We have all heard of the Chicago Taxi Wars, but what about the Chicago Milk War? Yes indeed there was a milk war and believe it or not, there’s a link to Checker Cab! In Chicago, flashes of violence punctuated a conflict between Dairies, Milkmen, the Milkmens Union and the mob during the 1930’s.
Over several years, the region’s milk wars, was the cause of violence, milk dumping, price manipulations and frustrated attempts to bring peace to the industry.
During the dairy farmers walkout, “some 200 strikers and their sympathizers were taken prisoner and scores of National Guardsmen and strikers were bruised” on one day in May 1933, the ChicagoTribune wrote. “The farmers caught the gas bombs as the (Guardsmen) tossed them into their ranks and tossed them back.”
Early on, in 1932, a union guard leaving home to go to Union office was shot by a passing car with shotguns sticking out its windows. In 1938, a milk wagon driver faced charges after a grocery store was torched for selling milk at cut-rate prices.
Over a period of just 18 months in the city, there were 11 bombings, 22 window smashings, two sluggings, an incident of acid throwing, one truck stolen and another tipped over, according to federal investigators.
Robert Fitchie, the union’s president, was kidnapped and tortured by gangsters in late 1931 and released only when the union paid a $50,000 ransom. After that, Steve Sumner, a Milk Wagon Drivers’ Union Local 753 boss drove “a rolling fortress,” a 3-ton armored car built for a utilities tycoon (note header photo). That car was the famous Checker armored car built for Samual Insull.
Checker was always ready to fulfill its consumers with special needs, case in point: utility magnate Samuel Insull ordered a bullet-proof seven-passenger limousine with a landau top on a 1931 Checker Model M chassis. British-born Insull had been an assistant to Thomas Edison, he had relocated to Chicago in the twenties and built an electric utility empire that was eventually valued at $3 Billion. After the market crash, Insull’s once valuable utility network became worthless resulting in death threats, hence the Checker was order to protect his family.
Insull fled the country initially to France. He was later arrested and extradited back to the United States by Turkey in 1934 to face federal prosecution on mail fraud and antitrust charges. Apparently when he fled the country, he sold his Checker and it eventually wound up in the hands of Steve Sumner.
Its not clear what happened to the armored Checker. Steve Sumner passed away in 1946. The America Mercury titled Sumner’s obituary “Too Tough For Capone“. In memorial Sumner was heralded as an honest union man who stood up to Capone and the mob. Its nice to know that a Checker played a part in Sumner’s crusade to protect the union and end the Chicago Milk wars.