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6 Absurd Alcohol Myths People Believed During Prohibition

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Library of Congress

The pro-temperance “dry” lobby, whose existence culminated in its successful campaign for the passage of the 18th amendment in 1920, was one of the most formidable political organizations in American history. It united such diverse bedfellows as veterans, women’s suffrage groups, religious communities, the NAACP, and even the Ku Klux Klan. Dry propaganda deeply penetrated the nation’s educational system and much of it soon became required reading in hundreds of public schools, spreading some truly outlandish misinformation in the process. Here are six of the period’s most widely-held myths about alcohol.

1. Alcohol Turns Blood Into Water

This strange notion was popularized by the “Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction,” a branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which believed federal prohibition could eliminate domestic violence. Though it’s become a political shadow of its former self, the now-international union still exists today.

2. Merely Smelling Alcohol Could Deform Unborn Children

Alfred Ploetz, a German eugenicist who later joined the Nazi party, believed that alcohol consumption was a driving force behind genetic inferiority. In his pamphlet The Influence of Alcohol Upon Race, he actually suggested that pregnant mothers could bear “defective offspring” simply by taking in the very scent of alcohol. Ploetz moved first to Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1890 and then to Meriden, Connecticut, before ultimately returning to his native country, spreading his radical views to receptive American audiences in the process.

3. Some Bootleg Wines Were Made With Cockroaches

Hailed for its distinctive flavor, Madeira wine has been enjoyed by Americans for centuries. Even the founding fathers adored the drink, as importer Bartholomew Broadbent explains in this clip:

Hoping to tarnish the Portuguese beverage’s popularity, dry preacher T. P. Hunt of Wyoming, Pennsylvania claimed that it was common practice for wine-makers to lazily “put a bag of cockroaches” into a bottle of ordinary liquor and leave it there until it dissolved, thus replicating the famed Madeira aftertaste.

4. Most Beer Drinkers Die of Dropsy

Mary Hannah Hanchett Hunt, a former Massachusetts school-teacher, quickly became one of the aforementioned WCTU’s highest-ranking officers. While tirelessly working to push the temperance agenda in schools, she claimed then-recent scientific findings “proved” that the majority of beer drinkers die of dropsy. Though some have recently suggested that alcoholism is indeed linked to the disorder, Hunt’s assertion is, mildly-put, a huge exaggeration.

5. Alcohol Can Give You a 25-Pound Liver

The average human liver weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 pounds (roughly 1.5 kilograms) and the fact that excessive alcohol consumption can wreak havoc upon the vital organ is common knowledge. But this cautionary advice wasn’t terrifying enough for temperance newsletters, one of which wrote that “in some cases the liver [of a drinker] reaches an enormous weight, fifteen, and even twenty to twenty-five pounds being not uncommon.”

6. Drunkards’ Brains Can Be Used As Torches

Prohibitionist George McCandlish claimed to have once observed two surgeons performing an autopsy on the gray matter of a heavy drinker: “After removing the top of the skull, for the purpose of examining the condition of the brain, they tested it for alcohol by holding a lighted match near it, and immediately the brain took fire and burned with a blue flame, like an alcohol lamp.”  

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7 Surprising Uses for Tequila
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Happy National Tequila Day! While you could celebrate by having a few drinks, you could also skip the hangover by unlocking one of tequila's amazing abilities outside of a glass. Many spirits are useful for activities beyond sipping (vodka, for example, is a great stain and odor remover), but tequila holds some particularly magical powers. Here are just a few of them.

1. SYNTHETIC BAUBLE

In 2008, a team of scientists in Mexico discovered that when the heated vapor from an 80-proof tequila blanco was combined with a silicon or stainless steel substrate, it resulted in the formation of diamond films. These films can be used in commercial applications, such as electrical insulators, or to create one big fake diamond. Who knew that spending $50 on a bottle of Don Julio was such a wise investment?

2. ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE

Keeping with the science theme: In 2011, researchers at England’s University of Oxford suggested that we may one day be gassing up our cars with tequila. They identified agave, the plant from which tequila is produced, as a potential biofuel source—and a particularly attractive one, as the plant itself is not consumed by humans and can thrive in desert climates.

3. WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENT

Scientists have long promoted the potential benefits of the agave plant for its ability to help dissolve fats and lower cholesterol. The bad news? These properties get a bit diluted when the plant is distilled into alcohol. Even more so when it's whipped into a sugary margarita.

4. SLEEP AID

Take three or more shots of tequila and you’re bound to pass out. A single shot can have the same effect—just not in that drunken stupor kind of way. Relaxation is one of the positive side effects of tequila drinking; a small amount (1 to 1.5 ounces) before bedtime can reportedly help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

5. COLON CLEANSER

Too much of a good thing may not bring a welcome turn of events for your liver … but your colon will thank you! Researchers at Mexico’s University of Guadalajara have identified the blue agave as a potentially helpful source for delivering drugs to the colon in order to treat colitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease and even cancer.

6. DIABETES PREVENTATIVE

If Ernest Hemingway had known about the healing properties of tequila, his signature drink might have been a margarita instead of a daiquiri. In 2010, experiments conducted at Mexico’s Polytechnic Institute of Guanajuato revealed that the agave plant (which is high in fructans, a fructose polymer) could stimulate the GLP-1 hormone, aiding in increased insulin production.

7. COLD REMEDY

“Plenty of liquids” is a well-known remedy for getting oneself out from under the weather. But expanding that definition to include a kicked-up shot of tequila makes a day laid out on the couch sound much more appealing. In the 1930s, doctors in Mexico recommended the following concoction to fight off a cold.

.5 ounce of tequila blanco
.5 ounce of agave nectar (to eliminate bacteria and soothe sore throats)
.5 ounce of fresh lime juice (for Vitamin C) 

Though some people (including tequila companies) swear by its healing powers, others say it's hogwash.

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What's the Kennection? #158
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