Alcohol often plays an important role in celebrating the most momentous events in history. The French share glasses of wine on Bastille Day. Many Americans throw back a Budweiser or two in honor of the Fourth of July. On New Year’s Eve, people toast to a year gone by with flutes of champagne. But what many of those revelers don’t realize is that alcohol doesn’t just help us celebrate history, there are a lot of ways alcohol changed history too.Alcohol has its own history as old as civilization itself. From the first barley farms and vineyards to the most modern microbreweries, alcohol in history has helped us drown our sorrows and celebrate our triumphs. Along the way, these devilish drinks effected massive changes of their own. Whether it’s rum, vodka, wine, or beer, alcohol has raised humanity up, dragged humanity down, and hosted every party in between. This list reveals how alcohol changed the course of history.
As a politician, it’s important to know what your constituents like. When it came to George Washington and his fellow Virginians, the answer was alcohol. Early in his career, Washington used all of his campaign funds to buy enough liquor to convince voters to elect him to the House of Burgesses in 1758. Perhaps if the American colonists didn’t have such a taste for the hard stuff, George would have lost his early election, faded into obscurity, and America would have missed out on electing one of it’s best presidents. This practice of exchanging liquor for votes carried on all the way until the 18th Amendment banned alcohol in 1920. Until then, you were just as likely to see a barroom brawl as you were a ballot on Voting Day.
Alexander the Great is well-known not just for his love of conquering but also for his love of alcohol. Alexander’s passion for booze came to a head in 330 BCE upon his arrival in Persepolis. After he and his men conquered the city, he resolved during a night of drunken debauchery to burn Persepolis to the ground. This was a strange, clearly alcohol-induced decision, considering that the city now belonged to him. In those flames, future historians lost all access to massive amounts of knowledge about ancient Persepolis and Persia. In a case of karmic retribution, a recent study claims that Alexander may have himself been snuffed out by a glass of toxic wine.
On the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, John Parker was assigned the job of protecting the President on his trip to Ford's Theater. After the President and his wife settled in, Parker accepted an invitation from Lincoln’s footman and coachman to go for a drink at the Star Saloon next door. We’ll never know for sure what would have happened if Parker declined that invitation. Perhaps John Wilkes Booth would have even been able to charm his way past Presidential security as a famous actor. However, at least one person blamed Parker for the death of the president: Mrs. Lincoln.
Despite attempts by Ireland, Germany, and France, no nation is more closely associated with a specific alcohol than Russia is with vodka. Russians put this to the test during the Russo-Japanese War, when they proved that they couldn't forgo their favorite libation long enough to win a war. Russian newspapers reported after the hostilities that soldiers were too drunk to fight and provided easy targets for Japanese forces.
In 1905, Russia accepted less than ideal treaty terms in a negotiation brokered by Theodore Roosevelt. Even Tsar Nicholas himself blamed alcohol for the country’s embarrassing performance. He banned alcohol in the lead-up to World War I in the hopes that it wouldn’t happen again. Spoiler alert: things didn't end well for the Tsar or for the alcohol ban, which ended in 1925.