Winston Churchill’s Doctor Wrote A Note So He Could Circumvent Prohibition in America

8th October 1918:  Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)  is escorted through the yards by workers whilst on his visit to the north just before the end of the Great War.  (Photo by A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
8th October 1918: Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) is escorted through the yards by workers whilst on his visit to the north just before the end of the Great War. (Photo by A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In America’s relatively short history it has gone through some turbulent, violent, and plain crazy times. One of the weirdest is Prohibition, a 13 year period that nearly everyone looks back on and says: why did you do that? For over a decade, the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol were outlawed. But humans did what humans do and found many ways to circumvent the restrictions while enjoying alcoholic beverages out of the watchful eye of the police.

The idea of banning alcohol had good intentions, namely to reduce domestic violence, crime and improve public morals, but it came with unintended consequences. Criminals took control of alcohol production and distribution, and many otherwise ‘clean’ citizens partook in the illegal activity of purchasing alcohol in secret establishments. Many people in the US found their own ways of getting alcohol, including people in power.

This led to the iconic era of speakeasies, moonshine, bootleggers, and gangsters like Al Capone.

speakeasy in America
(Original Caption) Revenue agents during a raid on speak-easy, prohibition period. Photo, Washington, April 25, 1923. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

One of the ways some accessed alcohol was, of all people, their own doctor.

During Prohibition, the US Treasury Department allowed the prescription of alcohol for “medicinal” uses. The arrangement was a mutually beneficial one, as doctors were paid well for this service, while the “patients” received a nice pint of beer or their favorite spirit.

Patients could pay around $3 every ten days for the prescription and another $3 dollars to receive the alcohol. This was amplified by professionals in the medical industry who praised alcohol as a sort of miracle drug that was able to help fight cancer and cure depression.

In just the first few months of Prohibition, 15,000 doctors applied for permits that enabled them to “prescribe” alcohol to patients.

Winston Churchill sneaks past Prohibition laws

Winston Churchill with a flask of alcohol
31st January 1927: Whip in hand, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) takes a nip at his hip flask at the start of a wild boar hunt at Foucanmont in France. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Prohibition affected everyone in the US and Winston Churchill was no exception. He visited the US in 1931 to speak on “the Pathway of the English-Speaking Peoples.” Famous for his enjoyment of cigars and alcohol, this likely was not a fun prospect for him.

While in New York City Churchill attempted to cross a street near Central Park, but looked right instead of left, due to the differences in moving traffic directions between the US and UK. Thinking it was clear Churchill stepped into the road, and was subsequently struck by a vehicle traveling about 30 mph. Fortunately, the future British prime minister was not killed, emerging from the accident with a cut on his forehead, a sprained shoulder, and bruising on his chest.

If you thought Churchill was the kind of man to enjoy a few glasses of alcohol while making his recovery, you’d be right. But as this was Prohibition America, the British Bulldog’s only legal option was, of course, his doctor.

Otto C. Pickhardt prescribed the 57-year-old Churchill “the use of alcoholic spirits especially at mealtimes.” And how much was he allowed to consume? An amount that is “naturally indefinite.”

Just in case.

More From Us: Fascinating Facts About Sir Winston Churchill

So Churchill survived his close call and was nursed back to health with a helpful, unlimited supply of “medicinal” alcohol. While laying in his hospital bed recovering, Churchill couldn’t have imagined that in just a decade he would be leading the final western stand against fascism.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE