I just stumbled across a very interesting article on Slate about the US Government’s policy of poisoning alcohol during Prohibition:

[I]n 1926, President Calvin Coolidge’s government decided to turn to chemistry as an enforcement tool. Some 70 denaturing formulas existed by the 1920s. Most simply added poisonous methyl alcohol into the mix. Others used bitter-tasting compounds that were less lethal, designed to make the alcohol taste so awful that it became undrinkable.

To sell the stolen industrial alcohol, the liquor syndicates employed chemists to “renature” the products, returning them to a drinkable state. The bootleggers paid their chemists a lot more than the government did, and they excelled at their job. Stolen and redistilled alcohol became the primary source of liquor in the country. So federal officials ordered manufacturers to make their products far more deadly.

By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.

The move put thousands in hospital, and killed over a thousand others in New York City alone. The Coolidge administration’s attitude was that the victims, of course, had brought it upon themselves.

My dream Call of Cthulhu mega-campaign features rum-running as a means to fund cult activities—world domination and surreptitious archaeology doesn’t come for free, after all—so I seriously need to steal this idea. There’s already an arm of the cult that deals with transporting alcohol, and another that does research on human subjects at an asylum in the backwoods of Maine; it wouldn’t be too difficult to arrange an assistant chemist from the asylum to make regular visits to the hooch operation, thus linking two otherwise unrelated cult activities.

Of course, some players would be nice… *sigh*

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