The day Al Capone allegedly invented expiration dates in milk bottles

Legend has it, it was Al Capone the one who made it mandatory to add expiration dates on milk bottles.

Everybody has heard of Al Capone and his violent reign of terror as a mafia boss. However, there are aspects of his story that not many know. The story we're bringing you today is one of those. Today we're so used to expiration dates on basically all the products we consume, that's it's rare to question when and how did this originate. 

Well, according to our story, it was the one and only Al Capone the one that came up with the idea back in the thirties. Legend has it, Capone's relatives became really sick after drinking some spoilt milk, and in his anger, the Mafia boss passed legislation to force milk producers of Chicago to add an expiration date to the bottles. In reality, Capone was just looking to diversify his business and found in milk a great opportunity.


A new man

Al Capone became one of the most powerful and feared Mafia leaders between the 1920s and the early 1930s, during the Prohibition times. He ran the Chicago Mafia (or Chicago Outfit), making the not-that-very-humble amount of over 100 million dollars per year. His business, as we all know, was bootlegging. However, by the 1930s, Prohibition was coming to an end, and if alcohol were to be legal again, his business was basically over. 

These were very chaotic times, and with Prohibition coming to an end, gangs from all over the country were desperate to keep their businesses alive. This frenzy turned into mayhem sparking even more violent times and more gruesome encounters between mafia groups. Fearing that he and his entire family would end up perishing in one of these deadly meetings, Al Capone was determined to start a new life out of illegality. Well, kind of.


What is true is that, as it tends to happen with this kind of character, there was a noble side of the criminal that people revered. During the harsh times of the Depression era, Capone presented himself as some sort of Italian Robin Hood in the city of Chicago. He opened the first soup kitchen in the area, and after seeing the demand for food, he started opening many more offering up to three meals a day. He would even go to these kitchens and serve food himself.

He had already developed a reputation for being something of a latter-day Robin Hood in Chicago. During the Depression, Capone opened the first soup kitchen, offering three meals daily to financially struggling individuals and their families. The soup kitchen was so popular that he opened more. But Capone went beyond spending money to help people. He actually went to the soup kitchens and served meals himself. This is relevant for those who take the story of the milk as true because it makes it possible to think of a more concerned-for-the-society Al Capone worried about the health of the people, especially children, the main consumers of milk.


Got milk?

So, while Capone was looking for a legal enterprise, his relative apparently got sick, giving Al Capone a great idea, delve into the milk business. He realized that milk was probably the most consumed drink every day, and more importantly, he already had the facilities to dabble in the business. Besides that, he realized that the industry had no real regulations, and he could easily take advantage of that and get to control the business through these regulations. Hence, aspects like making it mandatory to add expiration dates on the bottles, since, he had already the machinery to do that.

Now, we're talking about the thirties, there were no supermarkets, nor refrigeration technology, and more importantly, no sanitary regulations. Also, milk was delivered by milkmen who belonged to a union, so the freshness of the milk literally depended on who long it took for these men to deliver it throughout the cities. In Chicago, milk came from a local farm called Meadowmoor Dairies which was naturally controlled by the union. But Al Capone wanted to make it more efficient and cheaper to have more profit, so he came with the idea of also importing milk from Wisconsin using his own delivery trucks and system.


You can't take the mafia out of the boss

As it's often said, you can't teach new tricks to old dogs, and although Al Capone had the best intentions of leaving behind his criminal and violent past when Meadowmoor Diaries refused his offer to sell, Old Capone resorted to his old tricks. He asked his men to kidnap the union president and asked for a 50 thousand dollar ransom. When it was paid, he used the money to buy the farm. With the milk in his possession, Capone was ready for his next move. Passing legislation on expiration dates and regulation of the business. 

Everything was coming as planned, he now controlled the milk industry in Chicago and was ready to start a new life as an 'honorary' businessman. But, as it's also said, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Just three months after starting his milk empire, Al Capone was arrested. Unlike what you would think, it wasn't due to the countless horrid crimes he committed as head of the Chicago Outfit, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, but because of all the taxes he evaded through his illegal business.


Al Capone was sent to Alcatraz and gave the milk company to his lawyer. His rule as the leader of the milk industry was short, but he gave us expiration dates and better sanitary regulations. Expiration labels on food, in general, wouldn't be a reality until the 1970s.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons

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