As it turns out, alcohol was not just a small or tangential part of life in the fledgling United States – it was part of the daily routine for almost every man, woman, and child. The uses of alcohol in early American history ranged from medicine, to currency and wages, to a replacement for drinking water.
The old alcohol laws that were in place allowed people of all ages to drink; they even allowed workers to drink on the job. This was not always popular; Carrie Nation, a woman who influenced politics at the time, was a leader of the Temperance Movement, which swept through the country in response to the hard-drinking lifestyle that had gripped the nation since the first colonists had arrived.
In response to a need for change, Prohibition was written as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Drinking continued during Prohibition, and New York City got pretty strange as a result of this extralegal pastime; if anything, the new law increased demand for alcohol and inspired Americans to get more creative with their liquor consumption. Considered a failure, Prohibition was nationally repealed 13 years later. However, some states chose to keep the law in place.
The drinking habits in early America shaped the country into what it is today, for better or for worse. Take a look back in time with this list and check out all of the old laws, resourceful criminals, and fearless leaders that changed our boozy history.
There Was A Pre-Prohibition Wine Mega Sale
In the time leading up to Prohibition, many winemakers saw the writing on the wall and knew they had to dispose of their wares. Leading wine makers of the period had the equivalent of 75 Olympic swimming pools of wine to offload before the law took effct. Americans stepped right up to the boozy plate and stocked up for the apocalypse – over 141 million bottles of wine were sold within three months. That was quite a bit of wine, especially considering that some of the population was already on board with the Prohibition movement.
A smart business man named Horatio Lanza also bought a huge amount of wine, about 1.3 million gallons worth, and made quite a bit of money for himself during that period.
In The Early Days, There Was No Legal Drinking Age
The drinking age of the United States is one of the highest in the world at 21 years old. It took effect in all states in 1984, after Ronald Reagan threatened to cut the federal highway budget of any state that didn't comply with the mandate. But, back before Prohibition, the rules were a lot more loose.
From 1176 to 1919 (the beginning of Prohibition), there was no set drinking age for the country as a whole. States set their own drinking ages – and 15 was a pretty common one – but some states didn't enforce a drinking age at all.
Bootleggers Created NASCAR
With all the moonshine being illegally produced in the early 1900s, there was a huge need for drivers to distribute the product. Men would trick out their cars, making the engines more powerful and adding secret storage compartments to carry the white lightning.
These bootleggers became extremely skilled at outrunning the police and developed into excellent drivers. Not surprisingly, they began to practice with each other and compete in backwoods races.
Eventually, the car races began to take shape into a real organization. NASCAR was founded in 1948, and almost every driver, mechanic, and car owner had been involved in bootlegging in some form.
The Mayflower Brought More Beer Than Water To The Colonies
One of the most essential supplies that the colonists brought to the New World was alcohol, most importantly beer and wine. It was often consumed instead of water, since it couldn't harbor potentially harmful bacteria like water often did. Beer also helped folks pass the time on the nine-week Atlantic crossing.
The Mayflower was reportedly carrying 10,000 barrels of wine, in addition to a large supply of beer. One passenger even wrote about how they seemed to not have much motivation to keep looking for a location after they landed at Plymouth Rock, because their supplies were running low (this of course included the beer).