The Day the Royal Navy Ended its Daily Rum Ration

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Rum isn't just the preferred drink of pirates: For more than 300 years, the booze was also part of the daily rations of sailors in Britain's Royal Navy.

The tradition began in the 17th century, when ships traded out daily rations of beer—which tended to spoil on long journeys—for the spirit. Later, the booze was spiked with lemon juice to help prevent scurvy. Until 1740, the daily ration was half a pint of rum, but in 1850, the amount was set at a tot, 70 milliliters of rum (or an eighth of a pint) distributed at midday. Junior sailors had their share watered down with water, while higher-ups took theirs neat.

"In my era it was a social occasion," Commander David Allsop, who joined the British Navy in 1955, told the BBC. "You paid for favors quietly, you had friends come round to share the tot. It was just the same as going to the bar and having a pre-lunch drink. That's all it was, at the end of the day, a strong aperitif."

The British Royal Navy ended its daily rum rations on July 31, 1970, citing concern that sailors who took a swig at lunch would be less capable when operating ship machinery. "It was badly received," Allsop said. "There was a lot of muttering below the decks." Sailors called it "Black Tot Day," marking the occasion by wearing black armbands and burying their tots at sea. And at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, cook Thomas McKenzie (above) drank the last drop of rum on his ship directly from the barrel.