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Tag: United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth

What’s Cooking Wednesdays: Crimes against butter

Charles Wille was sent to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth in 1915 for crimes against butter. (ARC 596115)

The Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, has housed some famous and infamous inmates, such as “Birdman of Alcatraz” Robert Stroud and Machine Gun Kelly. In the early 20th century, the prison took in some less likely felons—violators of the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.

How did trafficking in this popular butter substitute become a Federal offense? Well, almost immediately after New York’s U.S. Dairy Company began production of “artificial butter” in 1871, regulation began. Dairy interests pushed Congress to pass the 1886 act, which imposed a two-cent tax (per pound) on margarine and also required manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of margarine to obtain margarine licenses.

By 1902, 32 states had bans on coloring margarine yellow to make it look more like butter. That same year, Congress increased the tax to 10 cents a pound for colored margarine but imposed a lesser tax of a quarter of one cent per pound on the uncolored stuff.

The exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” includes the story of felons convicted of violating sections of the Oleomargarine Act and sent to the Federal prison at Leavenworth. Some tried to pass the margarine off as butter; others tried to evade the tax by reusing tax stamps again and again.

Joseph Wirth (along with his

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You can grow a mustache, but you can never leave

Did you catch Mugged! Facing Life at Leavenworth at the  National Archives at Kansas City this summer?

The exhibit may be closed now, but you can learn more about the prison, its inmates, and its records in this new article from Prologue. And it’s not too late to see some more mug shots from the exhibits. Check out the album on the National Archives Facebook page.

Located twenty-five miles north of Kansas City, the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth opened its doors in 1895 as the nation’s first Federal penitentiary. Since it was a Federal prison, the National Archives at Kansas City has many of its records.

The prison is still in use today. While mustaches may not be in fashion for modern inmates, a hundred years ago there plenty of hats, facial hair, and startled expressions. Among the many featured mug shots of prisoners are many fine examples of facial hair: the three below feature mustaches.

Charles E. Billingsley, #7183. Billingsley was sentenced to seven years and five months for violating the National Banking Law in 1908. Mrs. Billingsley made every attempt to obtain a pardon for her husband by asking men of status to write to the warden of Leavenworth testifying to his character. Mr. John Thomas of the Code Commission of Oklahoma wrote, “I am not personally acquainted with Mrs. Charles Billingsley, but her letter is a cry from the heart of the disconsolate wife-the sorrow oppressed mother-who, in her loneliness seeks to ameliorate the condition of her life’s mate, now suffering the penalties denounced by law against those who violate its provisions.” Billingsley served until 1913. RG 129, National Archives at Kansas City.

Charles E. Billingsley, #7183. Billingsley was sentenced to seven years and five months for violating the National Banking Law in 1908. Mrs. Billingsley made every attempt to obtain a pardon for her husband by asking men of status to write to the warden of Leavenworth testifying to his character. Mr. John Thomas of the Code Commission of Oklahoma wrote, “I am not personally acquainted with Mrs.

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