Alcohol in the 19th Century (And Emergence of Temperance)

Alcohol in the 19th century is largely the story of emerging temperance sentiment.

   This is Part of a Series

Alcohol in Antiquity.

Alcohol among the Greeks and Romans.

Alcohol in the Middle Ages.

Alcohol During the Renaissance.

Alcohol in the 17th Century.

The 18th Century and Alcohol.  

Alcohol in the 19th Century.

Alcohol in the Early 20th Century.

The Mid-20th Century and Alcohol.  

Alcohol 1980-2000.


I.   Alcohol in the 19th Century

II.  Alcohol by Year

III. Resources

Temperance thought began emerging during the 1800s. Following the Revolutionary War, the rapidly growing industrialization, urbanization and social change caused serious problems.

Alcohol and temperance became the focal point of a cultural war between different life styles and values. There was small town versus cities. “Old Americans” versus immigrants. The agricultural South versus the industrializing Northeast. Protestantism versus Catholicism and Judaism, and so on.

With the breakdown of social norms that discouraged alcohol abuse, heavy drinking became much more common. It caused numerous problems. And increasingly, people considered it the primary cause of societal changes and problems. That is, instead of largely the result of them.

Drinking excessively was generally not a problem on a farm. But it was for factory workers. They followed the clock rather the level of sunlight or the seasonal needs of agriculture. Employers wanted reliable and sober workers. They should come to work on time and avoid injury.             

Temperance Movement Emerged

Many Protestant churches began to view the substance of alcohol itself as evil. They saw drinking as a sin.

There was also a growing women’s movement. It stressed the protection of domestic life. It opposed partner violence, child neglect, and lost wages.

The two movements merged into into a religious and moral crusade. It was the temperance movement. And it grew powerful over time. This would be the major event of alcohol in the 19th century.

I. Alcohol in the 19th Century

  • alcohol in the 19th
    Jean-Autoine Chaptal

    Early in the 1800s, French chemist Jean-Autoine Chaptal recommended adding sugar to crushed grapes. He said it be either before or during fermentation. This increases the alcohol content without affecting the taste of the resulting wine. The process, which is legal in France, is Chaptalization1

  • People had accepted drunkenness as part of life in the eighteenth century.2  But the nineteenth century brought a change in attitudes as a result of increasing industrialization. This created the need for a reliable and punctual work force.3  Employers wanted self-discipline instead of self-expression. They wanted task orientation in place of relaxed conviviality. It followed that drunkenness was a threat to industrial efficiency and growth.

           Spirits Popular

  • In Australia, spirits drinking dominated the colonial period. There domestic brewing or distilling industry. There were also technical difficulties in importing any alcohol other than spirits. As a result, Australians developed a local brewing industry. There were also improvements in the transportation of beer. This led to the transition from a spirits-drinking to a beer-drinking culture in the late 1800s.4
  • In the early nineteenth century the consumption of spirits dominated drinking in the U.S.5
  • The continuous still made the distilling process cheaper and easier to control.6
  • ‘The mid-1800s witnessed the birth of the first temperance movement in Poland. Polish temperance combined religion and national character.7
  • “Until the mid-nineteenth century, virtually all sparkling wine was sweet.'”8
  • People blamed alcohol for problems caused by industrialization and urbanization. Thus, they blamed it for problems such as urban crime, poverty and high infant mortality. Overcrowding and unemployment contributed greatly to these problems.9
  • People also blamed alcohol for more and more personal, social and religious/moral problems. And not only was it enough to prevent drunkenness. Any alcohol drinking was bad. Temperance – moderate drinking – became prohibition. This was a major event for alcohol in the 19th Century.10
  • Until the 1870s schnaps, a distilled spirit, was a part of wages in Denmark.11
  • In the 1890, the movement for the independence of India began. It combined nationalism with prohibition goals.12
  • In the 1890s, an influential temperance movement developed in Iceland.13

II. Alcohol in the 19th Century by Year


By 1803, it appears that people were making cocktails. The first published reference to the cocktail appeared in the Farmer’s Cabinet. That was in Amherst, NH, on April 28, 1803.

The first published definition of cocktail appeared in 1806.  It was “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” 14


  • A temperance group began in the Netherlands.15
  • A British doctor, Thomas Trotter, suggested that chronic drunkenness was a disease.16


  • alcohol in the 19th centuryIn France absinthe and was very popular.17 Later absinthe existed wherever there was French culture. For example, in New Orleans, the French colonies, and so on.18
  • “Hops first had been cultivated in the colony [Australia] by James Squire, an emancipated convict, in 1805….'”19


  • Oktoberfest in Munich became an annual event.20
  • The six main whiskey-producing states together distilled twice as many gallons annually as there were people in the US. Ten years later, consumption was more than five gallons per capita per year.21


Growers in Canada planted the first vineyard in the country..22


New Zealanders built their first commercial winery.23


The Ashante of Ghana produced much palm wine.24


Temperance societies formed in a number of countries.

  • Sweden (1819)
  • United States  (1826)
  • Germany (1830)
  • Italy (1830)
  • England (1831)
  • Scotland (1831)
  • Australia (1832)
  • India (1835)
  • New Zealand (1836)
  • South Africa (1838)
  • Denmark (1840)
  • Norway (1840)
  • Bermuda (1841)
  • Jamaica (1841)
  • The Netherlands (1842)
  • Poland (1844)
  • Hawaii (1847)
  • Finland (1883)
  • Japan (1909)

In 1837 a temperance society formed in France. But it made little progress. This was because the French saw drunkeness as a problem caused by Protestantism.25


  • By the 1820s, the Australian state of New South Wales was also producing excellent wine. Some won silver (1822) and gold (1828) medals at the Royal Society of Art in London.26
  • Growers in Tasmania planted grape vines early in the 1820s.27


Sparkling wine production, which continues, began in Slovakia.28

Cir. 1830

Growers in Western Australia planted grape vines.29


  • The 1830 Beer Act allowed any payer to buy a license to brew and sell beer in England.
  • The revolution of 1830 in France caused a reduction in the demand for wine and its price.30


  • The Guinness brewery had grown to become the largest in Ireland.32
  • South African vineyards had economic difficulties after England passed the Slavery Abolition Act.33

Abraham Lincoln would later become President of the US. He held a liquor license (1833) and operated several taverns.31


  • Spirits consumption in England was 0.53 gallons per capita. In Ireland it was 1.32 gallons. Scotland’s was 2.46. And in Australia it was 5.02.34
  • Maine passed its Fifteen Gallon Law. It was to reduce the availability of spirits. It did so by making that by increasing the minimum purchase large.35


  • Nicholas Longworth of Cincinnati made the first successful commercial wine in the U.S. He used Catawba grapes.36
  • New Zealand began producing wines.37


Before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand in 1840, the Maori had no alcohol.38


A Bavarian brewmaster named Josef Groll created the first pilsner. He did so in the Czech city of Pilznenr39


  • A rabbi founded the first winery in Israel in modern times.40
  • An English merchant ordered some Champagne without sugar added. It was the first truly dry or brut Champagne. It was popular with customers.41


Swedish doctor Magnus Huss coined the term “alcoholism.” He promoted the disease theory of alcoholism.42


  • Local regulation of liquor sales and consumption began in Sweden, followed by national action in1855.43
  • Dr. Johann Siegert began exporting bitters from Angostura, Venezuela.44
  • Distillers in London formulated dry gin.45


“The latter half of the nineteenth century became the golden age of the saloon.”46


Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony and Mary C. Vaughn founded the Woman’s New York State Temperance Society. They were former Daughters of Temperance members. Yet the Sons of Temperance did not grant them permission to speak at its convention. The reason was their gender.47 


United Kingdom Alliance (UKA) formed in 1853 “to outlaw all trading in intoxicating drinks.”48


Napoleon requested the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux wines. The Chamber of Commerce participated. It asked wine dealers to compile a list of the best producers of wine.  They did so solely on the prices of the wines.49


Funded by a distiller, Louis Pasteur studied the process of fermentation. He isolated yeast. This was a major discovery in the field of alcohol production.50


Growers in Queensland planted grape vines.51

Pasteurization of beer occurred years before milk benefitted from the process.76


  • Irish distillers began to blend whiskey.52
  • M.L. Byrn of New York obtained patent no. 27,615  for a corkscrew.53
  • There were 1,138 legal stills operating in the U.S. They produced 88 million gallons of spirits per year.54


  • South African wines flourished in the nineteenth century while the country was a British colony. However, sales plummeted after Britain lowered tariffs on French wine.55
  • The Single Bottle Act of 1861 in Britain allowed retailers to sell wine for consumption “off” the premises.56
  • Burgundy created a wine classification system.57



Phylloxera  is a grape vine parasite native to North America. Native vines there are resistant to it.

From the U.S. the pest spread to England. From there it spread to Bordeaux two years later.

It then migrated all over Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. In the 1870s it spread across French vineyards at the rate of about 40 miles per year. It devastated wine production. The infestation threatened to destroy the entire European wine industry. This was a major disaster for alcohol in the 19th Century.


Anstie’s limit (Anstie’s rule or Ansties alcohol limit) was announced. This refers to the amount of alcohol that Francis E. Anstie, M.D., (1833-1874) found could be consumed daily with no ill effects.

It’s 1.5 ounces of pure alcohol. That’s equivalent to two and one-half standard drinks of beer, wine or distilled spirits.59


  • Finland outlawed home production of spirits. It also prohibited rural sales and limited urban sales.60
  • The Swedish city of Gothenburg awarded a retail spirits license to a single company run as a trust. Five percent of the profit of the trust went to the owners with 95% going to the city government. Other cities in Sweden soon adopted the system.61


After the American Civil War (1861-1865) beer replaced whiskey as preferred beverage of working men.62


alcohol in the 19th century
Wayne Wheeler
  • Birth of Wayne B. Wheeler, who became the de facto leader of the Anti-Saloon League. He wielded awesome power. One historian said Wheeler controlled six congresses. That he dictated to two presidents of the U.S. Said he directly directed legislation in most states of the country. That he picked the candidates for the more important elective and federal offices. Asserted he held the balance of power in both Republican and Democratic parties. Wheeler distributed more patronage than any dozen other people. He supervised a federal bureau from outside without official authority. And that people widely recognized Wheeler as the most masterful and powerful single person  in the entire US.63
  • Activists formed the Prohibition Party. in the U.S. It is the oldest “third party” in the US. The Party has nominated a candidate for president of the US in every election since 1872.64 
  • Wine production became well established in Cape Verde.65

Cir. 1870

It was around 1870 that grapes in Japan were used to make wine. Two Japanese men started winemaking in Kofu, Yamanashi.”66



The UK passed the Licensing Act. It restricted hours of alcohol beverage sale in England and Wales.70


The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) formed in Cleveland, Ohio. The correct name is woman’s rather than women’s. Women became central to the prohibition movement. Therefore, formation of the WCTU was a major event in the history of alcohol in the 19th century.71

The WCTU’s Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction taught as scientifically proved fact this.

    • The majority of beer drinkers die from dropsy. (An old term for edema, or swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water.)
    • [Alcohol] turns the blood to water.
    • [Referring to invalids.] A man who never drinks liquor will get well, where a drinking man would surely die.72


Dr. Diocletian Lewis, a Boston minister, led the Woman’s Temperance Crusade of 1873-1874.73


Prime Minister Gladstone lost his seat in Parliament when he attempted to restrict gin consumption.74


“In 1875, French absynthe drinkers downed approximately 185,000 gallons of the stuff. By 1910, that figure had increased to an astonishing 9,500,000 gallons.”75


The first beer pasteurization occurred.77


By the 1870s, the temperance movement exerted great influence in American life, as this example shows.

In the Currier and Ives print of 1848, George Washington bid farewell to his officers. He had a toast in his hand and a supply of liquor on the table.

Currier and Ives print of George Washington toasting

Reflecting the power of the temperance movement, a re-engraved version in 1876 removed all evidence of alcohol. The glass is no longer in Washington’s hand and a hat replaces the liquor supply.

Currier and Ives print of George Washington with alcohol removed78


Downey (as distinct from powdery) mildew appeared in France. It began destroying vineyards by killing green parts of the vines.79


alcohol in the 19th century
Leslie Keeley

Dr. Leslie Keeley was an American physician. He famously said that “alcoholism is a disease and I can cure it.” Keeley started his first “bicloride of gold” treatment center in 1879. Then he sold franchises for over 200 centers around the world and died a millionaire. He made about $25,000,000 in today’s purchasing power.

He claimed that 95% of the patients enjoyed a permanent cure. When former patients began drinking again, he insisted that they were cured. He said they simply drank because they chose to do so.80


  • During the 1880s, a number of US states adopted state-wide prohibition.81 National Prohibition of Alcohol in the US describes this subject in more detail. Prohibition of alcohol in the 19th century was increasingly occurring.
  • Absinthe became very popular in France in the 1880s. A failing grape crops resulted in absinthe becoming cheaper than wine.82
  • “[I]n the 1880s, after vine diseases devastated the Peruvian vineyards, production moved south to Chile….”83
  • The Guinness brewery had grown to become the largest in the world.84
  • Halfway through the decade, “black rot” appeared in French vineyards. It attacked the leaves, shoots and individual grapes.85


  •  Lorenz Enginger, a German inventer, developed the first beer filter. Then he developed a superior version of his invention in the 1900s.86
  • By 1880, Rioja was enjoying an economic boom. A new railway provided easy transportation. Also bodegas were using new practices.87


alcohol in the 19th century
French & U.S. flags
  • Scientists discovered that French grape vines grafted onto American rootstock resisted the deadly phylloxera parasite. By the end of the century most French vines were growing on American rootstock. Today virtually all vineyards around the world are on American rootstock.88
  • After the French invaded Tunisia, large-scale wine production began.89


The WCTU began a successful campaign. It was led by Mary H. Hunt. And it led to required anti-alcohol education in every state in the U.S. This was a major event in the history of alcohol in the 19th century.90 


alcohol in the 19th century
Danish flag

In Denmark, Emil Hansen isolated the first single-cell yeast culture. This enabled brewers to select those strains that made good beer and ensured brand consistency. They did this by eliminating undesirable yeast strains.91


The production of large quantities of quality wines began in Argentina. The opening of a railroad linking Mendoza with Buenos Aires made this possible.92


Coca-Cola was a temperance drink.93



alcohol in the 19th century
New Zealand flag

New Zealand began approving a series of local-option no-license areas. They placed a number of restrictions on the selling alcohol. For example, sales after 6 P.M. were illegal. This “temporary” restriction lasted until 1967.96

  • Intoxication was common among unskilled urban laborers in Finland. This led to a prohibition movement.97
  • Seven of the largest wine companies formed the California Wine Association. Over time it produced about 80% of the state’s output.98


  • The WCTU began a very damaging three year national boycott in the US against root beer. It falsely assumed that the beverage was alcoholic. The WCTU abandoned the boycott in 1898. It was after an independent lab made an analysis. The lab reported that a bottle of root beer had as much alcohol as half a loaf of bread.99
  • Wine fraud had always been a serious problem. In 1895, the American consul in Le Havre sent a report to DC. Much exported “French wine” had no French grapes.100


We’ve seen the story of alcohol in the 19th century. But big events awaited it in the next century. Let’s discover what happened in the Early 20th Century.

III. Resources

Popular Readings


1 Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century, p. 85.

2 Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800, p. xxv.

3 Porter, R. Introduction. In: Sournia, J.-C. A History of Alcoholism, p. xii.

4 Hall, W., and Hunter, E. Australia. In: Heath, D., (Ed.) Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Pp. 719. P. 9.

5 Rorabaugh, W. The Alcoholic Republic.

6 Walton, S., and Glover, B. Book of Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Liqueurs. 

7 Moskalewicz, J., and Zielinski, A. Poland. In: Heath. Pp. 224-236. P. 225.

8 Lukacs, P. Inventing Wine, p. 15.

9 Sournia, p. 21.

10 Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse.

11 Schioler, P. Denmark. In: Heath. Pp. 51-62. P 54.

12 Mohan, D., and Sharma, H. India. In: Heath, D. Pp. 128-141. Pp. 130-131.

13 Asmundsson, G. Iceland. In: Heath. Pp. 117-127. P. 118.

14 Graham, C. What is a Cocktail? Definition and History of the Cocktail. Cocktails site.

15 Garrelsen, H., and van de Goor, I. The Netherlands. In: Heath. Pp. 190-200. P. 191.

16 Plant, M. The United kingdom. In: Heath, D. Pp. 289-299. P. 291.

17 Sournia, p. 75.

18 Baker, P. The Book of Absinthe, p. 15.

19 Gately, I. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. p. 212.

20 The Origin of Oktoberfest. website.

21 Gately, p. 231.

22 Wine Industry. The Canadian Encyclopedia website.

23 Esteicher, p. 120.

24 Samuelson, J. The History of Drink, p. 5.

25 Winskill, P. The Temperance Movement and Its Workers. Vol. 2, ch 32. Temperance Movements. Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent Organ website.

26 Gately, p. 212.

27 Lukacs, p. 162.

28 Stevenson, T. The Sotheby’s Wine Book, p. 423.

29 Lukacs, pp. 162-163.

30 Loubere, L. The History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century.

31 Cowdery, C. Abraham Lincoln, Bourbon Country’s Native Son. Bourbon Country Read, 3 (6), p. 1. Museum details history of Bourbon. Post-Gazette, April 23, 2017.

32 Hartley, P. Guinness: Celebrating 250 Remarkable Years, p. 12.

33 Lukacs, p. 159.

34 Samuelson, p. 10.

35 Blocker, J., et al. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History. Vol. 1. Good coverage of alcohol in the 19th century.

36 Lukacs, p. 181.

37  ____, p. 163.

38 The Culture of Drinking in New Zealand, p. 12. Alcohol Advisory Council website.

39 King, F. Beer Has a History.

40 Domine, A., et al. Wein.

41 Lukacs, p.156.

42 Lesch, O., et al. Diagnosis of chronic alcoholism. Psychopath, 23(2), 88-96.

43 Austin, G. Perspectives on the History of Substance Use.

44 Ford, G. Wines, Brews, & Spirits, p. 17.

45 Ford, ibid.

46 Blocker, J. Drinking in the US, 1400-2000. In: Holt. M., (ed.) Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History.  Pp. 225-240. P. 231.

47 Temperance Worker. Nat Susan B. Anthony Museum and House website.

48 Blocker, p. xxxi-xiv.

49 Charters, S. Wine and Society, p. 285.

50 Williams, G. The Age of Miracles.

51 Lukacs, p. 163.

52 Ford, p. 17.

53 Bellis, M. Popping the Cork. Part 1: History of the Corkscrew., Inventors.

54 Nelson, D. Moonshiners, Bootleggers, and Rumrunners.

55 Taber, G. Judgment of Paris, p. 255.

56 Simpson, J. Selling to reluctant drinkers: the British wine market, 1860-1914. Econ Hist Rev, 2004, 57(1), 80-108.

57 Taber, pp. 24-25.

58 ___, p. 21.

59 Baldwin, A. Anstie’s alcohol limit. J Pub Health, 67(7), 680. Babor, T., et al. Social drinking as a health and psychosocial risk factor. Anstie’s limit revisited. Recent Dev Alco, 5(373), 373-402. Astie’s Limit.

60 Austin, G. Perspectves on the History of Substance Use.

61 Gordon, E. The Breakdown of the Gothenburg System.

62 Rorabaugh, ibid.

63 Steuart, J. Wayne Wheeler, Dry Boss, p. 14. Also see the following. Hogan, C. Wayne Wheeler. Hanson, D. Wayne Bidwell Wheeler. In: Garraty, J., and Cames, M., (Eds.) Am Nat Bio, vol. 23, pp. 144-145. Wayne Wheeler.

64 Colvin, D. Prohibition in the US. Storms, R. Partisan Prophets. Wheeler, E. Prohibition.

65 Nugent, P. Cape Verde Wine – Not Quite a Revolution But….

66 The History of Japanese Wine.

67 Lorch, W. Uruguay – South America’s “Other” Wine Country.  Also Robinson, J., (Ed.) Uruguay. Oxford Companion to Wine. 3rd ed, p.  723.

68 Gately, p. 326.

69 Blumberg, L. The American Association for the Study and Cure of Inebriety. Alco Clin Exper Res, 1978, 2(3), 235-240. Weiner, B., and White, W. The Journal of Inebriety (1876-1914). Addict, 2007, 102, 15-23.

70 Blocker, 2003, xxxi-xiv.

71 The History of the WCTU. WCTU site. The WCTU had a major impact on alcohol in the 19th century.

72 Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, p. 143.

73 Eastman, M. The Biography of Dio Lewis. Diocletian Lewis.

74 Ford, ibid.

75 Lukacs, p. 190.

76 Holsinger, V. et al. Milk pasteurization and safety. Revue Sci et Tech, 16(2), 441-451.

77 Ford, ibid.

78 Prohibition.

79 Lukacs, Paul. Inventing Wine, p. 171.

80  “We Belt the World”: Dr. Leslie E. Keeley’s “Gold Cure.”

81 National Prohibition of Alcohol in the US.

82 Baker, Phil. The Dedalus Book of Absinthe, p. 8.

83 Lukacs, Paul. Inventing Wine, p. 160.

84 Hartley, Paul. Guinness: Celebrating 250 Remarkable Years, p. 12.

85 Lukacs, Paul. Inventing Wine, p. 171.

86 History of Beer Filtration. website.

87 Lukacs, p. 154.

88 Taber, p. 23.

89 Robinson, J, (ed.) Tunisia. Oxford Companion to Wine, 2006, p.  714.

90 Mezvinsky, N. Scientific temperance instruction in the schools. Hist Ed Q, 1961, 7, 48-56. Mary Hunt.

91 Nachel. M. Beer for Dummies, p. 313.

92 Lukacs, p. 161.

93 Blocker, J., et al. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History, pp. xxxi-xiv.

94 Anti-Saloon League.

95 Billings, J. Physiological Aspects of the Liquor Problem, p. 44.

96 Park, J. New Zealand. In: Heath. Pp. 2001-212. P. 204.

97 Austin, 1979, ibid.

98 Lukacs, p. 183.

99 Trex, E. How the temperance movement almost killed root beer.

100 Lukacs, pp. 176-177.


    • Know of fact that should be in alcohol in the nineteenth century? If so, please contact hansondj [at sign] postman [dot] edu/. And thank you for your help!