Stories from a Spirited Republic

National Archives Foundation Staff Favorites

Explore a variety of records related to Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History, an exhibit in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, through January 10, 2016.

cocktail construction chart 1974In 1974 Atlanta-based Forest Service engineer and draftsman Cleve “Red” Ketcham created the cocktail construction chart as a joke, (note in the right hand corner the signatures from supposed “cocktail inspectors” I. P. Freely, I Mixum, and Ima Sot) and put it aside. However it ended up being filed with a pile of documents from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Region 8 that were considered permanently valuable. Only 3% of federal documents filed every year fall into that category. Because groups of documents are not stored item by item, there are many examples where something unique and unexpected is found in the archives holdings; just like the beautifully hand drawn cocktail construction chart. The great irony of the cocktail construction chart is that its creator, Ketcham, rarely if ever drank himself, which makes the accuracy and knowledge behind the drinks described even more intriguing.

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Revolutionizing the beer brewing industry

Anheuser-Busch Pasteurization PatentAnheuser-Busch was founded in 1852 by Eberhard Anheuser, a prosperous German-born soap manufacturer in St. Louis MO, with his son-in-law Adolphus Busch joining the company after the Civil War. The first beers the company produced were not well received by the public, and after a research trip to Europe in the 1870s, Busch discovered a beer brewed in the town of Budweis (in the modern Czech Republic), which he thought would appeal to the American palate. The beer was introduced to the American people under the name Budweiser, and quickly became the nation's favorite.  

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Convincing young people stop and think about their drinking

Students Against Drunk DrivingBetween 1970 and 1986 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol in the United States rose almost 227 percent. This rise inspired public concern about “drunk driving” and deaths from alcohol related accidents, especially among teenagers. Several organizations, notably Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) and Students Against Driving Drunk (S.A.D.D.) raised awareness of these issues and supported laws that raised the minimum drinking age back to 21 in all states, lowered the maximum blood alcohol for drivers, and suspended driving licenses of drivers convicted of driving under the influence.  

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Asking to provide whiskey to the Continental Army, January 12 1780

US Army PetitionThe alcohol ration was an integral part of the Continental Army from its inception in 1776. Soldiers were allowed to have one “gill” (approximately two ounces) of whiskey, rum or brandy per day. The alcohol ration was seen as a necessity to army life during the Revolutionary War as is evidenced by this petition by Gossinus Eketens for the Continental Congress to appropriate whiskey for troops fighting on the frontier.  

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Coast guardsmen examine a haul of whiskey in New York harbor

Coast guardsmen exmaine a haul of whiskeyDuring Prohibition smuggling or “rum running” was big business, and it fell to the Coast Guard to deal with the problem. The most infamous rum-runner was Captain William S. McCoy, who became the Coast Guard's main nemesis. McCoy was responsible for smuggling over a million gallons of whiskey across the Canadian border, and this picture represents a small fraction of the alcohol that was captured entering the U.S. at that time. 

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The Noble Experiment, October 28, 1919

18th amendmentThe 18th Amendment became effective October 28 1919. The Amendment was nicknamed the Volstead Act after Andrew Volstead the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Act prohibited intoxicating beverages, and outlawed the manufacture, transport and sale of intoxicating liquors but at the same time allowing alcohol to be used in scientific research, and for religious purposes. 

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Liquors delivered to the Navy, November 2, 1777

Memorial on Spirit Rations in the NavyWhen the United States Navy was founded On October 13 1775 it carried over some of the traditions from the British Navy, namely the alcohol ration for sailors. In 1794 the United States Navy began provide sailors with a daily alcohol ration of about one and half pints of distilled spirits. This practice had the dual benefit of keeping the sailor morale high and also ensuring the soldiers had something to drink as access to clean water was not always a certainty on the high seas. Sailors who were under age or who did not drink were paid an extra three to six cents a day instead. 

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Joint resolution proposing the 21st Amendment to the States, February 20, 1933

21st amendmentWhen the 18th Amendment was ratified, one Congressman predicted its repeal was as likely as “a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” However the repeal process went very quickly. President Franklin D Roosevelt had ran his presidential campaign as the Repeal candidate, promising to make America ‘wet’ again, and set the wheels in motion during the first 100 days of his presidency.

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Patent Drawing for J. Gonzales, “Cocktail Shaker”, filed June 6, 1927

shake it upEven though Prohibition was still in force in the United States in 1927, patents were still being submitted for various drink related paraphernalia, as the 18th Amendment banned only the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors”. Therefore it was not illegal to consume alcohol, and many people still did.

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Letter from George Washington to Attorney General Edmund Randolph regarding prosecuting men involved in the Whiskey Rebellion, October 1, 1792.

whiskey rebellionThe so-called "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue to help reduce the national debt. Although the law applied to all distilled spirits, whiskey was the most commonly produced spirit at the time.

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