Busted! 5 years in federal prison for coloring margarine in 1911

Joseph Wirth (above), his brother Toney Wirth, and Patrick Raidy were each fined $5,000 and sentenced to five-year terms in Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas in 1911 for coloring margarine in violation of the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.  The U.S. Congress passed the Oleomargarine Act to protect the butter industry by taxing margarine and banning its coloring to look like butter.

The three were sentenced in Chicago, Illinois, which had become a big margarine-producing area. In those days, margarine was manufactured from animal fat, which the nearby stockyards could produce in enormous quantities. Five thousand dollars in 1911 is equivalent to a quarter million dollars today.


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