Detroit, Booze and Temperance

This is a little after the timeframe of this article, but what’s a discussion of alcohol, Detroit and history without reference to the Purple Gang?

The Detroit News offers a little history lesson on alcohol and temperance in Detroit. I guess we’ve always been a

In 1834 — with a population under 5,000 — 100 people were licensed dealers selling liquor in Detroit; there was no estimate of the unlicensed. It was said there was a bar for every 13 families.

A traveler from New Hampshire with a strong Puritanical eye, a Mr. Parker, noted in 1834: “The streets [of Detroit] near the water are dirty, generally having mean buildings, rather too many grog shops among them, and a good deal too much noise and dissipation. The taverns are not generally under the best regulations, although they were crowded to overflowing. I stopped at the Steamboat Hotel, and I thought enough grog was sold at that bar to satisfy any reasonable demand for the whole village.”

However, saloons and bars were not the entire picture. Pharmacies did substantial business packaging and selling liquor for medicinal purposes.

Throughout Detroit, but especially in Corktown and Germantown, whiskey also was sold through groceries to such an extent that many grocers distilled their own whiskey and had sit-down bars in their stores. The term “grocery” became synonymous with “saloon.”

Records of temperance groups of the day show the desire to “reduce the number of groceries in the city.” At the time, whiskey was sold in barrels, smaller kegs, or demijohns (jugs ranging anywhere from five gallons to half a gallon.)

Keep in mind that this is during the period of our “national binge”.

In 1825 the annual consumption of pure alcohol was 7 gallons per person over the age of 15. Today it’s 2.49 gallons annually, nearly two-thirds less.