So why does one of the greatest Marine legends of all time share his nickname with a famous cocktail?
Following the enactment of the National Prohibition Act in 1920, illegal bootlegging and criminals thrived. The City of Philadelphia was particularly hard struck. Their newly elected mayor, W. Freeland Kendrick, ran for office on a platform of restoring law and order. At the top of his list was hiring a new Director of Public Safety. The mayor wanted a man above the corruption of local politics. Chief among his desired qualifications was someone with military experience, able to bring discipline and integrity to the city’s police department. A Pennsylvania native known for his unblemished integrity, BGen Smedley Darlington Butler was the ideal candidate.
A true Marine, Butler did not wish to leave his beloved Corps. So he opted to request one year of leave to serve in the civil position. At the mayor’s request to President Calvin Coolidge, Butler’s leave was granted. It led to a tumultuous two-year stint – a charismatic campaign to end illegal speakeasies and curb criminal activity in Philadelphia. Butler made numerous enemies, but also won the admiration of many for his sincerity, fair handedness and hard work.
But how did a Prohibition Public Safety Director earn the nickname “Old Gimlet Eye”? And how was he associated with a cocktail whose ingredients dated from the Royal Navy and the late 19th century?
The Gimlet Cocktail
Much like Smedley Butler’s nickname the exact origins of the Gimlet cocktail are unclear. It first began appearing in cocktail books in the late 1920s and gained popularity in the United States in the 1950s. But the history of Rose’s Lime Juice (its primary ingredient) began much earlier. In order to stave off scurvy, Royal Navy sailors were often encouraged to drink lime juice. Early efforts to preserve the fruit however used high proof alcohols and the results were problematic. In 1867, Scotsman Lauchlin Rose created a solution. Based on sugar, he created a long-lasting (non-alcoholic) cordial that could be mixed with other liquids that would not spoil. It was a success and became a key part of the Gimlet cocktail. The product continues to be produced to this very day.
To make your own historically accurate Gimlet, see the following recipe.
The Gimlet Cocktail
● 60 ml (2 US fl oz) Gin
● 15 ml (1⁄2 US fl oz) Rose's Lime Juice Cordial
Pour in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously (keeping your eyes peeled for Philadelphia policemen) and pour into a cocktail glass.
Raise a toast to Smedley Butler, the two-time Medal of Honor recipient and one of the truly great legends of the Marine Corps!
Semper Fidelis, Marine!
Author: Owen L. Conner
Owen Conner is the Uniforms and Heraldry Curator for the National Museum of the Marine Corps.