Mickey Finn (1918)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Dec 3 10:13:09 UTC 2004

Found via Newspaperarchive:

    Washington Post, June 23, 1918, p. 1
    Chicago, June 23.-— State's Attorney Hoyne, acting on
    information as to coercive measures used by waiters to compel
    the giving of tips, arrested 100 waiters, members of Waiters'
    Union, Local No. 7, today.
    Mr. Hoyne had a report that waiters used a certain powder in
    the dishes of known opponents to the system.
    The powders, according to Mr. Hoyne, produced nausea and were
    known as "Mickey Finns." It is thought that many cases of
    supposed ptomaine poisoning reported after meals in downtown
    cafes and hotels may have been caused by the "Mickey Finns."

    (Reno) Nevada State Journal, June 26, 1918, p. 8
    Mr. Hoyne believes Crones is the inventor of the "Micky
    Finn" powders he accused local waiters of administering to
    non-tipping patrons of hotels and cafes.

    (Reno) Nevada State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
    Ben F. Parker, one of the men seized by State's Attorney
    Hoyne in a raid on a Chicago waiters' union headquarters
    several days ago in connection with an alleged plot of
    waiters to put "Mickey Finn" powder in food served hotel
    patrons who refused to give tips, was arrested today in the
    lobby of a downtown hotel.

    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, July 10, 1918, p. 1
    Ten Chicago waiters and bartenders were indicted here today
    on charges growing out of an investigation of the manufacture
    and sale of "Mickey Finn" powders.

    Fort Wayne (Indiana) News And Sentinel, July 13, 1918, p. 1
    Waiters and officials of the Waiters' Union were indicted by
    the grand jury today as a result of revelation that patrons of
    hotel dining rooms and restaurants, who had omitted tips, had
    been drugged with "Mickey Finn" powders, a concoction, colorless
    and tasteless, known to the medical profession as tartar emetic.

I don't have access to the Chicago Tribune archive at the moment, but I'm
sure that many other references to this case could be found.  I did find
these items, reprinted from the syndicated Tribune column "A Line O' Type
Or Two" ("BLT" was Bert Leston Taylor and "PAN" was Keith Preston):

    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 28, 1918, p. 6
    "Italians Quick with Knockout." -- Headline.
    They may be using Mickey Finn powder in their shells.

    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
    Should a patron not tip,
    Let the waiter just slip
    'Twixt the cup and the lip
      One Mickey Finn powder.
    Have an obus boy hear
    When he calls for a beer,
    Pass the word in his ear,
      "Powder monkey, the powder!"
    When he falters "Oh my!
    I feel clammy, goodbye!"
    Let the waiter reply.
      "No doubt, 'twas the chowder!"

    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
    Slogan from C.R.G.: "A dime a day keeps the Mickey Finn away."

This all predates the earliest OED3/RHHDAS cite for "Mickey Finn" by a
decade.  But considering how widely reported the case was, it seems likely
that this was a key source for the term's popularization beyond the
Chicago underworld.

--Ben Zimmer

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