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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER

Alcohol in the Navy, 1794-1935


The consumption of alcohol on board U.S. Navy vessels was prohibited by General Order 99, effective 1 July 1914, issued by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on 1 June 1914.

The following regulations governed the use of alcohol in the Navy from 1794 to 1935:

1794 On 27 March, the daily ration established by Congress for the Navy included "one half-pint of distilled spirits," "or in lieu thereof, one quart of beer."

1797 On 1 July, daily liquor ration set at "one half pint of distilled spirits."

1801 Daily liquor ration established on 3 March, remained at "one half pint of distilled spirits."

1831 General Order issued by Levi Woodbury on 15 June, allowed servicemen to relinquish their liquor ration in return for a cash payment of 6 cents per day.

1842 On 29 August, Congress reduced the amount of liquor issued in the daily ration to one gill (1/4 pint). Also no commissioned officer, midshipman, or enlisted man below the age of 21 was allowed to draw his liquor ration.

1847 On 3 March, the commutation rate for the liquor ration was reduced to 3 cents per day.

1848 On 3 August, the commutation rate for the liquor ration was increased to 4 cents per day.

1851 On 3 March, the commutation of the liquor ration was restricted to "officers and their attendants" only. Congress also stipulated that only those persons "attached to, and doing duty on board a sea-going or receiving vessel," or who were "attached to the ordinary of the navy yards" were eligible to draw rations.

1853 On 31 August, Congress repealed the 1851 law restricting the commutation of the liquor ration to officers and their attendants only. Privilege was once again opened up to the rank and file.

1862 Spirit ration was discontinued by act of Congress on 14 July. "Distilled spirituous liquors" were also banned from all naval vessels "except as medical stores and upon the order and under the control of the medical officers of such vessels." Those who are entitled to the spirit ration will receive a commutation payment of 5 cents per day (in addition to their regular pay) beginning 1 September.

1862 General Order issued by Gideon Welles on 16 September, required captains of naval vessels to remove all distilled liquors from their ships except those that serve as medical stores. "Ale, beer, wine, and other liquors not distilled" were exempted from the provisions of the act of 14 July 1862.

1864 Welles' General Order 29 of 1 February, stated that beer, ale, wine, "and other liquors not prohibited by law on board vessels of the Navy" were to "be regarded as private stores" and were "not [to] be brought on board without the sanction of the commanding officer."

1870 The last year in which commutation of the spirit ration was specifically mentioned in Navy regulations.

1893 Article 1080 of the Navy Regulations permitted wardroom and steerage officers to form their own wine messes. No officer was required to be a member of a wine mess.

1899 General Order 508, issued by John D. Long on 3 February, directed commanding officers and commandants to forbid the sale or issue of "any malt or alcoholic liquor to . . . enlisted men, either on board ship, or within the limits of navy yards, naval stations, or marine barracks, except in the medical department."

1914 General Order 99, issued by Josephus Daniels on 1 June, strictly prohibited "the use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station," to take effect on 1 July 1914, thus putting an end to the officers' wine mess.

1917 On 18 May, in "An Act to Authorize the President to Increase Temporarily the Military Establishment of the United States" (also called the Selective Draft Act), the President was empowered to prohibit the sale, distribution, or possession of alcoholic beverages at military posts. It was also declared unlawful to sell alcoholic beverages to men in uniform. On 6 October, in "An Act to Promote the Efficiency of the United States Navy," the Selective Draft Act was amended to apply to the Navy.

1918 Under authority granted the President in Section 12 of the Selective Draft Act, as amended in "An Act to Promote the Efficiency of the United States Navy," Secretary Daniels, on 5 March signed General Order 373 establishing dry zones, five miles in width, around U.S. naval installations. The sale, serving, or transport of liquor in these zones (excepting use in private homes) was prohibited.

1921 Daniels' General Order 17, issued 5 January, prohibited naval personnel from purchasing or accepting "intoxicating liquor from bootleggers within the proscribed zones," or from having "intoxicating liquor in . . . [their] possession on board any naval vessel, or at any naval station, or at any other place under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Navy Department."

1934 Acting Secretary H. L. Roosevelt's General Order 244, dated 21 March, restricted the use of alcoholic beverages at shore establishments under naval jurisdiction to "officers' quarters, officers' messes, and officers' clubs." Commandants and commanding officers were to issue the necessary orders to carry this into effect. Upon special consideration the Secretary of the Navy could grant special exceptions to this general order.

1935 General Order 59, issued by Claude Swanson on 13 May, reiterated provisions of General Order 244.

For additional information, see Hanson W. Baldwin "The End of the Wine Mess," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 84, no.8 (August 1958): 82-91; and Harold D. Langley Social Reform in the United States Navy, 1798-1862. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967.

26 March 96