According to Billy Connelly, Al Capone invented the “use by” date on milk bottles. It is reported that during the depression, Al donated $1 million for school kids to get milk. In fact we wrote earlier about starting to get our school milk. But because he hated the sour milk he had as a child, he insisted the milk bottles be stamped with a “use by” date.
There were one or two variations on the theme: it was Al’s big brother who did it; Al did it because one of his brothers died from drinking rotten milk or that it was actually organized by one of Al Capone’s key henchmen, Murray Humpreys (aka The Hump).
Under the Volstead Act, passed into law in October 1919, all intoxicating drinks with more than 0.05% alcohol were banned – beer as well as spirits and wine. Notwithstanding that, whisky was allowed for “medicinal purposes”only and smuggling in large amounts of whisky from Canada became common. Al Capone persuaded the Chicago officials of the day to allow him to manufacturer “non-alcoholic” beer, which was bottled and delivered all over the city.
Since non-alcoholic beer was real beer that was supposed to stand until most of the alcohol had faded, and it was very easy to avoid doing this, breweries could produce as much beer as they liked and they did!
Reportedly costing about $3.00 a barrel to manufacture and selling at $55.00 a barrel, the bootleggers were making around $2,000,000 a week from the sale of 100,000 barrels. In fact, with 22,000 speakeasies to supply, Al Capone began buying smuggled beer as well as whisky from Canada. Al Capone’s older brother Ralph was nicknamed “Bottles” because he was responsible for the legal non-alcoholic brewing and bottling operations.
It turns out Al Capone and his accountants were fascinated with the milk business because of its profit margins! There was a greater mark-up on selling legitimate fresh milk than on their legitimate non-alcoholic beer. Looking forward to the end of prohibition, with a large fleet of trucks already on the road and bottling plants, the milk business was very attractive to Al Capone and his organization.
Along with some associates, in the spring of 1931, Al Capone’s key henchman, Murray Humpreys (aka The Hump), tried to muscle his way into the local branch (number 753) of the Milk Wagon drivers union, with a view to building up Meadowmoor Dairies. Meeting with their business agent, Steve Sumner, they offered him the opportunity to invest if he would keep the dairy union free. Sumner refused and turned down a huge bribe as well.
Steve Sumner was a remarkable man: he neither drank nor smoked; he formed the Milk Wagon driver’s union himself in the very early 1900’s; the Union insisted all milk wagon drivers be sober; working times of up to 100 hours per week were set to be 8 to 5, with no afternoon deliveries in the summer because of the heat; the Union was honest, rich and powerful and the whole of milk deliveries in Chicago were unionized.
Humpreys was a “made man” but preferred negotiation to murder. As in, Frank Sinatra showed up to take his daughter to a high school prom.
When approaches to Sumner were refused, he arranged for the union’s president to be kidnapped instead, and Sumner was forced to pay $50,000 for his release. The same $50,000 was used to incorporate Meadowmoor Dairies Inc on February 23, 1932.
Three months before Al Capone went to jail on tax charges, on May 4, 1932, the dairy opened. Humpreys was later indicted for failing to pay withholding tax on the $50,000 ransom money; he entered a plea of guilty and paid the taxes. As Capone went to the US Penitentiary in Atlanta, Frank Nitti was being released and by 1934 he had consolidated all their interests to take control of organized crime in Chicago.
Humpreys led the organization into labour racketeering and gambling. By 1936, indictments were issued for the Teamsters, charging them with fixing retail milk prices in Chicago. Officials of the 753 branch of the Milk Drivers Union were charged with fixing the amount milk supplied to the city, squeezing smaller distributors out of business in favour of Meadowmoor Dairies. It was a huge scandal but the cases did not proceed to court.
Mob historians Gus Russo and John William Tuohy, who write extensively about the Mobsters and their times, both state that “Capone’s henchmen successfully pressured the Chicago City Council to require a date stamp on milk cartons and to establish guidelines for what could be sold as Grade A milk” and the henchman particularly in question was Murray Humpreys (The Hump).
It seems we owe two things in particular to The Hump – voted Public Enemy No 1 once Al Capone was in jail: the political advice “Vote Early and Vote Often” and being saved from sour milk. I am idly wondering what my Use By date might be.
If you like our Snippets, join us online, get your first premium story FREE and get regular updates of new postings.
Get started here, today.
(c) Lesley Dewar July 2012 to current.