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Indeed. I've got to ask you about one more thing, and that's prohibition and the role the U.S. government played in, in fact, apparently poisoning some people.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, if there was a single thing that just totally astonished me, it was the discovery that the American government was randomly but intensely poisoning its own citizens in prohibition -- during prohibition as a way of trying to make everybody behave.
Well, it was -- they would put strychnine or mercury or some other serious toxic substance in industrial alcohol. Because what was happening was they hadn't really thought this through at the beginning but when they made prohibition, they forgot that you still need a lot of industrial alcohol for making things like paint thinners and nail varnish and all that stuff. So millions and millions of gallons of alcohol was still being legally produced and it wasn't very hard to divert that and kind of doctor it up and make into sort of bootleg gin or whatever.
So as a way of discouraging people from doing that, the government in its wisdom would pour in all of these things that would actually blind or maim or even kill people. And that was still -- some of it was still getting diverted.
Who had charge of doing that? Who made that decision?
Well, if there was one human being who was responsible for this it was a guy named Wayne B. Wheeler who was a mousy little man who ran the anti-saloon league. And he was so vehemently against drinking. I mean, he really believed that it was at the root of all evil, that he and his followers insisted that instead of just putting detergents or soap or something else that would make industrial alcohol unpalatable but wouldn't actually kill you, they insisted, no no. These people should be killed. It's against the law. It's the law of the land. And if they decide to drink alcohol and they don't know what the source of it is, they're committing suicide.
How many people died?
Well, they don't know. The numbers are all over the place. It could be...
Thirteen thousand or thirty thousand, whatever.
Yeah, I mean, some sources will say, you know -- because it just wasn't always -- a lot of it was kept secret, you know, or the people -- it was caused -- some other cause. So -- but what is certain is that that the government was, you know, poisoning people. And what's really interesting is the people like Al Capone -- the reason -- part of the reason -- big part of the reason that they thrived was because their drink was safe. You know, you could count on stuff you were getting from Al Capone.
And on that note we'll end our discussion sadly because there's lots more in this book. Bill Bryson, so good to see you.