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Perkins and Co. was among the first -- if not the first -- American companies to establish a permanent trading office in Canton. With employees on the scene year-round, the firm can optimize profits on the drug — which is still legal in the United States, but illegal in China.
Company agents store chests filled with squash-size balls of opium in ships anchored offshore, to have some control over supply and price. They develop relationships with smugglers and corrupt top government officials. And they use boats manned by dozens of rowers to speed past inspectors, sneak up the coast, and deliver opium beyond the official port.
The business plan pays off again and again. On Jan. 11, 1827, one year after the apology, Perkins is back at his desk, writing another letter to his nephew. This time the tone is almost giddy.
Of course, not everyone struck it rich trading in opium. It was a competitive, highly volatile market. But those who worked for Perkins and a few other firms became the city's elite — otherwise known as Boston Brahmins. The Cabots, Cushings, Welds, Delanos (the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Forbes all built fortunes on opium.
Hospitals, Railroads, Schools: What Opium Profits Funded
Thomas Perkins invested in mills in Newton, an iron manufacturing plant in Vermont and what some historians say was the country's first railroad. It ran from the Quincy Quarry into Boston. Another Perkins' nephew, John Murray Forbes, invested his opium profits in steamships, mines and railroads that would eventually cross the country.
Haddad is among a handful of historians exploring the connection between America’s industrial revolution and the profitable opium trade, dominated by merchants from Boston.
"China had a really strong economy in the early part of the 19th century and the Americans were able to tap into that by exchanging tea for opium," he says. "Opium was really a way that America was able to transfer China’s economic power to America’s industrial revolution."
Perkins' ships deposited tremendous wealth in Boston too. Chests of tea, bolts of silk, crates of porcelain and cakes of opium -- which was legal in the U.S. -- were hauled off ships onto giant scales outside Boston’s Custom House. The goods were tallied and taxed in basements and warehouses around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Tax revenue from the trade funded Massachusetts police and fire departments, roads, bridges, courthouses and schools.
An Unwitting Dependency
"There was an unwitting dependency in Boston on profits from the opium trade," says Towson University associate history professor Elizabeth Kelly Gray. But today, that history is largely buried. Most institutions contacted for this story did not know their benefactors got rich selling an illegal drug in China.
- Opium Wars
During 1856–1860, British forces fought towards legalization of the opium trade
originally posted by: seagull
Many families got their starts in what we, today, would consider less than stellar ways. There is nothing shocking in this "revelation" what so ever.
originally posted by: growler
sherlock holmes was perpetually hammered on opium and an addict in first editions, doctor watson was basically his dealer.
arthur conan doyle drew from his own experiences on ye olde crack pipe.
originally posted by: rickymouse
Well, I don't think it was illegal to sell opium back in the middle eighteen hundreds. I'm pretty sure it was made illegal around the 1870s or so