“People consume an incredible amount of hard alcohol… The vice of drinking has never been so pervasive anywhere else in the world …” wrote a German traveler, A. Schweiker-Lergenfeld, at the end of the 1870s in her book, Woman (published in St. Petersburg, 1882). Try to guess the country about which she is talking, and most likely you would be mistaken. The quote refers to the United States of America, or how they were then known, the North-American United States.
Pervasive alcoholism was one of the major features, almost a symbol, which accompanied Americans all over the world. To be honest, at the start of American history, during the times of the founding fathers, this topic was not discussed in articles written by foreign travelers, at least the author of the present article knows nothing of any such publication. However, there exists American, and thus quite authoritative remarks about the issue. Following is a quote from a book by the famous sociologist, Francis Fukuyama, from his book, Great Gap (Moscow, 2004).
“At the beginning of the 1800s, the per capita annual consumption of alcoholic drinks was six gallons of pure spirits (more than 22 liters – Ya.R.) for each resident of America older than 15… Taverns, as centers of public life, were significantly more popular than churches… Drunken farmers … or workers, who would consume a pint of whiskey on the way to work, were not a rare sight to see. One researcher believed that by 1829 the level of per capita alcohol consumption increased up to the incredible level of 10 gallons.”
The numbers are quite impressive, but it seems they were not the final ones, as the base for the .grain surplus appeared. From 1840-60 grain production trebled (see Essays on the History of the North-American United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Moscow, 1931), which made whiskey the real drink choice of Americans.
From the second half of the nineteenth century, foreign observers began to write about alcoholism in the U.S. as a prevalent social problem. Letters state the assumption that one of the reasons for this trend was the mass arrival of immigrants from all over the world. Despite certain myths, not just the best people went to America.
Just like a fish rots from the head, in the same way social vices started embedding themselves within the largest cities. Ms. Schweiker-Lergenfeld wrote in the 1870s that New Yorkers drank incredible amounts, “In big cities, there is an average of a hundred, or even two hundred, people just for one