This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Attitudes towards whiskey in old-time Phoenix


My fascination with history, specifically Phoenix, makes me wonder about how people lived day-by-day. History books, which really don't interest me, tend to talk about people as if all they ever did was heroic, noble deeds with a keen eye towards the future. But I know that a lot of them were drinking whiskey.

Now waitaminute here, I'm not saying that Phoenix was populated with a bunch of drunks. On the contrary, territorial Phoenix never had a reputation as a wide-open town, with drunken brawls, that sort of thing. But that doesn't mean that the people didn't drink a lot of whiskey.

If you know your United States history, you know that the sale of intoxicating beverages became illegal in 1920. It was called prohibition, and it lasted until the law was repealed in 1933. Arizona prohibited intoxicating beverages six years earlier, in 1914. And in Glendale, where I am typing this right now, the sale of intoxicating beverages was prohibited from the founding of the town, in 1910. It was a temperance colony. That is, no alcohol to be sold in the city limits of Glendale, Arizona, forever. Yeah, that was repealed in 1933, too.

Time-travel with me. Attitudes about drugs, like alcohol, have changed in 100 years. And there is still a lot of consumption of alcoholic beverages in the Phoenix area, even to this day. And now, as then, it created problems for law enforcement, health care professionals, and families.

1911 ad for whiskey in Phoenix

Whiskey was an all-purpose drug in the old west. Mothers would use it to sooth crying babies who had teething pain, by rubbing a little on their teeth. And speaking of teeth, remember that dentistry was pretty crude in territorial Phoenix (meaning no disrespect to the fine dentists of the time, it's just that the technology wasn't as good as it is today), so whiskey was used by people who suffered from the type of nagging pain that we don't much think about nowadays.

I often joke with my friends while we're history adventuring that a lot of the people that we are talking about probably kept a flask of whiskey in their pocket. From a modern point of view, it seems to be very strange, but if you time-travel, it would have been strange not to always have some whiskey. You know, for medicinal purposes!

By the way, if you're wondering if territorial Phoenix had cold beer, it did. Phoenix had electricity, and ice plants, as early as the 1890s, so important things, like beer, could be kept cold. In towns that didn't have that technology, usually all you could get was whiskey.


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