Americans visiting Paris in December 1933 celebrated the end of Prohibition in a “real two-fisted manner,” the NY Times reported that year. Just 15 years earlier, the paper had run a large advertisement with the headline, “BOOZE is the worst non-essential. STOP IT!”
TIL that American booze is legally required to radioactive. This video from Tom Scott explains why.
Basically, this radioactivity (it’s very slight) ensures that the hooch is made from natural grain and plant material. It is possible to make ethanol from petroleum products. You end up with the same C2H6O molecule and pure petroleum ethanol would still get you intoxicated if you drank it. But since people using ethanol for industrial purposes don’t want to pay the same enormous sin taxes as those of us who drink for pleasure, they’ve agreed to make manufactured ethanol undrinkable by adding toxic and unpleasant chemicals. This test makes sure everyone’s on the up and up.
Still, even adding things like methanol and bitter-tasting denatonium doesn’t always stop people from drinking this stuff in a pinch. Around Christmas Day in 1926, during American Prohibition, 31 people died of methanol poisoning in New York City. And beginning in 1930, tens of thousands of people lost partial or complete use of their hands and feet after drinking “Jamaica Ginger,” a manufactured alcoholic tonic that contained a plasticizer called tricresyl phosphate.