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Sat Jan 2, 2016, 07:47 PM

 

The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2010/02/the_chemists_war.html



It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat.

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was—the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom—the man died. So did another holiday partygoer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season.

Doctors were accustomed to alcohol poisoning by then, the routine of life in the Prohibition era. The bootlegged whiskies and so-called gins often made people sick. The liquor produced in hidden stills frequently came tainted with metals and other impurities. But this outbreak was bizarrely different. The deaths, as investigators would shortly realize, came courtesy of the U.S. government.

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people...

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 07:56 PM

1. I am familiar with this story

How amazingly pathetic it was.

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 08:04 PM

2. Well, at least the U.S. didn't spray marijuana with Paraquat.

 

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 08:17 PM

3. Bookmarked

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 08:27 PM

4. Outrageous? Yes.

Surprising? Sadly, not at all.

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 08:34 PM

5. Of course the wealthy got all the alcohol they wanted. The prohibition

 

was a method to control the 99%, just like the drug war years later.

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Response to rhett o rick (Reply #5)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 09:06 PM

7. ^ this.....

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Response to rhett o rick (Reply #5)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 10:48 PM

8. Yes, the 1% had plenty of $ & time to stock up which was allowed before the act came into law.

 

I think the Harvard club had enough on hand to last 20 some years.

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 09:00 PM

6. Prohibition, at least in Michigan, was a war between the Puritans and the Catholics

 

The tea-totaling Puritans felt that even beer was a sin, and sought to "save the Germans", who came to farm and were having none of it. The pre-revolutionary congregations wanted to preserve the youth at the high-brow University of Michigan, and made special zoning laws by street in Ann Arbor. They had problems with the Communion wine!

Needless to say, with Canada nearby and many talented local brewers, this was a doomed effort. But it was vicious for many years. The culture clash still lingers in darkened corners of nation...the Baptists took over when the Puritans bred themselves into extinction...

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sat Jan 2, 2016, 11:05 PM

9. when infantile small minds control the populace,

bad things happen for the populace.

Creating influenced classes based on material wealth is not good for the society.

Creating wealth based on positive contributions to society is a much better goal but still not perfect.

Let you know when I figure more out.

I know Bernie is the way, I haven't always lived in the US and have been American.

Lived another life in another galaxy.

Don't want to see the US become what I came from.

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sun Jan 3, 2016, 07:37 AM

10. Never heard of this before. Pretty shocking. But in light of military....

programs that spread "innocent" biologic agents on public transportation up until the seventies, its totally believable.

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sun Jan 3, 2016, 12:06 PM

11. Interesting book - "The Poisoner's Handbook" that gets into this - wood alcohol poisoning of alcohol

Interesting aside about Prohibition - it is thought to be responsible for the Depression - 25% of GDP disappeared when Prohibition started (along with, of course, shady stocks and other crimes).

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Response to Hestia (Reply #11)

Sun Jan 3, 2016, 12:09 PM

12. Well, it didn't help, I'm sure, but Prohibition was just an added insult to a corrupt system

 

There was massive control fraud in the banking system, total incompetence in the White House, and rampant speculation in the markets. There was nowhere to go but down.

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Response to Proserpina (Reply #12)

Fri Jan 15, 2016, 06:04 PM

15. All reasons why the country was turning to communism and/or socialism. The public had a enough

of these corrupt systems you list. FDR, who in normal times would be considered a moderate centrist, was brought out to quell the rebellion via voting system. If FDR had not been elected, our grandparents and great-grandparents would have followed the Soviet Union economically. They'd had enough. TPTB let us have the New Deal, knowing that they would tear it down by our generation.

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Sun Jan 3, 2016, 06:55 PM

13. Denatured alcohol is still the industry standard.

If you sell ethanol to the public (that's ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol) it's likely to be taxed for consumption.

Chemical supply companies also sell pure ethanol because there are lots of things that you use ethanol for but for with methanol (wood alcohol) would be in the way.

Most people that I've known are unaware of what "denatured" means. It just means "with methanol added in small quantities." Methanol's nasty stuff. It's a catalyst poison in cellular metabolism.


But, yes. In a representative democracy, the people get their say. More people seemed to support prohibition, especially rural dwellers in particular states, so it passed not just in Congress but also the required number of state legislatures. It was illegal to sell ethanol for consumption except under certain conditions, so they routinely contaminated ethanol for industrial uses. We forget that many things we don't like today are expressions of popular will. I guess if we admit this we have to admit that some expressions of popular will that we think are great might also be flawed, and instills a sense of humility--if the demos, if "we the people" could be wrong in some things in the past perhaps we're wrong in other things now.

It's like many of the more nasty provisions of the original Constitution and Bill of Rights. At the time they enjoyed fairly wide support, almost certainly a majority. Yet we act like the majority must always be right (unless the majority disagrees with us, then they are unaware of their "real" self-interest and are unenlightened and backwards if not deceived).

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Response to Proserpina (Original post)

Mon Jan 4, 2016, 05:24 AM

14. I watched the Ken Burns Prohibition doc on PBS last night about it

Amazing!

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