al capone

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On this day in history in 1934, a federal prison opened on Alcatraz Island built to house the most dangerous prisoners and ones with a pension for escaping. The prison held notorious criminals such as gangsters Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. In 1963 the prison closed due to high expense of maintenance. Later in 1964, members of the Sioux tribe occupied Alcatraz Island, citing an 1868 treaty with the US government and Sioux allowing them to claim any unoccupied government land. The occupation grew in 1969 when hundreds of Native students, protesters, and activists from across the country gathered for the Alcatraz Occupation. It became a place where many found their voices in the shadow of the Civil Rights movement and in the face of continued injustices perpetrated on American Indians by the United States government. In 1971 federal marshals forced everyone to clear the island. Shortly after, the island became a public recreation area maintained by the National Park Service. In 2001, filmmaker James Fortier brought his documentary Alcatraz Is Not an Island to the Sundance Film Festival to shed light on this important historic event. The film features archival footage and photography as well as a series of interviews with participants of the Alcatraz Occupation. 

Film still and poster courtesy of Alcatraz Is Not an Island

Al Capone- inventor of milk expiration dates and all around nice fella

Although Al Capone is typically known as a gangster, to many people in his adopted city of Chicago, he was a modern-day Robin Hood.

Capone was the first person to open a soup kitchen to feed the poor during the Depression. At a time of 25 percent unemployment, Capone’s kitchens served three meals a day to ensure that everyone who had lost a job could get a meal. Soon, every city and town had a soup kitchen.

Capone did not only open them, but he would go to the soup kitchens and help serve the meals. These soup kitchens cost Capone thousands of dollars every day to keep running. It is said that Capone had a soft spot for people who were struggling.

It was reported that one of Capone’s family members in Chicago became ill from drinking expired milk. At that time, there were no controls on milk production or expiration.

This drew Capone’s interest to the milk business, and he saw several things: the milk distribution business had a shady character – and Capone was comfortable with shady businesses; he didn’t like to see people, especially children sickened by adulterated milk; he saw a potentially high profit in milk distribution; and with Prohibition soon to end, he had a fleet of trucks that could easily be used to transport milk.

Capone took two steps to move into the milk business. One was to acquire a milk processor, Meadowmoor Dairies. The other was to have the Chicago City Council pass a law requiring a visible date stamped on milk containers.

In 1930s Chicago, before refrigeration and supermarkets, milk was delivered by the milkman, a teamster’s union member. The union controlled the distribution of milk, whose freshness depended on how long the milk sat around until the driver delivered it.

The unions would only deliver local milk. Meadowmoor Dairies wanted to import cheeper milk from Wisconsin, and wanted it delivered by their own nonunion truckers.

With the negotiations at a standstill, Capone’s people reportedly kidnapped the union president and used the $50,000 ransom to purchase the dairy. The dairy was given as a present to Capone’s attorney, William Parrillo. Meadowmoor Dairies opened three months before Capone went to prison.