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May 2, 2024 11 mins

The business world is a curious place, and because of that, it has given us some amazing characters.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales are
right there on display, just waiting for us to explore.
Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Speaker 1 (00:36):
When we're little, we imagine living in the most amazing places,
don't we Like a giant castle with a moat full
of crocodiles, or on a spaceship orbiting the Earth. But
one former Texas mayor made his own dream come true
in a truly unusual way. Roy was born and raised
in Texas. He got an early start in politics when
he was only sixteen years old after his father suddenly

passed away. Forced to find a job and keep food
on his family's table, he worked as an aid at
the nineteen twenty eight Democratic National Convention in Houston, and
it was there that Roy got a taste for his
future career. In nineteen thirty one, he started his own
private law practice after graduating college. A few years later,
he became the youngest member of the Texas House of Representatives.

His ambitions carried him up the political ladder from a
judgeship in Harris County to Lyndon Johnson's congressional and senatorial
campaign manager. The two had actually met at that convention
back in nineteen twenty eight, and Roy eventually went back
to law, but he found new opportunities for success in
a variety of industries. He would take slag or buy

product from steel production and sell it off as aggregate
for building roads. He also made quite a bit of
money in broadcasting, owning a series of television and radio
stations across Texas. But eventually Roy found himself returning to
politics in nineteen fifty two when he was elected as
mayor of Houston, a position that he held for two terms.

He didn't always get along with his constituents nor the
other members of the local government. He'd been a strong
proponent of integration when many of his white colleagues wanted
to keep Houston racially segregated. Unfortunately, he was ousted in
a special election in the mid nineteen fifties and was
forced to step down, But he wasn't out because Roy

was about to change Texas sports forever. In nineteen fifty nine,
the former judge and Mayor joined the Houston Sports Association,
which had been formed by a committee of local business owners,
and they all had one purpose to get Houston its
own baseball team. This dream came true in nineteen sixty
when Houston acquired the Colt forty five franchise, but by

the early nineteen sixties roy knew that they needed a
proper stadium to play in, so he went to the
HSA with a plan. He recalled a vacation that he
had taken to Italy with his wife in nineteen sixty two.
While touring the coliseum, he marveled at its design and features.
It didn't matter better what was going on in the
center of the arena. The round shape could accommodate just

about anything, and if the outside temperature got too hot,
a cover could be drawn over the top of the
coliseum to keep everyone cool. And that's what the US
needed around All Weather Stadium, and it would be built
right in Houston. The facility was constructed on several hundred
acres of swampland and featured a domed roof made of

plexiglass to allow light in. It was given the futuristic
name of the Astrodome, and the Colt forty fives moved
in in nineteen sixty five under a new name of
their own, one to match their home. They were now
called the Houston Astros. Speaking of homes, Roy wanted somewhere
to live that was close to the stadium. He had
a flare for the theatrical visible in his sprawling mansion

along Galveston Bay known as Huckster Home. For example, there
was a space inside called the Circus Room, which featured
colorful decor and old arcade games. So he had a
lavish apartment constructed where he could both live and work.
Bob Hope described it as early King Faruk, referencing the
Egyptian king who was overthrown in nineteen fifty two in

part for spending too much money on parades and his
extravagant playboy lifestyle. Within this opulent apartment, Roy built a
number of rooms, each one designed to fulfill a specific
purpose or whim. His grandchildren had their own playrooms styled
like a circus tent, while adults could while away the
hours playing bowling or shooting pool in separate recreational areas,

and if business had to be conducted on premises, there
was a conference room with a long white table flanked
by chairs covered in zebra fer He also had a
personal movie theater, a children's library and inter faith chapel,
a miniature golf course, a barber shop, and a salon
for his wife. There was even a special presidential suite

used only by Lyndon B. Johnson. But Roy wasn't content
living far from his beloved Astros. Wanted to be where
the action was, so he had this lavish apartment and
office suite built as close as he could get to
the team. Inside the Astrodome, Roy could literally walk out
of his bedroom or office and watch a game going

on below. He even had a special dining area that
overlooked the field. Following his death in nineteen eighty two,
everything was renovated to accommodate more stadium seating. Almost all
traces of the Astrodome apartment are now gone, and the
building itself has sat unused since two thousand and eight.
Several attempts to revitalize and refurbish it have failed. In

twenty thirteen, the county tried to turn it into a
public park, Others tried to bring the building up to code,
and some lobbied to have it demolished entirely until it
was added to the National Register of Historic Places the
following year. But maybe the best use of the astrodome
has been sitting under everyone's noses this entire time. They
should follow in the footsteps of Roy Hoffeinz and just

turn it into an apartment building. It's strange to think
that the most trivial parts of daily life might be

influenced by nefarious players. It's even stranger to think that
we might owe thanks to dangerous people for making our
lives safer. This story is one of those twisted and
unexpected tales from history. In nineteen thirty three, the prices
of dairy products in the Midwest were fixed. However, independent
dairy farmers demanded a higher price for their milk, but

representatives from the Associated Milk Dealers, a dairy trade group,
argued that the public would not be willing to pay more.
As a result, these dairy farmers, who were union members
of the Pure Milk Association, went on strike. Meanwhile, two brothers,
Ralph and al were looking for a way to make
more money. The brothers were a le of sorts. Their
business tactics were highly uncommon unless someone was a close confidant,

it was nearly impossible to even speak with them. At
this time. The brothers were in the business of selling alcohol,
but they had reason to believe that the industry was
going to take a hit, so they turned their attention
to Midwestern dairies. These dairies lacked regulation, and the brothers
and their associates already controlled other food products like Wisconsin cheese.

Ralph and Al's associates acquired Meadowmoor Dairies, located in Chicago, Illinois.
Ralph had milkship from neighboring Wisconsin, which was much cheaper,
and then bottled in Meadow Moore's facilities. When word of
what they were doing got out to caused major conflict
between themselves, union officials, and other dairies. Tensions were especially

high because the economic hits of the Great Depression left
many dairy farmers feeling helpless and desperate, so the two
brothers hatched a scheme they wanted to take advantage of
the situation. As the story goes, there, Cronies met with
the leader of the local milk wagon drivers union, Steve Sumner,
and asked him to let Meadowmoor higher non union workers.

They also asked to sell their milk at a lower
price than other dairies. They told Sumner that later on
his union drivers could protest these changes, which in the
public eye, would force Meadowmore to increase milk prices. Since
the milk they got from Wisconsin was already cheaper, Ralph
and al still stood to profit if Sumner agreed the
brothers would protect him and his union. Ralph and al

knew their protection was worth a lot. Two years prior,
they reportedly kidnapped the president of the milk drivers union
and held him for a fifty thousand dollars ransom. They
used that money to buy meadow More. You could say
that by offering Sumner protection, the brothers were really just
promising to leave him alone. But Sumner wasn't so easy
to push around, you see. There was a story that

he had once caught a milkman drunk on the job,
and he threw the man from his wagon and delivered
the rest of the milk himself. Always to his principles,
Sumner declined the brother's offer. This decision brought the conflict
to a head, with many farmers feeling cornered, and the
brothers determined to make a pretty penny. Violence erupted, store

windows were smashed, people were attacked, and trucks were damaged.
This period of street warfare went on for eighteen whole months,
and it became known as the Chicago Milk Wars. However,
Ralph and al were never actually caught in the violence,
and that's because both of the brothers were already behind bars.
Al for his part, was in on tax evasion charges

and perhaps by now you have realized how he and
his brother were so able to pull the strings. That's right,
I'm talking about Ralph and al Capone. The bootlegging brothers
strong armed their way into the dairy industry after President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that he would repeal the Eighteenth Amendment,
which outlawed the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. Once

alcohol became legal again, no one would have had any
use for the brother underground racket. Being two of the
most legendary mom men of all time, they didn't care
that their new endeavor would bring violence to the region.
But there is a chance that al Capone did some
good while in prison. Rumor has it a family friend's
son became gravely ill and passed away after drinking expired milk,

so from his cell al Capone lobbied to have expiration
dates printed on all milk bottles. However, this may have
just been another way for Capone to undercut his adversaries.
We know that union regulations prevented him from cornering the
dairy market and that dairy farmers were already struggling to
make a living. This was particularly because store bought milk

was becoming more popular than home delivered milk because it
was cheaper for consumers. As you know, milkmen were union members,
and it's no surprise that milk didn't stay fresh on
someone's doorstep for as long as it would in a store.
So it's possible that al Capone wanted the expiration dates
printed on the bottles to give customers more or reason

to opt for store bob milk. Either way, we can
be grateful that milk does come with expiration dates and
that we no longer have to go to war just
to get a bottle.

Speaker 2 (11:16):
I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet
of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
The show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership
with how Stuff Works. I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television

show and you can learn all about it over at
the Worldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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