Stuff You Should Know - Short Stuff: Milk Wars

Episode Date: July 10, 2024

If you’re a mobster and you can’t make money off of booze any longer what should you move to next? How about milk?See for privacy information....

Discussion (0)
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Starting point is 00:02:07 Hey and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh, and there's Chuck and Jerry's here, and Dave is hovering over us like a hologram of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which makes this short stuff. And makes us his only hope. That's right. Boy, that's tough for Dave. We're his only hope. Sorry in advance, Dave. Yeah, you know, we haven't talked too much. for Dave, where is only hope? Sorry in advance, Dave.
Starting point is 00:02:25 Yeah, you know, we haven't talked too much. We talked a little bit about the mafia and stuff like that. But I feel like we have a gap in our sort of Al Capone, Chicago mob sort of timeframe, like who are the, what was the movie, The Untouchables, that sort of era. Such a good movie. We don't have a lot of that stuff. So this is maybe the beginning of a little bit more of that. Okay. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as Al Capone said once.
Starting point is 00:02:52 That's right. Then you got a knife in your back. So our story actually takes place in 1933. That's when it began, although it lasted almost the entire decade of the 30s. But by this time, and this is so funny because this whole thing is associated with Al Capone. That's when it began, although it lasted almost the entire decade of the 30s. But by this time, and this is so funny because this whole thing is associated with Al Capone, but if we're going to jump to the end and put it at the beginning, he probably had almost nothing to do with this. The reason this Chicago Milk War, as it's called, is associated with Al Capone is because his direct descendants, his protege's that took over when he was
Starting point is 00:03:26 put into federal prison, they were the ones who were involved in this. So he had some sort of kind of like phantom supernumerary hand involved, but no direct involvement. Yeah, like if he wouldn't have been in prison, it would have been Al Capone running this milk war. And it would have been 10 times bloodier probably. Yeah, you're probably right. But like we all know, he was in prison for tax evasion, initially
Starting point is 00:03:53 right here in Atlanta, and then eventually in Alcatraz, very famously. But we're talking about the milk war, like you were saying, and this gets a little convoluted because there's just a lot of milk unions and delivery driver unions for milk and they all have similar names and they, most of them are pretty good band names, so it gets a little bit confusing. But we're going to do the best we can to tell you how the mob in Chicago got involved in the milk business. And one of the main reasons is that FDR came along and the writing was on the wall that prohibition was going to be repealed. And that was really bad for the mob because they were making a
Starting point is 00:04:39 ton of money with bootlegging and with the speakeasies. So they're like, we need to diversify. So they said, how about milk? It's pretty unregulated and under the radar. And we are already in the food business a little bit. We run the artichoke racket, which was true. Isn't that crazy? That's the fact of the short stuff right there. Well, that and the Wisconsin cheese racket.
Starting point is 00:05:01 So they already had the foot in the dairy and produce business. Right. So yeah, I guess milk is a logical extension of those. I mean, the cheese that makes sense too, but it is surprising to go from booze to milk. Yeah. But it almost didn't matter what the product was. Sure.
Starting point is 00:05:21 The mob could figure out a way to completely upend the industry. They were early disruptors, I guess you'd call them, in 2010 speak. But the way that they did that was through violence and intimidation. And that's the first tactic they tried when they showed up at a guy named Steve Sumner's door. And Steve Sumner's door was the front door of the office of the Milk Wagon Drivers drivers union local 753 and the reason why is because Steve Sumner ran that he was the union leader right and you had said this whole thing's kind of convoluted and the reason why is because from what I can tell there was an uneasy working relationship between the different unions and the different associations
Starting point is 00:06:08 that all came together to produce, buy, bottle, sell, and distribute milk. And each one had their own competing interests, and they were all trying to work together. There was some price fixing involved. There were some alliances they were all trying to work together. There was some price fixing involved, there were some alliances that were all uneasy. But then when the mob came in, they came in kicking down the door and shooting down, shooting Tommy guns into this whole alliance. It just created this total chaos that had just been waiting to happen,
Starting point is 00:06:40 that the mob coming in really triggered and then some. Yeah, absolutely. Because at the time, milk prices were, I guess you would say fixed, right? Is that the term? Yeah. Yeah. Milk prices were set, or capped rather, and they had to use union representatives to drive and deliver this milk and distribute this milk. The mob of Chicago basically said, all right, we're going to get in on the ground floor, we're going to buy an actual dairy, and they bought Meadowmore
Starting point is 00:07:12 dairies, and that's how we're going to get into the milk industry. And what we can do is then not have to use union employees. We can bypass that fixed pricing, and we can undercut by a penny or two what everyone else is selling it for and get all the milk money ourselves. Yeah, and don't forget, this is during the Depression, right? So a couple of pennies off of a bottle of milk that was selling for 11 cents. Oh yeah. That meant a lot. Like you, yeah, you could make a pretty big deal. So there was price fixing, which is illegal, and the mob came in and undermined it by introducing good old American competition to it.
Starting point is 00:07:51 Which is really weird. That's why this whole thing is so hard to kind of wrap your head around, because it all is totally nonsensical. – Yeah, yeah, you're right. I mean, I feel better because I couldn't figure out why I couldn't really make the most sense of this, because it's not the most complicated right. I mean, I feel better because I couldn't figure out why I couldn't really make the most sense of this, because it's not the most complicated story. But yeah, they came to Steve Sumner eventually, this guy named Murray the camel Humphreys, who was one of Capone's fixers. If you have a fixer, you're not a good person. Let's just say that. Yeah. That means you're breaking things if you need someone to fix things.
Starting point is 00:08:25 That's a great, great slogan. Oh, yeah. I should get that on a t-shirt, huh? Very. So they went to Sumner and said, hey, if you and your union can just lay low for a little while, let us hire these non-union workers. We can sell our stuff cheaper, and then you can make a big deal about that, and you can protest that, then we can raise these prices again. And in exchange for this, we're going to offer you protection, which everyone knows for the mob means we're not going to destroy your milk trucks and firebomb your delivery wagons.
Starting point is 00:09:02 Right. And what's funny is, like, I can't remember the spoof movie that this is in. I wanna say top secret, but I might be wrong, where somebody comes in, some like traditional, like maybe gangster criminal comes in and starts shooting up the place. And then all of these like normal people
Starting point is 00:09:20 like pull guns out of nowhere and start shooting back unexpectedly. That's exactly what happened with this, because the mob came in and said that they were going to start breaking heads if everybody didn't fall in line. And so all these people in the dairy industry who were allegedly legitimate went and bombed the mob's dairy. The moment they said that they were going to do this,
Starting point is 00:09:42 they went and bombed their dairy. All right. I say we should take a break because that's a pretty remarkable thing. I'm going to go with Johnny dangerously. I'm not sure if that's true or not. Is that it? Okay. But it seems like a likely candidate and we'll come back right after this. Hi, I'm Katie Lowe's and I'm Guillermo Diaz.
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Starting point is 00:11:52 that will be sure to inspire and educate. Listen to the CINO Show every Wednesday on iHeart radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Johnny Dangerously, Top Secret, it's virtually the same movie. I mean, that's just a guess. Boy, I saw Johnny Dangerously in the theater when I was a kid. I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.
Starting point is 00:12:30 Some parts of it are still pretty funny. I haven't seen it in a long time, but I think it was, yeah. Joe Biscopo? Michael Keaton? You kidding me? Yeah, the dream team is what they call that. Griffin Dunn? Yeah, he's... M what they call that. Griffin Dunn? Yeah, he's John. Mr. Charger? Did you know he's Joan Didion's nephew?
Starting point is 00:12:51 Of course, he's got a new book out. Called I'm Joan Didion's Nephew by Joan Didion's Nephew? You dummy. Emily just got it, supposed to be a good read, so she's all into that. Have you ever seen After Hours? Oh yeah, of course. Good movie.
Starting point is 00:13:06 Scorsese, baby. Yeah, it was. But it's also like a kind of a screwball comedy. Yeah, yeah. The only one he did, really. All right. That's been Movie Crush. Aw, I missed that show. Not enough to do it again, though. So we're back. And like you said, when we left, I believe, right before I said, Johnny, dangerously, you said, these regular schmoes started bombing the mob's dairy. And that's what happened.
Starting point is 00:13:36 And it's just crazy. And all of a sudden, you know, this milk war has kicked off. Yes. So, I said that there was like a bunch of different competing groups. There were the people who made the milk. Those are the farm producers. Those are the farmers who are like milking the cows, putting into huge like canisters, and then selling it to the milk dealers.
Starting point is 00:13:55 The milk dealers have formed an association, and they're the ones who are fixing the price. They were saying, hey farmers, this is how much you're going to get from milk. Don't ask for anything more because everyone who's going to buy it from you is in cahoots against you, right? So the farmers said, well, this is all crazy. We're just going to go on strike. You're not going to get any milk unless you guys start giving us a better price. So in addition to this group, these people were arguing, there's also another group that were involved, and they were the stores that sold milk, okay? They had milk for one set price,
Starting point is 00:14:31 and they could typically sell it lower than other companies who used delivery drivers, milkmen, to deliver their milk directly to people's homes, because there's that added cost. And then on top of that added cost, the milk drivers were unionized. That's what Steve Sumner represented. And so they had like a contract with those companies
Starting point is 00:14:52 saying like, you're gonna pay our drivers like a good wage. And so there was competition between the companies that used union drivers and the companies that just sold it directly from stores. And all of them hated each other because they were all beating one another up used union drivers and the companies that just sold it directly from stores. And all of them hated each other because they were all beating one another up to get as much of a margin of profit out of the others as they possibly could because the American public were the ones who were like, we're not going to pay that much for milk. You guys are going to have to figure this out yourself.
Starting point is 00:15:19 Yeah. Do you think the mob ever went up to people and went, you're going to be eating your granula with water? Do you think the mob ever went up to people and went, you're gonna be eating your granula with water? Or did they have cereal by then? Or were they still calling it probably not granula? Sure, don't you remember a Kellogg's episode? That was the 19th century. That's what I'm saying. That was like the early 1910s.
Starting point is 00:15:35 So they were calling it granula, but they called it cereal pretty soon after, right? Oh, I see what you mean. Sure, sure, probably. Yeah, I wonder what the first one was. Because I think they called their cornflakes cornflakes pretty early on, so they at least had cornflakes. All right, let me do another take.
Starting point is 00:15:51 OK. You're going to be eating your cornflakes with cereal. God damn it. You want to take a third take? Yeah, let's do take three. OK. I'm going to add a line too. I'm going to improv a line.
Starting point is 00:16:04 You're going to be eating your cereal with too, I'm gonna improv a line. You're gonna be eating cereal with water like in the movie, Fridays. That's awesome. We were ice cubed. Yeah. He had to drink it or he had to eat it with water. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:16:18 Oh boy, where were we? We were talking about Corn Flakes. Yeah, in the story, I know there was a band name on to mention, the Pure Milk Association. Yeah. They were one of the union's great band name, post psychedelic. Associated Milk Dealers? What about that one? That's not too bad. Milk Wagon Drivers Union?
Starting point is 00:16:36 Nah, it's getting a little wordy. You know, we haven't taken a break yet. Oh, we did, we did. Okay, good. Yeah, yeah. We can just go on and add in for an item now. We're supposed to be done by now. So here's what happened. In 1939, there was an antitrust case that was going on, basically with this monopoly that was happening.
Starting point is 00:16:55 And the court threw it out, there was a district court judge that threw it out. I believe it was reinstated by the Supreme Court later. But they avoided trial. The DOJ said, you know what, if everyone signs and agrees to this, then we can get this milk war over. The farmers and the unions, you got to say that you won't stop independent producers from marketing milk. There can be independent producers. Distributors, you can't fix your prices anymore. And drivers, you're a union. There's a lot of moving parts here. You can't hamper the store sales of milk. Like I know you like delivering to people's houses,
Starting point is 00:17:35 but distribution is a thing now and you got to let that happen. Right. And so essentially what the justice department said was, you basically need to go the way that the mob was trying to take this and it's like go your separate ways and compete with one another, like be capitalists rather than price fixers. Exactly. What's funny is there's a quote from Steve Sumner who's just befuddled by this antitrust case that was slapped against him and some of the others. He's like we're trying to get the milk flowing again Like we're just making deals here and they're like your price fixing that was the problem in the first place
Starting point is 00:18:11 So stop doing that and I got the milk flowing again. I think in 1940 the whole thing ended That's right. Pretty great stuff the Chicago milk wars featuring Al Capone in name only That's right check said that's right twice everybody and of course that means short stuff is out. That's right. Stuff You Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts, my heart radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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