Alcohol has been part of American culture from the very beginning. It is recorded that the “Mayflower landed at Plymouth partly out of concern for the dwindling supply of beer.” In colonial times, cider, beer and wine were the drinks of choice and even the “Puritans believed alcohol was God’s gift to man and a test of his soul. ‘The wine is from God, but the drunkard is from the devil’.”
George Washington, the new nation’s first president was also one of the country’s best brewers and founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were avid wine and beer drinkers. By the 18th century, during the decade before the American Revolution, it is estimated that the average annual alcohol intake per person, which at that time was mostly high-alcohol rum, was 3.7 gallons. By the 1790s, estimated alcohol consumption was up to six gallons of absolute alcohol per year.
Until the early 20th century, alcohol was largely an unregulated two tier system of brewers and saloons. Because alcoholic beverages were high in alcohol content, temperature control was minimal, transportation was slow and expensive, and production was localized. Local brewers had ownership ties to saloons selling on extended credit terms and furnished equipment and supplies. As part of the deal, the brewers paid for their brands to be pushed or carried exclusively. Consequently, marketing practices by the producers and the saloons encouraged excessive consumption. Saloons were especially prevalent around factories where workers could get a drink before, after, and in some cases, during work. Public drunkenness was a serious problem and the social consequences of abuse were rampant during the industrial revolution and the westward expansion of the late 1800 s and early 1900 s. Tied-house saloons provided one-stop-shopping selling beer, wine, and spirits on-premise; or bottles of spirits or buckets of beer to go. Tied-house saloons were everywhere and anywhere there were populations of people.
Though the temperance movement was a mass movement by the 1830 s, it was the Anti-Saloon League that led the way for the Prohibition movement to take hold. The League did so by use of a modern political organizational structure. As part of that structure, the League hired lawyers to write model laws, and organizers to raise funds for the support and election of candidates beholden to it.
Temperance ideology believed that alcohol was the cause of nearly all social problems: unemployment, poverty, business failure, family failure, crime, slums, violence and illness. In 1913, the Anti-Saloon League declared itself in favor of national Prohibition.