Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (Prohibition in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 7 Details:

The Tale of an Insane King

It was prohibition and George saw the world change forever. The ban on alcohol left an opportunity for George, who was a pharmacist. But, his pathway of legal alcohol production, would also put him in the crosshairs of greedy people who wanted to take his money and his companies.

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

George watched his father with worried eyes. Although his father tried to hide the pain, George saw him wince when he bent down. George pulled his coat a little tighter around him as a strong wind blew off the lake. 

The cold likely wasn’t helping either. They thought it would be better than Milwaukee, Wisconsin but it was actually worse. Chicago was not the best city to live in with his condition. He wondered how fast things would worsen. The thought frightened him. 

The family had already been through enough. Shortly after they arrived in America his younger brother had been hit in the head with a freak accident and ended up in an insane asylum for a year until he died. That wasn’t that long ago either and the family was still reeling.    

“Kann ich Sie Helfen?” 

George grabbed the piece of wood from him. Even at the age of 14 he was a big boy. Round in many parts. Thick. An immigrant embracing all of his heritage, even if he shied away from flexing that pride as strongly as his father’s and the others.

“Ja, mein Junge.” Frank said in a gruff voice. “Ich liebe es, dass du Deutsch sprichst, aber wir müssen Englisch sprechen”

George nodded. That was fine by him. He preferred to speak English, anyway. 

Frank moved aside for George. That wasn’t a good sign. His dad was stubborn. A product of his heritage, no doubt. So, for him to just step aside meant he really wasn’t feeling well. 

And he wasn’t. 

In fact, shortly after that point, Frank would have to quit his job scoring lumber. His illness had gotten too bad. The intense pain in his joints and muscles made working impossible.

So, at the age of 14, George had no choice but to step up and support the family. For a young child surrounded by death and incurable illnesses, what could be more fitting than finding a way to help people.

He had a connection too. An uncle who ran a pharmacy. From 14 until 19 he worked under his uncle, learning the trade. At 19 he finally became a certified pharmacist. Life moved fast from there and George grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.

By age 21 he had bought his uncles pharmacy, expanded to a second location, and also got his optometrist certification. Beyond George’s ambition was a lifestyle that supported his success. 

He was a short, plump man who liked to indulge in the finer side of things. Fine food. Fine Art. Literature. And a hard pass on alcohol and tobacco. 

Now, I know it’s usually this point in the story where I’ve hinted at a drink. Dropped a nugget to wet your appetite about a tasty beverage tied to the story I’m telling.

But…the truth is…it’s tough to tie a drink to a man like George. He was too polished. Too motivated and focused. Which is why he wanted more out of life than just owning a bunch of pharmacies. He knew he could help people in other ways too. He wasn’t wrong either.   

His work in his uncle’s pharmacy had been out of necessity to support the family. He had refused to enter the trades and didn’t want to work with his hands. But, he was bored. So, he went to law school and completed a 3 year law degree program in 18 months.  

From there he opened up a law office in Chicago and, in his first year alone, defended 18 people who were accused of murder. Many of them were convicted and executed. This horrified George. Not that he’d lost the cases but that the guilty parties were summarily hung for their crimes. So much so that he even joined the anti-capital punishment society.  

14 long years later George made history. With a case that started like many of the prior ones. A client on trial for murder. A wealthy merchant from out of state charged with murdering his wife in a jealous rage. He had stabbed his wife over, and over, and over again. Then simply went to sleep. The crime was vicious, to say the least.

George was well read at this point and, in the depths of his mind, remembered an Austrian psychologist who wrote a book about a particular condition, a condition that George used as a defense for his client. Although his client was not let off the hook entirely, the wealthy merchant was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years, a win considering the brutality of the crime and how conflicted the jury had been on the verdict.

But, the aftermath would be even more important. For this claimed condition was the first time ever that a lawyer had used it. Yet, it would not be the last. Far from it. And before all was done with George, he would need to use a similar approach to save himself.

Eventually work took him away from family and into the lovely arms of a very young secretary. After a divorce from his first wife, he married Imogene and adopted her child Ruth. 

But, the ever bored George…grew bored again. And decided one final career change was in order. In this new venture he knew he could “clean up” and also help a lot of very desperate people along the way.

He combined all of his learned skills at this point and went around buying up facilities in the Midwest. At this time in America there were a lot of nefarious figures, and George was no such person. 

He was going to do good, with an eye toward justice. 

Still the road of good intentions was paved with struggles. Many of them. So many that he left behind Chicago’s overbearing regulations and laws and found a safe haven in Cincinnati. It was here that he put down roots and set up Drobbatz Chemical Company, a nod at his German heritage.

He purchased two additional drug wholesale companies and established the network he would rely on for the rest of his career. His medicine company exploded and within years George controlled the sale of all product in 9 states. 

Suffering people all over the midwest and east found respite with George’s help. He employed over 3,000 people in his Cincinnati office. And made, in today’s numbers, over $644 million per year in revenue.

This isn’t a story about a greedy capitalist. George enjoyed the opportunity to share his wealth with others. He threw extravagant parties where he gave party favors in true Great Gatsby style. All the attending women would receive cars or diamond earrings. The men, diamond sticks.

He donated to charities too. Many of them. 

But, the government, as is sometimes the way of the government, didn’t like George. Maybe he made too much money. Perhaps it was his medicine they disapproved of. Either way, they came after him. And hard. 

When they finally caught up with him, they sucker punched him hard. Maybe they just didn’t like the look of his round, pudgy face. 

When George stood up again, after two years of battling in courts, which took him all the way to the supreme court, he ended up in prison. But, in a wise move he gave power of attorney over to his wife Imogen before heading to prison. 

His assets at the time from his medicine operation were extensive. To name a few, and all in today’s prices:

  • A home worth $12.8 million
  • A factory worth $3.65 million
  • And effective control of his $638 million dollar a year business
  • Throw in a few blank checks for his expenses, defenses, etc, pre signed and totaling $2.75 million

Now, that’s what I call true love.

Except it wasn’t. 

For he revealed all of these details to his inmate when in prison…

Who turned out to be a planted federal agent put there to collect more dirt on George.

They wanted his money and knew he had a lot of it. So, they sent Franklin, a star in his own right, but a man seeking a very different end result than George. 

And he got it. 

When he took the information related to George’s hidden wealth and, instead of reporting it to the government so they could steal it, slept with George’s wife.

This torrid affair gave Franklin the leverage he needed to take George’s wealth, which was controlled by Imogen at the time. 

To further his own survival, Franklin began working lead on another case tied to George, one he hoped would put George away for a long time. 

Franklin and Imogene worked anyway and liquidated all of his assets. They sent him mere pennies, a slap in the face, for all of his hard work and effort, and kept the rest. The factory worth $3.65 million was liquidated in a fire sale for $1 million. They gave George $4,000 and split up the rest.

When he was finally released from prison he went home, only to find his house stripped bare. A blank slate. Everything sold.

His wife was gone too. With Franklin. 

Distraught. Penniless. His entire empire, years of toil and hard work invested, all gone, when one woman, incapable of ever creating her own fortune, took her good fortune and sacked up with a corrupt federal agent.

Of course for George, a now broken and empty man, with love and fortune, or the daughter he had adopted and now called his own, he tracked down his wife Imogen. They met at a park, where George, for the second time only in his life, fire a gun, that shot hot lead into Imogen’s abdomen. 

He left her there and walked away, calmly. 

Imogen died in the hospital hours later.

And George, once more, ended up inside of a courtroom.

Except this time he relied on a a defense that he had invented years ago when a wealthy merchant had killed his own wife. 

A plea still used today with great effect. Transitory Insanity. 

A plea of temporary insanity. 

And in his closing remarks, which lasted for over an hour and a half he laid out the life of a young boy who started out in life supporting his family making $5 a month and embraced the American Dream by building an empire selling medicine. 

He spoke out, as he had many times, against the unlawfulness of the actions of the United States and the illegality of the 18th amendment, and not the illegality of his actions.

He talked about Franklin, the product of a corrupt government.

And himself. Just a poor immigrant who became “King of the Bootleggers,” when he, very publicly and, through all the proper legal channels, challenged the 18th amendment’s right to prohibit the production and sale of alcohol by buying up distilleries throughout the midwest –

Including the famous Fleischmann’s Distillery that was fire sold by Franklin and his deceased wife

Part of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery

And many more

Where he would, with legal state approval, ship the already existing product on hand across the midwest and east for

Medicinal reasons

Which was sold to patients

Who had been prescribed alcohol by legitimate doctors 

And also illegally through an extensive bootlegging channel in the midwest.

He stood before the jury and proclaimed:

“I don’t think there is one scruple of liquor ever prescribed by physicians that is used absolutely for medicinal purposes. 

It is the greatest comedy, the greatest perversion of justice that I have ever known of in any civilized country in the world.” 

And, although the trial took over 5 weeks

His full acquittal and innocent verdict took only 19 minutes to make

And the boy who became a pharmacist,

Then turned into a lawyer,

Before finally seeing how the criminals he defended were making money hand over fist selling booze 

Went into the game himself, as legally as he could

And became a king

Before his wife’s betrayal and a government enforcing by greed, not virtue,

took it all away.

The most curious part of it all. George never drank. Not a drop in his entire life. 

Anyway, I’ll drink to that.