Mental Floss

History of the U.S.: Libation Nation

Stacy Conradt

The most popular drink in the nineteenth century was whiskey—an “all-American” liquor borrowed from Scotland and Ireland which replaced rum during the British blockades in the American Revolution and War of 1812. So how much alcohol did Americans actually consume? Reliable figures are scarce, but in 1790 the people of the United States consumed three gallons of hard liquor for every man, woman, and child (they didn’t even bother counting how much beer and wine was consumed). That equals about 750 shots per person per year. By 1830 per capita consumption had grown to five gallons, about 1,250 shots per year. When you factor out (most) women and children, who tended to drink less, it would appear that in 1830 5.5 million American males over the age of 10, of all races, drank an average eight shots per day!

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