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The below information has been republished with permission of the authors, Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan. The views and opinions expressed in the following book chapters are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Distilled Spirits Council or its member companies.
THE BIRTH OF TEMPERANCE IN AMERICA
You could travel over 9,000 miles on steam-engine trains. So along with the steamboats on the Mississippi, the whiskey industry now had railroads to take its product south. And west. And north. And even east--to exotic ports such as New York City where, according to Lue Sante, author of Low Life, Lures and Snares of Old New York, for under a nickel, you could drink all the whiskey you could manage by ,",sucking it through a rubber tube until you had to stop to take a breath.
And telegraph wires were all the rage during this period too; by 1850. More than 50,000 miles of wire had been strung. So if a saloon owner in the West needed whiskey in a hurry, he could now order by telegram and have a few barrels on the way to him the very next day.
But while all this technology was helping people reach out and touch someone, other events were starting to bode badly for the whiskey men of America. In 1826, The American Temperance Society was founded in Boston, and it was a society that distillers would come to dread.
Nineteenth-century America was anything but temperate. According to an "approximate" guide in the Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries by William L. Downard, the consumption of pure alcohol (200 proof) in 1825 was seven gallons per person over the age of 15. This figure, of course, is somewhat difficult to comprehend until you learn that the same table estimates that in 1970, consumption was at 2.5 gallons. Americans in 1825 were drinking almost three times as much alcohol as the people living in the somewhat wild days of 1970.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, America also saw a vast increase in immigration from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany-all countries whose inhabitants are generally regarded as being fond of a drink. According to Oscar Getz in Whiskey---An American Pictorial History, by 1860, on a per-capita basis, Americans were drinking over 28 percent more spirits than they had consumed just a decade earlier.
Lest you suffer under the misapprehension that Prohibition didn't rear its ugly head until 1920, you should know that various states introduced the noble experiment, in statewide or local-option form, wdl before then. Maine was made dry in 1846, Vermont in 1852, New Hampshire and Massachusetts in 1855, and New York in 1854. In Europe, the first temperance organization had come into being in lreland in 1818 (later known as the Ulster Temperance Society), and similar organizations sprung up in Scotland, England, Norway and Sweden in the first half of the nineteenth century. In the United States, almost one million people had signed the pledge by 1840, and the angst about "overconsumption" continued to grow.
For many proponents of temperance, however, the word meant "moderation," not complete abstention. One such society in New York State allowed its members to choose between swearing off liquor only-giving them ample leeway to get rip-roaring drunk on wine or beer-and signing the pledge to abstain from any and all beverage alcohol total abstinence. Those choosing to give up all forms of booze had their names marked in the register with a capital "T" for "total"-they were the world's first tee-totalers.
The temperance advocates had gained a strong foothold by 1860, but the population had bigger things to worry about as tensions betĄ1een the states mounted and the country braced itself for war.
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