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Until the 1970s, margarine smuggling was widespread along the Wisconsin border

slab of butter frying in a pan.
George Brett
Lobbyists from the dairy industry pushed for taxes on margarine spreads.

In the mid-20th century, there was a smuggling ring running between western Upper Peninsula and people in Wisconsin. It didn’t involve whisky, or gun-running, but rather a substitute for butter.

Rachel Clarke with the Michigan History Center says there was demand in Wisconsin for margarine, which was illegal in the badger state, but was still for sale in Michigan stores.

Clarke says when margarine was invented as a cheap substitute for butter, the butter industry lobbied for rules and regulations to tax margarine and restrict its availability to consumers.

“These laws were particularly strict in Wisconsin,” Clarke said. “So people started going into Michigan from Wisconsin in the U.P and buying up oleomargarine and bringing it home.”

Listen to Stateside’s entire conversation with Rachel Clarke from the Michigan History Center above. 

This segment is produced in partnership with theMichigan History Center.

Stateside originally broadcast this story on Aug. 16, 2017.

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