.H. this winter. I’d like to build a replica for our set and would appreciate any information on this you can provide.

  4. I remember as a kid having one tv in the house and it was a power struggle to watch it. We wanted to watch cheers and the adults wanted to watch mash reruns.. We never won that battle and I tried to hate Mash because if it but it really was just a good show.. The more I watched the less I fought my patents to watch something else! I grew to love it and still watch it to this day! I wish tv were as wholesome now as it was then. That’ll never happen. It’s true what they say, you can never go back! I can’t believe some of the stuff that is on air today, the language they use even in cartoons. It’s unreal.

  5. The reason no one built a kit and sold it, is because it was like a bunch of tinker toys thrown together. It Doesn’t Work. It is just a Hollywood movie attempt and depicting a still. Every backwoods distiller knows this thing is just a joke. The revenue agents would pounce on it and haul it away for sure… but all they got was a bunch of tubes and lab cast off stuff.

  6. basically a 3000 ml boiling flask (maybe 4000, biggest i’ve found), stopper, half inch copper tubing coil, the manifold im not sure could never figure out i think it maybe homemade but assume it was to hold a smaller boiling flask to mix the distillate with vermouth, used to watch it everyday after school and started trying to build my own still at 14 spent a fortune ordering from stolen labware books from my science class (pre amazon) never actually got it running but i looked on amazon the other day and you can buy most the pieces now for under a hundred

  7. I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think a couple of points need to be made, for everyone’s well-being. First of all, home distillery (not home beer brewing or wine making) is illegal in the United States, and for good reason: If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can all too easily make the wrong kind of alcohol, which really can blind or kill you. It’s not a myth. So, cool as the still looked, and despite every M*A*S*H fan’s secret (or not so very) yearning to have one, it’s really not a good idea.

  8. did anyone ever notice that the final incarnation of the still , with the large rounded globe with the mash in it , never had a heat source under it?

    1. BoBo says:
      31 May, 2018 at 7:57 pm

      Licorice can be substituted for juniper berries.

      Juniper berries are a spice used in the primary flavoring in gin (and responsible for gin’s name, which is a shortening of the Dutch word for juniper, genever)

  9. Licorice can be substituted for juniper berries.

    Juniper berries are a spice used in the primary flavoring in gin (and responsible for gin’s name, which is a shortening of the Dutch word for juniper, genever)

  10. All those props in warehouses somewhere. What will become of them? I want just ONE piece of a real set from mash. Preferably from the swamp

    1. There’s so much stuff in the Smithsonian’s underground archives that will likely never see the light of day. It’s tragic, really.

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