Like so many American boys at the turn of the 20th century, Alfred Hubbard started out barefoot and never made it to the fourth grade. He grew up in the hills of Kentucky and as a very young man, we are told, he was visited by a pair of angels who instructed him to "build something."
In 1919, with absolutely no training, guided only by what he called other-worldly forces, Al Hubbard invented the Hubbard Energy Transformer, a machine in a box you could hold in your arms that powered a ferryboat around Seattle's Portico Bay for three days without stopping. He sold half the patent rights to the Radium Corporation of Pittsburgh for $75,000, and nobody ever heard another word about it. It wasn't the last time his work would "disappear."
By 1950 Al Hubbard was a millionaire. He'd made his fortune in uranium, had important contacts in business, politics, and the CIA. He was the scientific director of the Uranium Corporation of Vancouver and he owned a fleet of aircraft, a hundred-foot yacht, and an island in western Canada. By all accounts he was miserable.
And then, in a scientific journal, he discovered an article about the behavior of rats who were given D-lysergic acid diethylamide. For the rest of his life, his friends and associates called him "the Johnny Appleseed of LSD."
It's a story you wouldn't even want to try to make up. And there are people around who wouldn't even want you to tell it. That much goes without saying, whenever the CIA's involved.
Hubbard's affinity for boats and the sea, along with his mischievous scientific bent, appear to have been his ticket into the CIA's Hall of Fame-if-you-know-where-to-look. Some years after the Energy Transformer Project, during Prohibition, Hubbard worked as a boot-legging taxicab driver in Seattle. He had an elaborate communications system in his trunk that allowed him to run booze past the Coast Guards of both the United States and Canada with impunity. The FBI finally caught up with him, and he did eighteen months in prison.
In the way such things apparently happened in those days, Hubbard was approached by the OSS, Bill Donovan's and Allen Dulles's precursor to the CIA. He was commissioned as an officer in the fledgling organization and helped smuggle weapons into Great Britain before America's formal entrance into World War II. He sailed ships under cover of darkness to Vancouver, where they were refitted as destroyers bound for England, and he avoided matters involving official neutrality—some eighteen months before Pearl Harbor—by becoming a Canadian citizen. As America's man in Canada, Hubbard handled millions of dollars, filtered through the Canadian consulate, which financed covert operations in Europe.
All of which was, again, highly illegal. As a signpost for those seeking such proofs, Al Hubbard was pardoned for any and all wrongdoings in Presidential Pardon #2676, signed by President Harry S Truman. In spite of congressional investigations after the war, the antic inventor-entrepreneur was free to pursue his personal interests. And by 1951, suspiciously coincident with the CIA's experiments in Mind Control using psychedelic drugs, "Captain Al" Hubbard was obsessed with LSD.
This in itself is highly ironic, since Captain Al was everything the so-called "average" LSD "tripper" was/is not—a well-connected military officer with right-wing friends and associates galore; a long-term hard-working member of the Establishment; a heavy-set, crew-cut, florid-faced rum-drinking sonuvabitch, by all accounts. His love of— and steely-eyed hopes for the future of—LSD were unique and impressive.
He was introduced to the drug by Dr. Ronald Sandison, who was operating a small LSD-centric clinic in England. "It was the deepest mystical thing I've ever seen," Hubbard remembered. "I saw myself as a tiny mite in a big swamp with a spark of intelligence….It was all so clear."
At the age of 49, Captain Al Hubbard set off to turn on the world, and he started at or very near the top of the food chain: one of the earliest recipients of Hubbard's miracle drug was Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception. "What came through the closed door," remembered Huxley, "was the realization…of Love as the primary and fundamental cosmic fact."
Huxley and Hubbard were as different as LSD and alcohol. Huxley, the genteel, sophisticated British intellectual; Hubbard, the epitome of the gruff untutored American who lacked, above all, restraint. Still, the two men became fast friends and Huxley admired the man he referred to as "the good Captain." Hubbard's uranium adventures served "as a passport into the most exalted spheres of government, business, and ecclesiastical polity," he wrote.
In a letter to Dr. Humphrey Osmond, the man who coined the term "psychedelic" and introduced Huxley to mescaline in the Hollywood Hills in 1953, the author remarked, "What Babes in the Wood we literary gents and professional men are! The great World occasionally requires your services, is mildly amused by mine, but its full attention and deference are paid to Uranium and Big Business. So what extraordinary luck that this representative of both these higher Powers should (a) have become so passionately interested in mescalin and (b) be such a very nice man."
Passionate the good Captain was. For twenty years he turned on thousands of people, from artists to businessmen to statesmen to physicians. "They all thought it was the most marvelous thing," he said. "And I never saw a psychosis in any one of these cases."
Hubbard dreamed of setting up a series of clinics in order to train other LSD researchers. He bought ten thousand doses of the drug from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland and kept them in a safe-deposit box in the duty-free section of Zurich's airport. His life-and-love-affirming drug was thereafter shipped duty-free anywhere in the world, until the Swiss government caught up with him.
Hubbard was deported, but with typically creative and expedient thinking, he journeyed to Czechoslovakia, where he bought another 10,000 doses (one GRAM of LSD, by the way) which were put into tablet form by Chemapol, a division of Spofa, the pharmaceutical giant.
To further distance himself from accusations of "criminality," Captain Al procured, under dubious circumstances, a Ph.D. in biopsychology from Taylor University in Kentucky. He was now Dr. Alfred M. Hubbard, clinical therapist, and so impressed with Hubbard's knowledge of biology and sense of humanity was Ross MacLean, the medical superintendent of the Hollywood Hospital in New Westminster, Canada, that he devoted an entire wing of the facility to the study of LSD therapy for chronic alcoholism.
Stunning work was done by the two men there, but the association grew troubled. There was a lot of money involved. MacLean was charging $1000 a dose to his elite patients, which included members of the Canadian Parliament as well as America's Hollywood aristocracy. The Canadian Medical Association grew concerned because of an alleged connection to the CIA's Project MK-ULTRA, and under duress, Dr. Captain Al left, just about the time he was approved for an Investigational New Drug permit by the FDA, which conveniently allowed him to legally experiment with LSD in the United States, particularly involving the treatment of alcoholism. "As a therapist, he was one of the best," said Dr. Myron Stolaroff, to this day a leader in the psychedlic/consciousness movement, who worked with Hubbard until 1965 at the international Federation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, California.
Eventually, Hubbard settled into a psychedelic elder/pioneer mode at Stanford, where his job, quite candidly, was to run the special LSD sessions for the Alternative Futures Project, which was a kind of government and corporate think tank. It was at Stanford that Hubbard's politics finally got in his way. His right-wing cold warrior mentality clashed with those of the left-leaning project. Particularly, Hubbard hated what the so-called "hippies" were doing with his cherished tool-of-the-mind. He loathed LSD Johnny-come-lately Timothy Leary, and threatened to shoot him during one difficult psilocybin session, an associate recalled.
So he was a man of contradictions, this Johnny Appleseed of LSD, the primordial Captain Trips. He showed up at Tim Leary's compound in Millbrook, NY one day in 1963 wearing a paramilitary uniform, with a Colt .45 strapped to his leg.
"He was pissed off." Leary recalled. "His Rolls Royce had broken down on the freeway, so he went to a pay phone and called the company in London. That's the kind of guy he was. He started name-dropping like you wouldn't believe…claimed he was friends with the Pope."
Which, it is quite possible, he was. Hubbard had, after all, introduced LSD to Reverend J.E. Brown, a Catholic priest at the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary in Vancouver. Brown recommended the drug to members of his parish. In a letter dated December 8, 1957 he wrote: "We humbly ask Our Heavenly Mother the Virgin Mary, help of all who call upon Her, to aid us to know and understand the true qualities of these psychedelics, the full capacities of man's noblest faculties, and according to God's laws, to use them for the benefit of mankind here and in eternity."
By 1966, the wind had pretty much been taken out of Captain Hubbard's psychedelic sails. His feelings about Leary proved prescient: the circus side show atmosphere that attended Leary's exploits, in addition to the much-publicized "LSD-related suicide" of Art Linkletter's daughter Diane, raised much public disapproval. With the CIA's psychedelic research out in the open, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Drug Abuse Control Amendment. Simple possession of LSD became a felony, punishable by 15 years in prison. Al Hubbard, once the darling of the CIA, became a pariah.
Towards the end of his life, broke and ill, Captain Al Hubbard applied to the FDA for permission to use LSD on terminal cancer patients. Ever the thorough scientist, he included twenty years' worth of clinical documentation. His application was set aside after recommendations were made that Hubbard include on his team a medical doctor, a supervised medical regimen and an AMA-accredited hospital. It seems that perhaps the times, too, had changed, and what was once young and fun and meaningful on many levels had become stodgy and bureaucratic and legalistic and, of course, "wrong."
Hubbard eventually simply ran out of steam, and with no new personal mortal Energy Transformer this time around, he died on August 31, 1982, at the age of 81.
Of the original Captain Trips, the Johnny Appleseed of LSD, Dr. Oscar Janiger—another of the psychedelic pioneers—said cryptically: "Nothing of substance has been written about Al Hubbard, and probably nothing ever should."
Let's leave it at that, at least this time around.
Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond, Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Grove Press, 1985
The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, John Marks (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/marks1.htm)
Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service, Richard J. Aldrich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Sub Rosa: The OSS and American Espionage, Steward Alsop and Thomas Braden (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1946)
Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947, David F. Rudgers (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2000)
Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas F. Troy (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981)
On American Espionage:
Wild Bill Donovan
the Stars of Project Paperclip
burning crosses in the Fatherland
doing drugs for fun and profit
The CIA wants YOU!
When is a monkey's orgasm more than just fun and games?
Sidney Gottlieb, the real-life "Q"
The Nuremberg Code
George Washington, Spymaster
the first American Intelligence failure in New York
The Bureau and the Mole
The Johnny Appleseed of LSD
Bud and Travis
Camaron de la Isla
Wild Bill Donovan
Sidney Gottlieb, the real-life "Q"
king of the queens
Paco de Lucia
the Real McCoy
Robert K. Merton
J. Fred Muggs
Bernardino de Sahagun
A. J. Weberman