Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots

Khalid Elhassan - September 21, 2022

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Alcohol getting poured out in the street during Prohibition. Mashable

The Problem of Industrial Alcohol’s Diversion During Prohibition

Throughout the recent pandemic, many health professionals thought that the government did little to combat Covid-19. They especially thought that the enforcement of the restrictions and regulations necessary to combat the virus’ spread was too lax. About a century ago, back in the 1920s, the case was the opposite. Then, many health professionals thought that the government had done too much – as in way, way, too much – and had exhibited excessive vigor in its fight against the consumption of alcohol. An example of such excess was Uncle Sam’s deliberate poisoning of alcohol stocks it knew would end up consumed by the public.

It began as the Holiday Season approached in 1926, and the administration of President Calvin Coolidge was determined to force celebrants to abide by Prohibition. The federal ban on the sale of alcohol had opened the floodgates for organized crime to smuggle alcohol from abroad into the US, and for bootleggers to distribute it throughout the country. However, there was also a major domestic source of booze: industrial alcohol. Bootleggers routinely diverted it from its intended uses and into liquor. Some eager beaver government officials decided to do something about that.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A policeman next to a seized bootlegger’s car and its illegal alcohol. RAV Magazine

When the US Government Decided to Poison Booze

The diversion of industrial alcohol to booze got under the skins of some zealots in the US Treasury Department, responsible for the enforcement of Prohibition. So they decided to doctor the industrial alcohol supply with dangerous substances such as methanol. At least 10,000 people died as a result, and many more were blinded or suffered other serious injuries. Despite Prohibition, America saw a rise in the consumption of alcohol in the mid-1920s. The law was openly flouted, with too many speakeasies to count let alone raid.

They were supplied by bootleggers who acted with impunity and near open defiance of law enforcement. So the federal government decided to go after a key source of the illegal booze: the still legal industrial alcohol stocks. In its industrial form, such alcohol is undrinkable. However, bootleggers figured out ways to make it fit for human consumption. Thus, in 1926, the federal authorities mandated that the amount of harmful chemicals in industrial alcohol be greatly increased. As seen below, the results were immediate – and tragic.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A denatured alcohol warning label. E-Hive

Uncle Sam Sent Countless Drinkers to the ER With Alcohol Poisoning

Throughout the 1926 Holiday Season, America’s emergency rooms saw an unprecedented spike in alcohol poisoning. By New Year’s Eve, 1926, New York City alone saw many fatalities. As the city’s medical examiner put it: “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol. It knows what bootleggers are doing with it and yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison … Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible“.

Wherever we go, alcohol is bound to be near us. Even for those who don’t drink and have no beer or wine in their fridges or liquor in their cabinets. Alcohol is found as an additive in their fuel tanks, and many household products such as nail polish, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and perfumes contain alcohol. In 1906, the federal government mandated that chemicals be added to grain alcohol intended for industrial use, to make it undrinkable. Alcohol thus treated is known as “denatured” alcohol or “wood spirits”. The mandate was met with little resistance from the manufacturers of industrial alcohol.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A copper still and bucket of the kind used to make alcohol, or renature denatured industrial alcohol. Chicago History Museum

Denaturing and “Renaturing” Industrial Alcohol

The addition of chemicals to industrial alcohol stocks to denature them made them exempt from the liquor taxes imposed on drinkable alcohol. As a result, industrial alcohol manufacturers were more than happy to comply with the government directive to denature their stocks. People determined to remove chemical additives from denatured industrial alcohol could do so if they really wanted to. Some did just that, with a process known as “renaturing”. However, with legal alcohol readily available, and often quite cheap, there was little incentive to go through the trouble.

That changed with the enactment of Prohibition, and the resultant scarcity of regular drinkable booze. Liquor did not disappear from America because of Prohibition: massive amounts of drinkable booze were smuggled into the country by bootleggers. However, Prohibition disrupted the supply chain, and even smuggling on a massive scale was not enough to meet the demand. So bootleggers began to produce massive amounts of liquor in the United States. They sourced it from stolen or otherwise diverted stocks of industrial alcohol.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Patrons enjoy drinks at the Hunt Club, a speakeasy with a filing system listing 23,000 eligible customers which was checked before a customer got through the door at this venue that was protected from police prohibition raids. Vintage News Daily

The Government Went Out of Its Way to Prevent the Reuse of Industrial Alcohol as Drinking Booze

The US Treasury Department, tasked with the enforcement of Prohibition, estimated that in the mid-1920s, around 60 million gallons of industrial liquor were stolen each year. Bootleggers then employed chemists to “renature” it, and return it to a drinkable state. Stolen and re-distilled industrial alcohol became America’s primary source of liquor. So in late 1926, the Treasury Department decided to up its game and revamp the denaturing formulas used to make industrial alcohol undrinkable. The new mix included many known toxins.

They included quinine, acetone, nicotine, formaldehyde, zinc, camphor, chloroform, iodine, kerosene, and gasoline. Most dangerous of all, the new formula required that at least 10% of the total volume must consist of methyl alcohol or methanol, commonly used today in antifreeze. The results were disastrous. The Treasury Department’s new formula made the process used by the bootleggers’ chemists up until that point to renature industrial alcohol all but useless, as it left them unable to separate out each of the harmful chemicals.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Charles Norris, New York City’s Medical Examiner. The Los Angeles Times

Whether Uncle Sam Had the Right to Poison Drinkers

Christmas Eve, 1926, was hectic in New York City’s hospitals. Just one of them, Bellevue, was inundated with dozens of people who fell seriously ill after they drank contaminated alcohol. By New Year’s Eve, 1,200 people in the Big Apple had been sickened by poisonous alcohol, and at least 400 had died. The city’s medical examiner assigned a toxicologist to examine confiscated whiskey, and based on the findings, issued an alert to warn the citizens that: “practically all the liquor that is sold in New York today is toxic“.

The impact fell heaviest on the poor: the rich and well-heeled could afford to consume the best liquor available, such as real whiskey smuggled in from abroad. As the medical examiner noted, most of those harmed by the repurposed industrial alcohol were those: “who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low grade stuff“. When the public learned that the federal government had deliberately poisoned industrial alcohol stocks, an argument raged about whether it had the right to do so.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A bootlegger truck with a false facade and a hidden compartment for the transportation of illegal alcohol. Imgur

Many Argued that Drinkers of Poisoned Alcohol Deserved Their Fate

New York City’s medical examiner, Charles Norris, was among those who argued that it was unconscionable for the authorities to poison something they knew would be consumed by citizens. He wrote in the North American Review that: “In a word, wood alcohol is not ‘poison liquor.’ It is simply poison. If it gets into liquor, the liquor is poisoned “. New Jersey Senator Edward I. Edwards summed it up as “legalized murder“. The defenders of the government included Wayne B. Wheeler, of the Anti Saloon League.

As Wheeler told the New York Times: “The Government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide“. Defenders of the policy noted that the poisoned industrial alcohol was labeled poison, and pinned the blame on the bootleggers who nonetheless sold it for human consumption. To prohibitionists, the harm to drinkers was acceptable. Seymour M. Lawman, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of Prohibition, told citizens in 1927 that the fringes of society that drink were “dying off fast from poison ‘hooch’“. If that resulted in a sober country, he continued, then “a good job will have been done“.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A denatured alcohol warning label. Paste Magazine

Government Officials Shrugged Off the Mass Poisoning of Drinkers

Prohibition’s enforcers ignored the furor, and continued to poison industrial alcohol. The resultant deaths continued to pile up. The New York Times archives from 1927 to 1933 contain many headlines about the damage. Not only deaths, but also blindness, hallucinations, and other side effects that sent poisoned drinkers to emergency rooms and left many with permanent damage to their health. June 20th, 1927: Three Die From Alcohol; February 28th, 1929: Alcohol Deaths Show Steady Rise; August 23rd, 1930: Alcohol Deaths Up 300% Since 1920; August 17th, 1932: Dies After Drinking Wood Alcohol. When large scale fatalities occurred, Prohibition agents shrugged it off.

In 1928, over thirty people died from alcohol poisoning in a single incident Manhattan, but US government officials declared that there was nothing they could do. A federal grand jury stated that industrial alcohol is not a beverage, but a recognized poison whose use and sale are regulated by state, not federal laws. As such, state authorities should look into its sale and improper use. As humorist Will Rogers quipped: “Governments used to murder by the bullets only. Now it’s by the quarts“. All in all, an estimated 10,000 people or more died from alcohol poisoning during Prohibition, and many more suffered serious damage to their health. The carnage finally ended with the end of Prohibition, when people regained access to regular booze, and thus no longer had to gamble with denatured industrial alcohol.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Heritage Magazine, February/ March 1985 – The Battle of Athens

Andreas, Peter – Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs (2020)

Atlantic, The, September 25th, 2013 – How Alcohol Conquered Russia

Big Think – Project 100,000: The Vietnam War’s Cruel Experiment on American Soldiers

Cheever, Susan – Drinking in America: Our Secret History (2015)

Clark, Christopher – Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006)

Daily Beast – How the US Government Enforced Prohibition by Poisoning Americans

DeRose, Chris – The Fighting Bunch: The Battle of Athens and How World War II Veterans Won the Only Successful Armed Rebellion Since the Revolution (2020)

Gainsville Times, January 5th, 2022 – The Truth Behind Oscarville and the Violent Removal of Black Residents from Forsyth County Years Before Lake Lanier Was Built

History Collection – Historic Uprisings That Shook Powerful Governments

History of War – The Potsdam Giants: How the King of Prussia ‘Bred’ and Army of Super Soldiers

Lay of the Land, The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter, Spring 2005, # 28 – Immersed Remains, Towns Submerged in America

Macalister College – Vodka: The Bitter Stuff

New Zealand History – Sydney Ross

Phillips, Patrick – Blood at the Roots: A Racial Cleansing in America (2016)

Politico Magazine, November 10th, 2020 – ‘Get the Hell Out of Here, and Get Something to Shoot With!’

Radio New Zealand – Nazi Hoax: The Story of Syd Ross

Salon – McNamara’s “Moron Corps”

Security and Surveillance History Series, 2018/1 – A Formidable Responsibility: The Rise and Fall of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Bureau 1940-1945

Slate – The Chemists’ War

Time Magazine, January 10th, 1927 – Prohibition: Poison

Time Magazine, January 14th, 2015 – The History of Poisoned Alcohol Includes an Unlikely Culprit: The US Government

Travel Noir – 5 Black American Towns Hidden Under Lakes and Ultimately from History Books

Vox – The US Government Once Poisoned Alcohol to Get People to Stop Drinking

War History Online – The Potsdam Giants: A Prussian Infantry Regiment of Nothing but Very Tall Soldiers

Weapons and Warfare – Potsdam Giants by Name!