Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P is for Prohibition Poison

Image: Mike Schmid

Prohibition went into effect on Jan. 1, 1920. With no means to acquire alcohol legally, bootleggers went into action and speakeasies flourished. When authorities blocked the import of alcohol from Canada, bootleggers turned to another source: industrial alcohol meant for paints, solvents, fuels, and medical supplies.

Image: Elgin County ArchivesSt. Thomas Police officers with confiscated bottles of liquor, likely taken from a bootlegger. This picture was likely taken in the basement of the St. Thomas City Hall, ca. 1926.

By 1925, perhaps 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen annually, renatured to a drinkable form, and sold illegally. The federal government decided to put a stop to it by forcing manufactures to add "kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, either, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone." Another deadly ingredient was methyl alcohol in a large amount--"up to 10 per cent of the total product".)

After many people came to the ER and died, a New York medical examiner had his toxicologist examine samples of the illegal alcohol, which revealed the above list of poisons. In 1926, twelve hundred people got sick from the poisoned alcohol and 400 died in New York City alone. The next year 700 died in NYC. By the time prohibition ended in 1933, an estimated 10,000 people were killed across the nation.

Learn more from my source: Slate, The Chemist's War: The Little Told Story Of How The US Government Poisoned Alcohol During Prohibition With Deadly Consequences by Deborah Blum.

So if the bartender asks, "What's you poison?" you should reply, "What's yours, buddy? What's yours?"

Anyone remember when one of the characters in Water For Elephants dies of alcohol poisoning?


In support of Joylene Butler, who broke a hip right before her book release, let me share this:

Available today for the first time in eBook form -

Maski: Broken But Not Dead
By Joylene Nowell Butler
Psychological Thriller
$4.99 eBook ISBN 9781939844385

An IPPY Silver Medalist! 

To the Breaking Point... 

When Brendell Meshango resigns from her university professor position and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime. 

However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days, the intruder mysteriously disappears but continues to play mind games with her. Taught by her mother to distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will her silence keep her safe? 

Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices. 

“Joylene Nowell Butler gets straight to the story, taking you from one happening to the next and keeps you turning the page.” - Martha A. Cheves, author

“A psychological thriller filled with suspense, action and drama...” - John Bell, 93.1 CFIS-FM: Prince George, BC

“Riveting and beautifully written. You won't be able to set it down.” Judith S. Avila, author

Joylene, Métis, is the author of Dead Witness, Broken But Not Dead, and Break Time. She and her husband and their two cats reside in Canada for the summers and Nayarit for the winters. They believe life should be an adventure.

Purchase Links: Barnes & Noble / Kobo / iTunes / Amazon


  1. That's absolutely terrible that the US government would rather (during prohibition) poison it's people than allow alcohol. I'm not sure they could get away with that today with all of the alt accounts on social media, etc… I think new would get out and people would rebel. But maybe not?

    Anyway, thanks for sharing that factoid. Glad we are no longer living during prohibition and that the ban on alcohol was lifted. (Not that I care so much one way or the other about drinking, but moreso glad the government is no longer trying to poison and kill it's own people.)

    With Love,

    1. There are plenty of folks who think fluoride, vaccines, and/or GMOs are poison, but who knows?

  2. Gives the term "alcohol poisoning" a new meaning... Happy A-to-Z-ing.

  3. Wow, never knew that did that, but then a little secret is that we also "gassed" (like what happened recently in Syria) striking coal miners in West Virginia during the 1920s. Another source of poisoning from illegal liquor is the piping used as condenser from the still. Often old radiator coils are used, but you can never get them fully clean of antifreeze--so if you're going to make illegal hooch, do yourself and your customers a favor and use new copper tubing!

  4. Oh wow. I hadn't known that about the prohibition - that's rather crazy! I just started reading a novel that takes place around that time. I wonder if it will contain the same information you just shared?

    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge. You can see my "P" post here:

  5. Wow! I'd never heard of this. We sure have a sordid history.

  6. I had heard something about that, but I didn't realize additives were added on purpose. Makes sense in a 1920s sort of reality. Of course, prohibition was a ridiculous idea in the first place...

  7. Poisons are terrible. Many times they can't be detected.
    Prohibition is essential.
    'Princess to Queen' #AtoZChallenge

  8. What a history we have. Sad.

  9. I'm sure they weren't trying to actually poison people but rather discourage the stealing of industrial alcohol. Girl Who Reads

  10. Good read while I am sipping a beer.

  11. Wow, when you make something illegal, people still find a way to get it, don't they?!

  12. Prohibition might have worked better if they'd eased in the regulations instead of going cold turkey with the Wild Turkey.

    Poisoning industrial alcohol, while looking good on paper, might have been a really, really bad idea. You want to stop someone from drinking something? Dose it up with Bitrex or something else equally as bitter.

    Her Grace, Heidi from Romance Spinners

  13. Another of those ideas that no one thought through adequately, I'm thinking. I'm with Heidi: make it taste awful, but don't poison it. Though no amount of nasty bitterness might stop people from drinking it.

    The Ninja Librarian’s Favorite Characters

  14. Prohibition was foolish. Although I think marijuana is foolish and it does not cure all people think it does; I think it's prohibition is just as foolhardy. But I did not know that it where we got "pick your poison".
    The book sounds fabulous. I am so sorry Joylene Nowell Butler broke her hip. That is so painful. I hope she mends quickly.

  15. Crazy. Gives me conspiratorial tinglings relating to the current opioid epidemic and the many deaths... are deaths enough to scare any addict "straight" though? Probably not...
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Writing Dragons Blog | Ato...? 2017 - Dragons in Our Fandoms


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