A History of Drinking in America

Alcohol has had quite a history in the United States and now a new exhibition at the US National Archives in Washington DC gives us a glimpse of that history. According to BBC News, this exhibition gives visitors a fascinating view of the history of alcohol use in America from the time of the Puritans through to the present day. Some interesting facts:

  • According to the senior curator of the exhibit, called, “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History,” the first ship that came over from England to the Massachusetts Bay colony carried more beer than water.
  • “Early Americans even took a healthful dram for breakfast, whiskey was a typical lunchtime tipple, ale accompanied supper and the day ended with a nightcap. Continuous imbibing clearly built up a tolerance as most Americans in 1790 consumed an average 5.8 gallons of pure alcohol a year.”
  • The US Navy abolished the tradition of a half-pint of rum a day as part of sailors’ rations in 1862. It took many more years however, until 1919, for the 18th Amendment, that allowing Prohibition, to be passed and made part of the Constitution.
  • “The first arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol was in 1897.”
  • “Americans drink an average of 2.3 gallons of pure alcohol a year compared to 7.1 gallons in 1830.”

The issue of alcoholism is touched upon in this exhibit, but what is of most interest is how our ideas and beliefs about alcohol consumption change over time. We may be able to draw parallels to attitudes about marijuana use. As with many substances that can change the way we think and feel, social norms are up for discussion and debate.

If you are in the Washington DC area, this exhibit is worth your time to see.