The Whiskey War of 1869
From 1866 through 1868, New York City newspapers were full of reports of seized distilleries. In 1867 alone, the government collected only $21,618 from Brooklyn distillers, when in fact the volume of liquor they produced should have yielded $1,225,000 in duties.
The dispute between distillers and the government turned into an all out “Whiskey War” in 1869, when troops were sent into the Fifth Ward (now the Vinegar Hill neighborhood) to enforce the revenue laws. An artist from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper drew the above illustration which depicts the conflict where General Pleasanton, led a force of fifteen hundred infantry and marines to destroy illicit stills and barrels of illegal whiskey.
But underreporting of production was only one of the evils associated with many of the Brooklyn distilleries. Fires and industrial accidents were reported with depressing regularity. Boilers routinely exploded, scalding and killing distillery workers. The unregulated whiskey makers were also implicated in the abhorrent “swill milk” trade, selling the residual mash from the distillation process to farmers who fed it to their cows. This diet caused the unfortunate animals to become “tail-less, red-eyed and dropsical” and to develop weeping sores. Their milk, unpasteurized, untested, and lacking in essential nutrients, was fed to babies who died in their thousands as a result.