Winston Churchill had a doctor’s note to let him drink alcohol during Prohibition.

  • Churchill in 1935
Churchill in 1935
Fremantle / Alamy Stock Photo

From the 18th Amendment’s ratification on January 16, 1919, until its repeal in 1933, Prohibition dominated American society. Most libation lovers were forced to either give up alcohol or acquire it by illicit means, while other cunning boozehounds conceived of clever workarounds. One such individual was British statesman Winston Churchill, who capitalized on an otherwise unfortunate accident he suffered on December 13, 1931. After being struck by a vehicle while crossing Fifth Avenue in New York City, Churchill experienced great pain, for which his doctor conveniently prescribed alcohol as a treatment — though it was likely Churchill himself who requested this specific “medicine.” Otto C. Pickhardt, M.D., wrote, “Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times,” thus permitting the future prime minister to skirt the law during his stateside visits. Pickhardt described the dosage as “naturally indefinite,” but no less than “250 cubic centimeters” of hooch. 

Churchill’s case was far from unusual, as pharmacies often prescribed alcohol as “medicine” during Prohibition due to the lucrative payoffs. It was one of several methods Churchill used to finagle his way around Prohibition; he once visited an American speakeasy, wryly quipping that he only did so as a “Social Investigator.” Churchill’s drinking wasn’t to be impeded upon by laws or religion, as he once imbibed in the presence of Saudi King Ibn Saud. Churchill used an interpreter to explain, “[M]y religion prescribed as an absolute sacred ritual smoking cigars and drinking alcohol before, after, and if need be during, all meals and the intervals between them.”

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