In 1926, the government pushed manufacturers to increase methanol amounts in industrial alcohol, which people at the time used for bootleg liquor. It was an attempt to discourage people from drinking. The government needed drastic measures to salvage the failed Prohibition. Like the warnings on cigarette packs, the measure proved futile since people didn’t stop drinking. Desperate for any alcohol, thousands of Americans risked the consequences and died.
Adding contaminates to industrial alcohol was an established practice before Prohibition. People had been drinking tainted alcohol for years. So why stop now? The renewed moral crusade was ridiculous to everyone except the blinkered lawmakers who put it in motion. What did they add to the alcohol? All manner of poisonous chemicals, such as mercury and benzene. Studies also show evidence of a horrifying formula that stopped heartbeats. Mostly, they added more methanol or wood alcohol since these were tough for bootleggers to get out of drinking alcohol.
None of us can or will argue with limiting alcohol to improve health and well-being. But government-backed austerity driven by a misplaced sense of morality? A disaster of epic proportions. The proof was in the pudding. Warnings, fines, imprisonments, and institutionalized poisoning – none of these things stopped the bootleggers or customers from drinking. By the end of Prohibition, more than 10,000 Americans had died from tainted alcohol.