Study Guide

History of Drugs in America People

  • King James I

    King James I (1566–1625) was King of Scotland from 1567 to 1625 and King of England from 1603 to 1625. He was the first English monarch of the Scottish Stuart dynasty.

    In 1604, King James published A Counterblaste to Tobacco, urging his subjects not to smoke the drug. Ironically, the American colonial settlement that bore King James' name—Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607—was only able to survive through large-scale cultivation of tobacco.

  • King Charles I

    King Charles I (1600–1649) was King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 to 1649. His reign ended with his execution by forces loyal to Parliament in the English Civil War.

    In 1633, Charles increased taxes on tobacco, justifying the move by condemning tobacco's impact on English society. He said:

    "The plant or drug called tobacco, scarce known to this nation in former times, was in this age first brought into this realm in small quantity, as medicine, and so used [...] but in the process of time, to satisfy the inordinate appetites of men and women it hath been brought in great quantity, and taken for wantonness and excess, provoking them to drinking and other incontinence, to the great impairing of their healths and depraving them of their manners, so that the care which His Majesty hath of his people hath enforced him to think of some means of preventing of the evil consequences of this immoderate use thereof."

  • King Charles II

    King Charles II (1630–1685) was King of Scotland from 1651 to 1685, and King of England and Ireland from 1661 to 1685. Charles II took the throne of England at the end of the English Civil War, when the Parliamentary forces that had deposed and executed his father, King Charles I, were defeated. This allowed a restoration of the monarchy.

    Late in 1675, Charles II issued A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses, declaring that coffeehouses had become "the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons" and ordering their closure. Faced with great resistance, he had to rescind his order a week later.

  • John Rolfe

    John Rolfe (1585–1622) was an early Virginia colonist at Jamestown, probably best remembered today as the husband of Pocahontas.

    In 1612, Rolfe became the first Englishman in America to cultivate tobacco. The high price earned by the crop a year later in London led to Virginia becoming a colony based almost entirely upon the export of tobacco for economic survival.

  • John Smith

    John Smith (1580–1631) was an important leader of the Jamestown Colony, the first permanent English settlement in North America.

    In 1617, Smith described Jamestown, a decade after its founding, as a town with "only five or six houses, the Church downe, the palisades broken, the Bridge in pieces, the Well of fresh water spoiled," but "the market-place, the streets, and all other spare places planted with Tobacco."

  • Increase Mather

    Increase Mather (1639–1723) was an influential Puritan minister who played a powerful role in shaping the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was the father of another major Puritan religious leader, Cotton Mather.

    In 1686, he complained about alcohol's influence upon the colony. 

    "It is an unhappy thing," he wrote, "that in later years a Kind of Drink called Rum has been common among us. They that are poor, and wicked too, can for a penny or two-pence make themselves drunk."

  • John Arbuckle

    John Arbuckle (1838–1912) was a Pittsburgh grocer who revolutionized the American coffee business with his Arbuckle's Ariosa Coffee brand in the years after the Civil War.

    In 1865, Arbuckle launched Ariosa, the first popular brand of prepackaged coffee. Sold in standardized one-pound paper bags under a colorful logo, the coffee became wildly popular from urban cafes in the East to frontier chuck wagons in the West.

  • Harvey Wiley

    Dr. Harvey Wiley (1844–1930) was a chemist who became one of America's most prominent advocates of food and drug purity during the Progressive Era. He helped to pass the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and then became the federal government's chief enforcer of the new law.

    Dr. Wiley considered caffeine to be a type of poison, declaring in 1910 that "coffee drunkenness is a commoner failing than the whiskey habit. [...] This country is full of tea and coffee drunkards. The most common drug in this country is caffeine." 

    The next year, he led a federal lawsuit against Coca-Cola, charging that the unnatural presence of caffeine in the drink violated the Pure Food and Drug Act. Coca-Cola won the case.

  • Henry Ford

    Henry Ford (1863–1947) was one of America's greatest businessmen, the founder of Ford Motor Company, and the man largely responsible for initiating the era of mass-consumption and mass-production in the American economy. Ford's innovative business practices, including standardization, the assembly line, and high wages for workers, revolutionized American industry.

    In 1914, Ford argued against cigarette smoking by using an early version of the "gateway drug" theory. 

    "Morphine," he wrote in a pamphlet titled The Little White Slaver, "is the legitimate consequence of alcohol, and alcohol is the legitimate consequence of tobacco. Cigarettes, drink, opium, is the logical and regular series."

  • John Wayne

    John Wayne (1907–1979) was one of the most popular American film actors of the 20th century, most famous for playing rugged cowboys and war heroes. In 1969, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in True Grit.

    John Wayne was a frequent on-screen smoker in an era when Hollywood pictures heavily promoted cigarette smoking. At the end of 1949's The Sands of Iwo Jima, Wayne celebrated the defeat of the Japanese Army by saying, "I never felt so good in my life. How about a cigarette?"

  • Humphrey Bogart

    Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) was one of the most popular American film actors of the mid-20th century. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Bogart the "Greatest Male Star of All Time." The star of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, Bogart won a Best Actor Oscar in 1951 for The African Queen.

    Bogart, a heavy smoker both on screen and in real life, died of lung cancer in 1957. His death occurred just as Americans were beginning to learn of the health risks of smoking, inspiring many to push for stronger anti-smoking legislation.

  • Richard M. Nixon

    Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) was a Republican senator from California and the 37th President of the United States. Prior to his presidency, he also served as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president from 1953 to 1961. Ultimately, his presidency ended in disgrace, with Nixon's 1974 resignation in the midst of the Watergate scandal.

    In a 1971 speech, President Nixon coined the phrase, "War on Drugs," promising to defeat "public enemy number one in the United States. [...] If we cannot destroy the drug menace, then it will destroy us."

  • "Freeway" Ricky Ross

    "Freeway" Ricky Ross (1960–) was a smalltime Los Angeles drug dealer who became one of the nation's biggest cocaine traffickers after inventing "Ready Rock," a cheap form of crack cocaine, in 1980. Ross' drug empire was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine crisis of the mid-1980s.

    At his peak in the early 1980s, Ross was selling more than $1 million of cocaine—and earning between $100,000 and $200,000 in profits—every single day. He built a distribution network into dozens of cities around the country before being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996. His sentence was later shortened to 20 years, and he was released from prison in 2009.

  • Pablo Escobar

    Pablo Escobar (1949–1993), leader of Colombia's Medellin Cartel, was the world's most prominent cocaine trafficker in the 1980s. In 1989, Forbes magazine estimated that he was the seventh richest man in the world. Escobar died in a 1993 shootout with Colombian police.

    For a time in the 1980s, Escobar used the phenomenal profits of the drug trade to build his Medellin Cartel into a force seemingly more powerful than the Colombian government. When Colombian and American forces raided Medellin Cartel production facilities in 1984, destroying more than $1 billion worth of cocaine, Escobar retaliated by killing Colombia's Minister of Justice and 11 of the country's Supreme Court justices. 

    Escobar's reign of terror only ended in 1993, when he was killed in a shootout with Colombian police.

  • Howard Schultz

    Howard Schultz (1952–) is the businessman responsible for leading Starbucks Coffee's transformation from a small Seattle shop selling raw coffee beans into a global café behemoth. Worth nearly $3 billion, Schultz stepped down as the company's CEO in 2017, but continues to collect a hefty paycheck.

    In 1984, Schultz, inspired by the espresso bars he had encountered on a trip to Italy, first experimented with selling ready-made espresso drinks inside the Seattle coffee merchant's shop. 

    After 1987, when Schultz acquired full control of Starbucks, the company began aggressively spreading the retail coffee shop concept around the globe. There are now more than 25,000 Starbucks stores worldwide.

  • Len Bias

    Len Bias (1963–1986) was an All-American basketball star at the University of Maryland. He died of a cocaine overdose one day after being selected by the Boston Celtics with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft.

    Len Bias' death became one of the most prominent drug overdoses in American history. His sudden, tragic end dramatized the dangers of cocaine use, contributing to a nationwide panic over the drug and consuming an incredible amount of media attention throughout 1986.

  • Ronald Reagan

    Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was a Hollywood actor turned politician, who served as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, and then as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. 

    A Roosevelt Democrat in his younger days, Reagan converted to conservatism during the 1950s and became the beloved standard-bearer of the Republican Party in the late-20th century.

    In September 1986, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan launched a "national crusade" against drug abuse behind the slogan, "Just Say No." Two months later, he signed into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, creating mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and leading to a massive increase in the number of people incarcerated in federal prisons.

  • Christopher Columbus

    Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) was a navigator and explorer whose famous 1492 voyage from Spain to the West Indies marked the beginning of successful European colonization of the Americas. 

    On October 12th, 1492, Columbus and his crews aboard the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria made landfall in the Bahamas. Upon his return to Spain, news of the explorer's discoveries captivated Europe. Though Columbus wasn't the first European to discover the Americas, his four voyages helped open trans-Atlantic navigation and facilitated European conquest of the New World. He made three subsequent journeys to the New World, "discovering" many islands in the Caribbean and mapping the coast of Central and South America.

    On the day of his landing in the New World, Columbus became the first European to encounter tobacco, which the local Native Americans gave him as a gift at their first meeting. Columbus had no idea what to do with the strange dried leaves and ended up throwing them overboard a few days later. Eventually, however, Columbus and his men learned the habit of smoking tobacco from the Native Americans and took it back with them to Europe. This marked the beginning of tobacco's critical role in American history.

  • Harry Anslinger

    Harry Anslinger (1892–1975) was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, serving in that position from the bureau's founding in 1930 until 1962.

    Anslinger was a zealous opponent of drug use, directing his bureau aggressively to target drug criminals. Anslinger's testimony before Congress was instrumental in passing the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which for the first time, criminalized marijuana use under federal law. 

    Anslinger's prohibitionist anti-drug tactics have since been adopted by subsequent "drug czars" in the War on Drugs.

  • Candy Lightner

    Candy Lightner (1946–) is the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Lightner organized MADD to lead a campaign against drunken driving after her own daughter Cari was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 1980.

    MADD subsequently became one of America's most important anti-alcohol advocacy groups, fighting not only against drunk driving but against drinking in general. 

    But Lightner left the group in 1985, criticizing MADD for becoming "far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned. [...] I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving."