Who would ever suspect that the US government was responsible for all the poisoned booze? It was just shy of the new decade of the 1920s in America. Anti-alcoholic organizations pushed for the government to intervene for fear it caused the moral decay of society.
Their voices were heard, and The Volstead Act was born. This act explained what the rules of enforcement were for this new era in America, one that brought forth on January 1st, 1920, Prohibition. This historical tale most people know, at least to some degree. However, there is an offshoot to this story that only some Americans are aware of. One that illustrates both the naivety and the sheer gruesomeness of the United States government.
This black eye on our nation’s past became swept under the rug, omitted from the history books. As time passes, forgotten from the minds of the ancestors of those directly impacted. This horrific story is about how the United States government poisoned its American citizens for a prosperous and morally-sound future.
All would have been well, with no need for the government to intervene with their ultimately misguided plan. But only if people heeded the rules of Prohibition, that being the absence of alcohol consumption. Well, of course, that didn’t happen. People drank before Prohibition, and you bet they continued to drink after it started. Statistics show that drinking surged during this period.
Smuggling empires flourished as smuggled booze across the northern border from Canada and other countries. Street gangs converted to the manufacturing of illegal alcohol, and theft of existing alcoholic beverages was overwhelming. So, the government’s effort to make people across the nation morally right, upstanding citizens by eliminating alcohol backfired in a big, big way, and something had to be done. So, the government decided to take action, and thousands of deaths resulted.
Now, death from alcohol did happen during Prohibition, and the government wasn’twasn’t involved with a large majority of these. These deaths often occurred because people drank liquor created within homemade stills that, more often than not, were tainted with impurities and metals that killed the drinker. Doctors, during Prohibition, frequently treated and unfortunately lost many patients due to alcohol poisoning. However, not in the traditional way that alcohol kills those who drink too much. Amid these identifiable deaths due to impure alcohol products, there was, however a large outbreak of odd deaths.
Before we move forward, the actual poisoning of alcohol needs a bit of clarification. At that time, one may assume our government was malicious and tainted a person’s favorite libation like rum, whiskey, or vodka. Still, the reality of the federal poisoning program (yes, it was called that, but few knew it) was that it poisoned industrial alcohols so that they couldn’t repurpose them into drinkable spirits.
Their (the government’s) thought process was to scare people so they wouldn’t convert non-drinkable alcohol to a more potable variety. These industrial alcohols included ones used in various paints, solvents, medical use, and some fuels, all dangerous before their conversion. The poison added by the government mainly was methyl alcohol which directly poisoned the industrial alcohol, or they said, highly bitter materials that made the alcohol almost impossible to drink since it tasted so awful.
This drove the government to extreme measures because of the incredible amount of industrial alcohol stolen from facilities across the country. Most estimate that from the beginning of Prohibition to the mid-1920, a whopping sixty million gallons became stolen and converted to drinkable alcohol.
As aggressive as the government was, the syndicates that flourished during these times were just a bit more aggressive. They employed chemists that would convert the tainted (industrial) alcohol back to a drinkable form once again. The chemists succeeded in this task which drove the government to take even more drastic measures.
They added poisons of all types, including benzene, gasoline, acetone, and a laundry list of other dangerous and deadly liquids. Additionally, they upped their percentage of methyl alcohol added, also, which ended up killing most Americans.
With all the back and forth (conversion to and from drinkable alcohol) between the bootleggers and the US Government going on through the course of Prohibition, the fallout, unfortunately, was in the form of the US citizen, or more specifically, the deaths of the US citizens. Some estimates put the number as high as 10,000 people, which is staggering.
Add the fact that the deaths were indirectly (though that’s no consolation) caused by people who felt it was the best way to preserve the proper values and goodness of the American people.
Our government has its fair share of scandals, that’s for sure. But the thought of the government and poisoned booze directly linked to each other? Over the years, many questionable scandals have made many wonder if our country’s decision-makers put the citizen’s best interests first.
From the New Deal’s exclusion of farmworkers to the immense death of sea creatures caused by The Santa Barbara oil spill to the repatriation of Mexicans in the 1930’s1930’s in which close to sixty percent were US citizens, to name just a few, the US had its fair share of black eyes over the centuries.
However, Prohibition is one of the worst, for it not only failed to accomplish its initial goal of keeping Americans “wholesome and proper” by abolishing alcohol, but its unrelentless enforcement also caused the senseless deaths of those “unruly” who just wanted a harmless drink.
There’s more to this story. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company did not want the automobile industry developing alcohol fueled cars and wanted them dependent on his oil monopoly. He was a crucial behind the scenes influence on the politicians who saddled us with prohibition.