FBI Poisoning Alcohol During Prohibition

The main goal of the Prohibition era was to effectively enforce a ban on the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. However, like most situations where there are set rules, someone is bound to break them. While legislation was enacted to curb the drinking in America, many argue that alcohol consumption rose to record levels during the Prohibition (specifically, consumption was decreasing during the years before the Prohibition, and rose to new peaks a few years after, with the Prohibition still in effect). When Prohibition went into effect and there were a number of new problems — such as a drinking epidemic among children — that had not been there before.

So where does the Conspiracy lie in all of this? Well many people went to the hospital during this time due to alcohol-induced illnesses. Doctors were accustomed to alcohol poisoning by then, the routine of life in the Prohibition era. The bootlegged liquor often made people sick. The alcohol produced in hidden stills (which were illegal by law) frequently came tainted with 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 placing a ban, federal officials had decided to try a different method of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The plan was to scare people into giving up illegal drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal “poisoning program”, by some estimates, had killed over 10,000 people.

The government redesigned formulas used to make industrial alcohol undrinkable. These “formulas” included adding kerosene, gasoline, and benzene, among other things, to the alcohol, making it toxic. Denaturing of alcohol lead to a drastic increase in the number of ill-people and deaths. Some anti-Prohibitionists, including Missouri Senator James Reed and New York Medical Examiner Charles Norris, spoke out against this poisoning program. After the uproar created by these individuals from speaking out, the Prohibition eventually ended in 1933. The bottom line is the FBI used lethal chemicals in an attempt to steer people away from alcohol, and the results were horrid. How do you guys feel about this situation?

A good book to check out if you ever get the chance is, “The Poisoner’s Handbook.”

3 thoughts on “FBI Poisoning Alcohol During Prohibition

  1. Jules Dupont

    Interestingly enough, the US still requires the poisoning of so-called industrial alcohol. Any spirits not intended for human consumption must be denatured. Today this is largely done by adding extremely bitter or otherwise unpleasant chemicals, rather than the lethal methyl alcohol from Prohibition Era.

  2. Nathan J. Case

    Again, the stories related to the government never fail at amazing me. Our government poisoning its own citizens just seems completely absurd. The problem with a large body of government in power is that what kind of charges can be placed upon it? Essentially the government can do whatever it wants, yet its citizens are held to certain standards, which is completely backwards ethically and morally. This alcohol poisoning conspiracy is just another depiction of this.

  3. Boen Wang

    It’s ironic that after Prohibition was enacted, alcohol consumption actually increased. With the current failure of the War on Drugs, maybe it’s time we looked back in history and tried to learn something from our mistakes. Such as: poisoning illegal substances is not an effective way to discourage consumption of said substance.

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