Mickey Finn (drugs)

In slang, a Mickey Finn—or simply a Mickey—is a drink laced with a psychoactive drug or incapacitating agent (especially chloral hydrate) given to someone without their knowledge, with intent to incapacitate them. Serving someone a "Mickey" is most commonly referred to as slipping someone a mickey.[1] See also Date rape drug.

History of the term

Michael "Mickey" Finn

The Mickey Finn is most likely named after the manager and bartender of the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden Restaurant, which operated in Chicago from 1896 to 1903, on South State Street in the Chicago Loop neighborhood.[2][3][4] In December 1903, several Chicago newspapers document that a Michael "Mickey" Finn managed the Lone Star Saloon and was accused of using knockout drops to incapacitate and rob some of his customers.[5][6][7][8] Moreover, the first known written example of the term, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is in 1915, which was 12 years after his trial and lends credence to this theory.

The first popular account of Mickey Finn was given by Herbert Asbury in his 1940 book Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. His cited sources are Chicago newspapers and the 1903 court testimony of Lone Star prostitute "Gold Tooth" Mary Thornton. Before his days as a saloon proprietor, Mickey Finn was known as a pickpocket and thief who often preyed on drunken bar patrons. The act of serving a Mickey Finn Special was a coordinated robbery orchestrated by Finn. First, Finn or one of his employees (including "house girls") would slip chloral hydrate into the unsuspecting patron's drink.[9] The incapacitated patron would be escorted or carried into a back room by one of Finn's associates, who would then rob him and dump him in an alley. The victim would wake up the next morning in a nearby alley and would remember little or nothing of what had happened.

Finn's saloon was ordered to be closed on December 16, 1903. He was apparently arrested again in 1918, this time for running an illegal bar in South Chicago.[10]

Chicago restaurant poisonings

On June 22, 1918, four people were arrested and over one hundred waiters taken into custody over the apparent widespread practice of poisoning by waiters in Chicago. Guests who tipped poorly were given "Mickey Finn powder" in their food or drinks.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17] Chemical analysis showed that it contained antimony potassium tartrate,[13] also called "emetic tartar"; which in addition to causing vomiting, headaches, dizziness and depression, can be lethal in large quantities. Two bartenders were arrested for selling the powder at the bar at the waiters' union headquarters, and W. Stuart Wood and his wife were arrested for manufacturing the powder. Wood sold packets of it for 20 cents[18] and referred to it as "Mickey Finn Powder" in a letter to union bartender John Millian.[19] A follow-up article mentions the pursuit of a man named Jean Crones, who was believed to be responsible for poisoning over 100 people at a Chicago University Club banquet at which three people died.[20][21]

Tracing usage of the phrase "Mickey Finn"

The OED gives a chronology of the term, starting in 1915:[22]

  • The 1915 citation is from a photograph of a saloon in the December 26 edition of the Los Angeles Examiner. In the photograph is a sign that reads: "Try a Michael Finn cocktail".
  • The first listed reference as a knock-out drop in the OED: "Wish I had a drink and a Mike Finn for him", is from a March 11, 1924 article in the New York Evening Journal.
  • A description of a Mickey Finn is given in the January 18, 1927 issue of the Bismarck Tribune, "a Mickey Finn is an up-to-date variant on the knock-out drops of pre-war days".
  • In the September 3, 1927 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the phrase appears in an article on the use of ethylene for artificial ripening of fruit, "Applied to a human, ethylene is an anaesthetic as the old-time Mickey Finn in a lumber-jack saloon".[23]
  • In John O'Hara's 1934 novel Appointment in Samarra, a disgruntled headwaiter remarks of a poor tipper, "I'd like to give him a Mickey Finn."
  • In the animated Superman movie Showdown (1942), a gangster (who dresses like Superman to rob people and businesses) pockets $5 from his take. The mob boss sees this, hits him and takes it. The Superman impersonator says "Gee boss, it was only a fin". The mob boss replies "Next time it will be a Mickey Finn".
  • In the 1946 film Three Little Pirates, starring slapstick comedy group The Three Stooges, Moe offers to give a castle guard a Mickey Finn.
  • In an episode of I Love Lucy, Fred recommends Ricky "slip [Lucy] a 'Mickey'"(however, Fred says it is not actually a Mickey) as he does to Ethel when she's bothering him.
  • In David Niven's book Bring on the Empty Horses (1975), he writes of Clark Gable's gate man slipping "an old-fashioned Mickey Finn" into his drink and driving him home "semi-conscious."
  • In the 1976 Columbo episode "A Matter Of Honor" (episode 35), Columbo says, on examining a drugs cabinet: "Chloral hydrate? I'll tell you I don't know much about drugs but that's the stuff they put in a Mickey Finn. That's an American expression; knockout drops." (end of the 56th minute)
  • In the 1977 musical Annie, the term "Mickey Finn" is used in the song "It's the Hard Knock Life" to provoke another character.
  • In the 1979 episode of Happy Days, King Richard's Big Knight, a college bully slips Richie a Mikey Finn, causing him to completely lose his inhibitions.
  • In the 1981 song The Friends of Mr Cairo on the album of the same name the lyric runs: "That night, the double crosser got it right / Pretending he was really dim / He slipped to Sam a double gin (Mickey Finn) / He woke, the boys had gone, but not his gun / They'd left a note to lead him on / The chase to find the Maltese Falcon"[24]
  • In the seventh episode of the second (1991) season of Seinfeld, "The Revenge", George Costanza tries to 'slip a Mickey' in the drink of his former boss.
  • In Erykah Badu's song "Certainly" from the 1997 album Baduizm, she sings "You tried to get a little tricky, turned my back and then you slipped me a mickey."[25]
  • In the 2011 video game L.A. Noire, a character in the game uses the name Micky Finn to describe what someone slipped them in their cocktails.
  • In a 2013 episode of The Big Bang Theory, "The Raiders Minimization", during an unexpected video chat by Sheldon, Amy recalls how a lone curly fry in Sheldon's regular fries led him to believe someone was trying to "slip him a Mickie."[26]


  1. "The meaning and origin of the expression: A Mickey Finn". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  2. "Slip Him a Mickey (Finn)". Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  3. The saloon's exact location is usually said to be on the west side of South State Street, just north of Congress Parkway. The entire west side of South State Street between Congress and Van Buren is now occupied by Chicago Public Library's Central Library (also known as the Harold Washington Library at 400 South State Street). The December 16–17, 1903 Chicago Daily Tribune articles give the address as 527 State Street (corner of State and Harmon Court), however, which is now the 1100 block of South State Street. The 500 block of South State Street now is between Congress Street and Harrison Street, which may be the reason for the confusion of the saloon's location. Refer to "New map of Chicago showing street car lines in colors and street numbers in even hundreds" (Chicago: Rufus Blanchard, 1897) for the 1903 Chicago street names and numbering.
  4. The area on State Street centered between Van Buren Street (to the north) to Harrison Street (to the south) was known as "Whiskey Row" from the late 1880s to the early 1910s. Just south of Harrison Street was a block known as "Hell's Half Mile". The area of State Street south of Harrison was also known as "Satan's Mile".
  5. "GRAFT EVIDENCE USED TO INDICT; Stories of Knockout Drops", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 5, December 16, 1903. Quoting from the article, "Michael Finn, owner of saloon at corner of State Street and Harmon Court [now East 11 Street] ... Two former habitués—Mrs. Mary Thornton and Isabelle Fyffe—told that he gave 'knock-out drops' to customers suspected of having money and afterwards robbed them." Mary Thornton is quoted, "I worked for Finn a year and a half and in that time I saw a dozen men given 'dope' by Finn and his bartender. The work was done in two little rooms adjoining the palm garden in back of the saloon".
  6. "Graft Fighters Win Two Battles; License for Finn's Resort Is Revoked and One Saloon keeper Indicted", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 3, December 17, 1903. Quoting from the article, "Lone Star Saloon, 527 State Street [now 1100 block of South State Street], managed by Micky Finn, closed by order of Mayor Harrison."
  7. "The complete defense advanced by 'Mickey' Finn, proprietor of the Lone Star saloon ... described ... as the scene of blood-curdling crimes through the agency of drugged liquor.", Chicago Daily News, December 16, 1903.
  8. "Lone Star Saloon loses its license. 'Mickey' Finn's alleged 'knock-out drops' ... put him out of business.", Inter-Ocean [Chicago], December 17, 1903. The Inter-Ocean was another Chicago newspaper in 1903.
  9. "What's in a Mickey Finn?". The Straight Dope.
  10. "EXTRY! EXTRY! THEY'VE TAKEN MICKEY FINN", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 1, July 8, 1918. "Mickey Finn was arrested last night and lodged in the South Chicago police station. Mickey also known as Mike runs a hut at 115th Street and the Calumet River. He and his housekeeper Millie Schober and twenty customers were swooped down on by the police and all taken to the station. A wagon load of beer and booze was confiscated. Mickey and the woman were charged with running a disorderly house and selling liquor without formal authorization..."
  11. "Drugs to the Non-Tippers Arrested Chicago Waiters Confess Poisoning Hotel Guests. Detective Seize Large Quantity", The Kansas City Times, p. 3, June 23, 1918 "Evidence against the waiters was obtained by a detective agency employed by the Hotel Sherman after several guests had become ill suspiciously...Large quantities were found in a drawer behind the bar at the waiters' union headquarters.
  12. "Charge Waiters Gave Poison to Tipless Diners Alleged Drug Maker, His Wife and Two Bartenders", Duluth News Tribune, p. 1, June 24, 1918
  13. "WAITERS TAKEN FOR DRUGGING NONTIPPERS — Hoyne gets evidence of plot against Hotel Guests", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 1, June 23, 1918
  14. "WAITER POISON VICTIMS NAMED TO POLICEMEN", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 3, June 24, 1918
  15. "WAITERS DISOWN "MICKEY FINNS"; DENOUNCE HOYNE", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 13, June 25, 1918
  16. "WOMEN TO BARE NEFARIOUS WORK OF "MICKEY FINN"", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 7, July 8, 1918
  17. ""MICKEY FINN" POWDER GIVEN TO PROSECUTOR — Michels, Hoyne Assistant gets dose while investigating case", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 13, August 7, 1918
  18. "TEN INDICTED IN DIABOLISMS OF 'MICKEY FINN'", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 8, July 9, 1918.
  19. "EVIDENCE GIVEN U. S. OF SALES OF "MICKEY FINNS"", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 7, July 11, 1918. "Friend Johnny: Am enclosing two dozen packets of the Mickey Finn Powder...also find enclosed a couple hundred circulars...These circulars are not for use in Chicago...Whenever you have a man that is leaving Chicago talk Mickey Finn to him and give him a few of these circulars...
  20. "On Trail of Poisoner Authorities Believe Jean Crones, Wanted in Chicago, is in Army", The Idaho Daily Statesman, p. 5, June 26, 1918.
  21. "Looking for Jean Crones. Chicago Police Believe Chef Had Hand in "Micky Finn" Poison Case", The Kansas City Times, p. 5, June 26, 1918.
  22. "Mickey Finn". Oxford English Dictionary. 1915.
  23. "Synthetic sun to ripen fruit while its iced", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 17, September 3, 1927
  24. "The Friends of Mr. Cairo". Genius. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  25. "Slipped me a mickey". Genius. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  26. "Season 7 Episode 4 - The Raiders Minimization (Transcript)". big bang theory transcripts. Retrieved 14 July 2018.

Further reading

  • Asbury, Herbert (1940). Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Inciardi, James A. (Winter 1977). "THE CHANGING LIFE OF MICKEY FINN: Some Notes On Chloral Hydrate Down Through the Ages". Journal of Popular Culture. 11 (3): 591.

See also

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