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Friday, July 04, 2008

Ben Franklin and Beer

I was about to put up a throwaway post (gotta goose the traffic!) with that famous quote from Ben Franklin:
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
This quote is well-known to beery types, and can be seen on about 10% of the t-shirts at beer festivals in July. It seems to verify satisfyingly the things we know about Franklin and beer: Ben was a bit of a libertine, clearly irreverent, but a founding father whose love of beer seems to vouch for its wholesomeness and patriotic purity. Unfortunately, it's also a crock: Franklin never said it. Worse, it's a missappropriation of a quote from a Franklin letter in which he extols ... brace yourself ... wine.
Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
How French is that? (Franklin, of course, was a Francophile, one of the many reasons some red-blooded Americans hold him at some distance.) Turns out the fake quote was brewed up by the US brewing industry post-prohibition, when they were battling with liquor producers for sales.
As part of their marketing plan to groom a bigger beer-drinking audience, the United States Brewers Association began a decades-long advertising campaign that was quick to associate beer and beer drinking with our Founding Fathers, early American history and patriotism.
Tinkering with the legacy of a founding father to make a buck? How American is that? It's not the gilded version of an Independence Day story ("I cannot tel a lie..."), but it's pretty American nevertheless.

Happy Fourth--


  1. Hmmm... Bob only says the bogus quote "probably" originated with the brewing industry after Prohibition. He doesn't provide any evidence that it DID originate with an brewing ad campaign.

    I spent years researching my book, which included reading newspapers, magazines, and brewing trade journals, and I never found the quote used by a brewer, either before or after Prohibition.

    Sure, brewers used patriotism, flags, founding fathers, etc. in their ad campaigns. So did (and do) furniture stores, lawnmower manufacturers, soap makers, and everyone else.

    As for the bogus quote: I traced it to a t-shirt manufacturer located in, if I remember right, Delaware. That company began using it (again, my memory is probably not 100% accurate) about 20 years ago. No surprise, that t-shirt has made them LOTS of money!

    But it's also possible that they, in turn, lifted it from someone else.

    But hey ... what the heck do I know?

  2. Maureen, as a blogger, I'm prepared to stake a post on "probably." That's (beer-) yellow journalism for you!

  3. Heh heh.... As a historian, the word "probably" is one of my VERY favorite. It's so useful....

  4. "Probably" is right up there with "most likely" and "supposedly". Without such qualifiers, history would be only a fraction as interesting.