State Ban On Oleo Margarine Led To Smuggling

Imagine that it’s 1950. It’s a Friday evening and darkness is descending. A group of women are sitting around a kitchen table talking, when all of a sudden one of them says, “Who driving?” Another replies, “Not me, I drove last week.” A third chimes in, “I’ll drive, but I want gas money before I leave.” Someone asks, “When will you be back?” The answer: “By midnight…..if all goes well.” They weren’t talking about rum running or dope pedaling — they were housewives planning a trip across state lines to buy yellow oleo margarine. In 1895, Wisconsin banned the manufacture and sale of uncolored oleo to protect its dairy farmers. If you wanted to buy margarine in Wisconsin, you could only get it in unappetizing white. On top of that, you had to pay an extra tax on it for the privilege. That’s when consumers headed for the border to get the cheaper, appetizing-looking butter substitute. These oleo runs were against the law, and the runners might be caught by the police. No one ever said how the police might know if someone had uncolored oleo in their car, but just knowing their actions were illegal was cause for caution. Nevertheless, the runners went — often alone and on back roads — as the other women played cards, chatted, and waited for their return. The drivers would return — often in the wee hours of the morning — with a trunk full of uncolored oleo. To this day, not being fully aware of the statute of limitations on such nefarious criminal acts in Wisconsin, it’s likely you’ll find few runners who will admit their involvement in the Wisconsin oleo caper.