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Winston Churchill had a doctor's note to drink "unlimited" alcohol during America's Prohibition

In December 1931, while he was doing a tour of lectures in the United States, Winston Churchill was running late to dinner with statesman and financier Bernard Baruch, on New York City’s Upper East Side. He didn't bother to remember the address, assuming incorrectly that Baruch was so famous that any random cab driver would automatically know where he lives.

These were the days before cell phones and Google Maps...

Eventually, Churchill managed to get to his destination, and tried to walk across 5th Avenue without looking properly both ways. He was very lucky to get out of it alive, as a he was hit by a car travelling at around 35 miles per hour. Accounts say he was almost “squashed like a gooseberry”.


A contemporary artist's depiction of the incident.

Churchill hastily wrote an article about the incident and the hospitalization that followed in The Daily Mail, explaining his miscalculation thusly:

In England we frequently cross roads along which fast traffic is moving in both directions. I did not think the task I set myself now either difficult or rash. But at this moment habit played me a deadly trick. I no sooner got out of the cab somewhere about the middle of the road and told the driver to wait than I instinctively turned my eyes to the left. About 200 yards away were the yellow headlights of an approaching car. I thought I had just time to cross the road before it arrived; and I started to do so in the prepossession—wholly unwarranted— that my only dangers were from the left.

Let it be noted that crosswalks in New York at that time beared the word “LOOK”, with the Os having left-leaning pupils for good measure.


Croswalks in New York at that time had the word "LOOK" painted on them, similar to today's practice.

Jumping into another cab he was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he mentioned he was “Winston Churchill, a British Statesman” and was treated for a deep head wound, a fractured nose, fractured ribs, and severe shock.

“I do not wish to be hurt any more. Give me chloroform or something,” he pleaded, while waiting for the anesthetist.

After another two weeks in the hospital, where he somehow managed to develop pleurisy in addition to his injuries, Churchill flew to the Bahamas for rest with his family.

He would soon feel the financial pinch of all the cancelled lecture dates. Six weeks after the accident, he went back to deliver a shorter version of the tour, despite fearing he would be unfit.

Otto Pickhardt, Lenox Hill Hospital's admitting physician rescued the situation by issuing Churchill a Free Pass to get around the American Prohibition on alcohol. Pictured below, this note included:

…the post-accident convalescence of the Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times. The quantity is naturally indefinite but the minimum requirements would be 250 cubic centimeters.


The doctor's note was supposed to be "kept on hand at all times".

Perhaps this is what the the honrable Winston Churchill meant by "chloroform or something"? We're sure he was quite relieved about those indefinite quantities mentioned in the note. Cheers!

You can read Winston Churchill’s entire story, “My New York Misadventure” by clicking the link. There's also more info on the subject in this section of Martin Gilbert's biography, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years and you can also watch these stories on DVD or Amazon streaming.

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