Alcohol in the Mid-20th Century: 1934 to 1979

The story of alcohol in the mid-20th century was tame compared to earlier in the century. Here we look at the period from 1934 to 1979.

       This is Part of a Series

Alcohol in Antiquity.

Greeks and Romans: Alcohol.

Alcohol in the Middle Ages.

During the Renaissance: Alcohol.

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 Mid-20th Century

II. Resources


By 1930, an economic depression had begun around the world. In the U.S., National Prohibition had been under increasing attacks by those who wanted to repeal it. The desire to stimulate employment and increase tax revenues strengthened arguments for Repeal.

World War II also had a profound effect on economic, political, social and other spheres of life. That included drinking patterns. Following the war, there was a dramatic increase in prosperity around the world.

I. Alcohol in the Mid-20th Century

After Repeal of Prohibition in the U.S.

  • The three tier system was established in the U.S. It required that alcohol producers sell only to licensed wholesalers, who could only sell to licensed retailers. Ownership had to be kept separate between all three tiers. So no one could be both a producer and a wholesaler, a producer and a retailer, or a wholesaler and a retailer.1
  • In the U.S. “Home consumption [of beer] was further facilitated with the arrival of the aluminum beer can in 1934. And also the spread of home refrigerators beginning during the 1930s.”2  After Repeal, “…drinking returned to the home and surfaced in the new cocktail lounge. In both of which women’s drinking was more acceptable than in the old-time saloon.”3
  • Following Repeal in the U.S. those states that long maintained state prohibition had much more alcoholism than other states.4


The Wine Institute was established by California vintners.5


  • alcohol in the mid-20thBeer was sold in cans. It became popular.6
  • Alcoholics Anonymous was formed.7
  • The Shadel Sanitarium began the use of aversive conditioning to treat addiction. Later re-named Schick Shadel Hospital, it continues to use aversive conditioning today.8
  • France introduced the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) or regulated place name system. It means “Naming According to Controlled Place of Origin.” It was an  effort to fight wine fraud. A result of the restrictive laws has been to stifle winemaker creativity.9
  • The Federal Alcohol Administration Act was passed. This enabled the U.S. federal government to regulate alcoholic beverages.10


Phylloxera and powdery mildew had devastated New Zealand vineyards. By 1938 there were fewer than 200 acres remaining.11


Although British and French allied soldiers were given generous alcohol rations. American soldiers were expected to be abstainers.12


Alcoholics Anonymous published its book, Alcoholics Anonymous. It quickly become known as The Big Book.14


  • “In early 1940, fully a third of the French railroad’s tank cars were appropriated to carry wine to the front. The rationale was that soldiers needed it more than civilians.”15
  • alcohol during the depression
    Vichy French flag

    In August of 1940, Vichy or Nazi France introduced a minimum legal drinking age. It was a first in French history. It prohibited drinking by anyone under the age of 14. It also prohibited the sale of alcohol “in cafes and restaurants on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.”16

  • In the Netherlands, “Up to 1940, most drinking took place in pubs. After 1940, drinking at home became common.”17

Adolf Hitler was one of the world’s best known teetotalers or abstainers from alcohol. His adversary during World War II, Sir Winston Churchill, was one of the world’s Famous Alcoholics.13  


The annual consumption of absolute alcohol per capita in the U.S. rose to 1.5 gallons.  It had been about one gallon the year after prohibition (1934).18


Temperance leaders tried to have alcohol prohibition imposed on all U.S. military bases.19


The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies was formed. It was moved in 1962 to become the Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies.20


  • alcohol in the mid-20thThe U of CA at Davis published a map of CA. It had five classifications of climate zone based on degree days. It linked each zone with the the grape varieties most suited for it.21
  • The National Council on Alcoholism was created by the first female member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Marty Mann. Its goal was and is to promote the disease theory of alcoholism. It had been created by Alcoholics Anonymous. The group later became the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.22


  • Within three decades after WW II, the Japanese had divided business into two parts. One is “dry” relations. That is, meetings during office hours. The other is mizu shobai, or the “water trade.” It takes place at night in bars.23
  • After WW II, Japanese women were expected to serve alcohol to men. Yet they were to avoid it themselves, unless they were old or sick.24


The annual average per capita consumption of absolute alcohol in the U.S. reached the pre-Prohibition level of about two gallons.25


Quarrying of the gravel in abandoned vineyards began in the Medoc (France). This destroys their future use as vineyards. The quarrying continues today.26


  • Prince Edward Island

    Following the establishment of the state of Israel, “The sense of mission, the pioneering spirit, and austerity worked together to maintain the traditional [Jewish] moderate level of drinking.”27    

  • Prince Edward Island became the last province in Canada to repeal its province wide prohibition against alcohol.28


Late 1940s-1950s

  • “By the late 1940s and 1950s, cocktail rituals were woven into the fabric of the dominant culture…” in the U.S.31
  • “Drinking…began to shift from an occasional, often public, act to one that was incorporated into daily life in the home as a marker and accompaniment of leisure.”32


“By the 1950s, Malbec was one of the most widely cultivated wine grapes in Argentina. It had over 120,000 acres under cultivation.”33 The wines would later set international standards for what this variety could achieve.34


alcohol during the depression
Max Schubert

Max Schubert, a winemaker at Australia’s Penfolds, began experimenting with what would later become known as Penfolds Grange. It is now recognized as Australia’s most iconic wine and one of the very best in the world.35


The American Psychiatric Association (APA) published its first guide to mental problems. It was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: Mental Disorders. It gave little attention to alcoholism.


  • The best red wines in the Graves district of Bordeaux were classified, reflecting their increasing prominence.36
  • Baron Philippe de Rothschild began a 20 year political battle to get his chateau raised. He wanted its 1855 classification as a Second Growth to a First Growth.37 See listing for 1973.


  • New South Wales voted to abolish six o’clock closing to eleminate the infamous “six o’clock swill.”
  • Earl Dodge, perennial candidate of the U.S. Prohibition Party, first ran as a candidate for public office.38


Sweden abandoned its Bratt (or motbok) government monopoly rationing system. It was begun in 1917.39


Sully Ledermann proposed his influential, albeit very controversial, single distribution model of consumption distribution.40


The best white wines in the Graves district of Bordeaux were classified. The reds having been classified in 1953.41


Lager began to become the dominant style of beer in the U.S., which it achieved by the 1990s.42


E.M. Jellinek published The Disease Concept of Alcoholism. It described his now generally ignored five types of alcoholism. They were alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon. Jellinek is known for asserting that “A disease is what the medical profession recognizes as such.”43


Excellent weather conditions led to the best Bordeaux vintage in almost 20 years.44


  • Arthur Sinclair published Prohibition: the Era of Excess. He wrote that “Up to the present day, alcohol is still miscalled a poison….[in the U.S.]” Indeed, it is still being called a poison in the twenty-first century.45
  • Alsace received AOC status.46


  • Research by Dr. D.L. Davies found that some recovered alcoholics could drink alcohol in moderation. This finding challenged the disease theory of alcoholism. This led to much research. Most of which has supported Dr. Davies’ findings.47
  • Italy created a national appellation or controlled name of origin system. Its the Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC.48


  • alcohol during the depressionMS became the last U.S. state to repeal its state-wide prohibition against alcohol.49
  • A study was done in San Francisco. It reported that as many children age 9 to 11 recognized Budweiser’s frogs as Bugs Bunny.50


  • The Road Safety Act of 1967 introduced the first maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit in the UK. It set a maximum BAC of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The use of alcohol breath testers was also approved. 51
  • The production of table wine exceed that of fortified wine in the U.S.52

Breath testers (BAC estimators) were first introduced in the U.S. in 1944. The maximum legal BAC was 0.15. That’s or almost twice as high as the current standard of 0.08. This was based on a recommendation by the American Medical Association.



Drs. Craig MacAndrew and Robert Edgerton published their influential book. It was Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation.55


The Potter fermenter was named after its inventor. He was Australian Ron Potter. It’s a patented stainless-steel tank that allows vintners to control the temperature of their musts. It became standard equipment in most wineries during the decade.56



Germany passed a wine law to bring the country into conformity with the mandates of the European Economic Community (EEC).59


Bottling at the chateau became required for classified wines in Bordeaux.60


  • South Africa implemented its Wine of Origin certification system.61
  • The first wine in the now famous Marlborough region of New Zealand was produced.62
  • Baron Philippe de Rothschild successfully ended a 20 year political battle. It was to get his chateau raised from its 1855 classification as a Second Growth to a First Growth.63 See listing for 1953.


The first commercial vineyard was planted in Denmark. The EU later limited total growth in the entire country at 245 acres.64


alcohol during the depression
Book about the historic Judgment of Paris wine competition.
  • The historic 1976 Judgment of Paris blind wine tasting comparing CA wines with the best wines of France. It was judged by top French wine experts was the biggest and most influential event of the twentieth century in the world of wine. CA wines won first place in both red and white categories. Vintners around the world realized that they might be able to produce wines as great, or even greater, than those produced in the most famous regions of France. Later events have proved them right. The Judgment of Paris tasting competition revolutionized the world of wine. It has never been the same since that milestone event.65
  • What is now known as “the RAND Report” was commissioned by the U.S. NIAAA. That report demonstrated the fact that many alcoholics are able to drinks in moderation. This was a major challenge to the disease theory of alcoholism.66


“In 1977, the first of what would later come to be known as microbreweries opened in Sonoma, CA.”67


Alcohol in the Mid-20th Century
Robert M. Parker, Jr.
  • Robert M. Parker, Jr. began publishing his Wine Advocate and applying his wine rating system. Parker’s judgments are widely used by consumers in making purchase decisions and have a powerful influence on both wine style and prices around the world. His judgments are credited with the emergence of the so-called “garage wines” that command high prices.68
  • The European Economic Community imposed rules governing wine production in all its member states.69
  • U.S. legalized home brewing of beer for the first time since before National Prohibition began in 1920. Up to 200 gallons per household could be produced tax-free.70
  • The American Homebrewers Association was formed, reflecting the growing popularity of home brewing.71


New World wine continued to demonstrate the quality it could achieve. Three years after the Judgment of Paris competition opened eyes, it occurred again. This time “at the Gault-Millau Wine Olympics [when] another icon of French winemaking fell. A 1971 Penfolds Grange Hermitage, an Australian Shiraz, walked away with a first prize in Shiraz. That was a field long dominated by the French.”72


We’ve seen highlights of alcohol in the mid-20th century. We now turn to alcohol in more recent decades.


II. Resources

Web Pages

Alcoholics Can Drink in Moderation?

Earl Dodge

Three Tier System.


1  Three Tier System.

2 Blocker, J. Drinking in the United States, 1400-2000. In: Holt. M., (Ed.) Alcohol. Pp. 225-240. P. 234.

3 Blocker, ibid.

4 Sournia, J. A History of Alcoholism, p. 149.

5 Nachel. M. Beer for Dummies, p. 260.

6 Jan 24, 1935: First canned beer goes on sale. website

7 Kurtz, E. Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.

8 Schick Shadel Hospital website.

9 McCarthy, E., and Ewing-Mulligan, M. Wine For Dummies, pp. 138-139. Also Taber, G. Judgment of Paris, pp. 19-20

10 Blocker, J., et al. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History. Vol. 1, p. xliii.

11 Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century, p. 121.

12 Gately, I. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, p. 366.

13  Shirer, W. The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler. Also Richards, M. Alcohol Abuser. Churchill WarRoom, London. website

14 Kurtz, E., ibid. History of Alcoholics Anonymous.

15 Lukacs, P. Inventing Wine, p. 199.

16 Gately, p. 403.

17 Garrelsen, H., and van de Goor, I. The Netherlands. In: Heath, D. Pp. 190-200. P. 192.

18 Lender, M., and Martin, J. Drinking in America, p. 177.

19 Rostow, E. Recent proposals for federal legislation controlling the use of liquor. Q J Stud Alco, 3, 230-235. Pp. 230-231. And Rubin, J. The Wet War. In: Blocker, Jr., J., (Ed.) Alcohol, Reform and Society. Pp. 235-258, pp. 238-239. Also Moore, M. The alcohol problem in the military service. Q J Stud Alco, 3, 244-256. P. 249.

20 Page, P. Archives and manuscripts at the Rutgers U Center of Alcohol Studies. Am Archivist, 50(3), 405-407. P. 405.

21 Jackson, R. Wine Science, p. 214.

22 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction website.

23 Gately, p. 445.

24 Gately, p. 444.

25 Lender and Martin, p. 177.

26 Stevenson, T. The Sotheby’s Wine Book, p. 71.

27 Weiss, S. Israel. In: Heath. Pp. 142-155. P. 143.

28 Hallowell, G. Prohibition. The Canadian Encyclopedia website.

29 Blocker, J., et al., p. xlii.

30 Blocker, J., et al., ibid.

31 Blocker, J., 2006, p. 234.

32 Blocker, J, 2006, p. 235.

33 Nachel, p. 269.

34 Nachel, pp.271-272.

35 Lukacs, pp. 239-243.

36 Esteicher, p. 124.

37 Esteicher, pp. 94-96.

38 Earl Dodge biography.

39 Lund, A. The change of temperance policy in Sweden. Brit J Addict, 54(1), 55-58. Also Fanberg, P. The significance of two Swedish restrictive systems. Contemp Drug Prob, 1985, 53-62.

40 Ledermann, S. Alcoolisme, Alcoolisation.

41 Esteicher, p. 124.

42 Blocker, J., et al., xxxi-xiv.

43 Greenberg, G. The creation of disease. The New Yorker, April 30, 2013. Souria, J., ibid., p. 150.

44 Lukacs, p. 280.

45 Sinclair, A. Prohibition, p. 41.

46 Stevenson, p. 184.

47 Davies, D. Normal drinking in recovered alcohol addicts. Q J Stud Alco, 1963, 24, 330-332. Also Alcoholics Can Recover from Alcoholism & Drink in Moderation.

48 Lukacs, p. 215.

49 Prohibition.

50 Budweiser frogs beat out Smokey in study of kids. SF Chron, April 25, 1996.

51 Drink Driving Laws & Motoring History. website. drinkdriving.orgdrink_driving_information_uklawhistory.php.

52 Lukacs, p. 188

53 Calhoun, F., and Warren, K. Fetal alcohol syndrome. Neuro Bio Rev, 31(2), 168-171.

54 White, W. Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America.

55 MacAndrew, C., and Edgerton, R. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation.

56 Lukacs, pp. 245-246.

57 History of NIAAA.

58 Nelson, D. Moonshiners, Bootleggers, & Rumrunners.

59 Stevenson, p. 346.

60 Esteicher, p. 125.

61 Esteicher, p. 149.

62 Esteicher, p. 151.

63 Esteicher, pp. 94-96.

64 Stevenson, p. 409.

65 Taber, ibid. In addition, Historic Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 and Other Significant Competitions

66 Armor, D., et al. Alcoholism and Treatment.

67 Nachel., p. 307.

68 McCoy, E. The Emperor of Wine. Also Rose, A. Wine: The power of Robert Parker.  The Inde, April 29, 2006. And Esteicher, p. 125. Finally, Colman, T. Wine Politics.

69 Lukacs, p. 205.

70 Beato, G. Draft dodgers. For DIY brewers, Prohibition lasted until 1978. Reason, March, 2009. Reason website

71 Nachel, p. 315.

72 Taber, pp. 247-248.