Home » Budget Industry » A Hundred Years Dry: The U.S. Navy’s End of Alcohol at Sea


A Hundred Years Dry: The U.S. Navy’s End of Alcohol at Sea

By:
Published:
Updated:
Sailors on USS Normandy enjoy a rare beer. With limited exceptions, ships in the US Navy have had no alcohol for a hundred years. US Naval Institute Archives

Sailors on USS Normandy enjoy a rare beer. With limited exceptions, ships in the US Navy have had no alcohol for a hundred years. US Naval Institute Archives

As a flotilla of naval vessels from around the world participates in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) to sustain relationships in the maritime community, a century ago this week international navies converged for a remarkably different occasion—to drink the last of the U.S. Navy’s supply of alcohol. On July 1, 1914 the ships of the U.S. Navy officially became dry under General Order No. 99. “The use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station, is strictly prohibited, and commanding officers will be held directly responsible for the enforcement of this order,” reads the hundred year-old order. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issued the order. A teetotaler, former newspaper publisher, and supporter of the temperance movement, the North Carolinian had already become unpopular with many of those in the sea services. When the order was first announced in on April 16, 1914, it was met with derision and mockery in the press, which regarded the policy as an attempt to make the Navy softer.

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

Editorial cartoons dubbed Daniels “Sir Josephus, Admiral of the USS Grapejuice Pinafore” who oversaw a fleet of Navy ships with names such as “USS Piffle” that were bedecked with flowers, rocking chairs and potted plants. But Daniels’ order was actually just the final phase of a long process that had been slowly reducing the presence of alcohol on Navy ships.

Made in England

Inheriting Britain’s Royal Navy tradition of providing sailors with a daily ration of rum in the 18th century, the U.S. Navy established in 1794 that sailors were to receive “one half-pint of distilled spirits” a day. In 1806, the Navy encouraged the sailors to accept whiskey as a substitute for the more expensive rum. Sailors who did not wish to imbibe or were under age were paid an extra three to six cents a day. The ration was reduced to one gill (four ounces) in 1842 and totally eliminated 1862 during the Civil War—though the Confederate Navy continued to provide crews with rum rations, believing that the tradition would help recruit much-needed experienced sailors from other nations.

Sailors drinking coffee. US Navy Photo

Sailors drinking coffee. US Navy Photo

U.S. Navy sailors were allowed to keep their own stock of beers and undistilled spirits at the discretion of their commander until 1899, when even the sale of alcohol was banned to “enlisted men, either on board ship, or within the limits of navy yards, naval stations, or marine barracks, except in the medical department.” By the time General Order No. 99 was announced, the only alcohol left in U.S. Navy ships was reserved for the wardroom and the captain’s wine messes. As the deadline approached, many of the ships of the Atlantic Fleet were in Mexican ports, part of the occupation of Veracruz.

The Last Feast

The order had not been well received by the force. Mere mention of Daniels’ name elicited jeers and curses. Inspired by the editorial cartoons that had ridiculed the initial announcement, sailors had renamed a captured Mexican ship USS Piffle until it was spotted by an admiral, who smiled but demanded that it be repainted immediately. Commanders rushed to comply with the order by selling as much alcohol as they could but found that their stores still contained a sizable supply of booze in the days prior to the “bone-dry” date. It was decided that ships would host one last banquet to say farewell and consume the remainder of alcohol.

US ships in 1914 near Veracruz. US Navy Photo

US ships in 1914 near Veracruz. US Navy Photo

Some ships were content with piling tables with food and booze, others got more creative and created themes such as “Wild West” saloons or held funerals where mourners could watch John Barlycorn’s burial at sea. A few ships decided it was easier just to pour all the alcohol on board into one large bowl to make a very strong punch. With ships from several other nations in the region to observe the situation in Veracruz, the U.S. Navy invited foreign contingents to join in the festivities. Soon parties from the British, French, German, Spanish and Dutch navies began to travel by small launches from ship to ship to help eliminate the soon-to-be contraband. The occasion would also be one of the last peaceful interactions between the navies for many years. A world war would erupt by the end of the month; less than a year after participating in the event, the German cruiser Dresden was hunted down and knocked out of action by the Royal Navy.

Drinking Slang from the Navy

Groggy

– Grog is a concoction of rum, water and citrus juice that was originally drunk by British sailors and adopted by the U.S. Navy as a way to make stagnant water more palatable and to fight scurvy. Someone who is dazed or sleepy might feel as if they have had too much grog, making them “groggy.”

Three sheets to the wind

– Sheets on a ship are the ropes that control the sails. If a sheet becomes loose and starts flapping in the wind, the ship will lurch and rock. Someone who is cannot walk a straight line because they are staggering drunk is said to be “three sheets to the wind.”

Splice the main brace

– The main brace was the largest of the rigging on the ship and essential to controlling the vessel. A damaged main brace was difficult to repair, particularly in the midst of battle, so it became customary for the crew members who successfully spliced it to be rewarded with an extra ration of rum. The phrase came to mean a celebratory drink.

Binge

– To binge while on a ship meant to soak and rinse an empty cask in water. Sailors who needed more alcohol than their allotted ration would drink the binge water from rum casks in hopes that it would contain at least a few drops of booze. Binging also caused the wood to absorb water, much like a person binge drinking in the modern sense absorbs alcohol.

Down the hatch

– When sailors threw their heads back and poured alcohol down their throats, they equated it to manner in which cargo was loaded on ships by lowering it through the hatches on the deck.

Mind your Ps and Qs

– Popular folklore states the phrase refers to barkeeps having to be sure to track the “pints” and “quarts” ordered by sailors, but it more likely stems from the printing industry’s need to avoid accidentally reversing the letter blocks for “p” and “q” on the press.

Cup of Joe

– The common story that the term “cup of joe” for coffee originated from Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels’ order to prohibit alcohol in the fleet is probably a myth. The more plausible theory is that “joe” derives from “jamoke” – another nickname that was formed by combining the names of the coffee producing locations of Java and Mocha.

U.S. ships around the world held similar events to rid themselves of alcohol and mark the end of an era, but none came close in size and international participation than the soiree off Veracruz. When the 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933, the Navy conducted an informal poll of flag officers to determine if the policy of keeping the Fleet alcohol free should be reconsidered. The results of the poll clearly indicated that Navy leaders strongly preferred to continue prohibition on the ships, though the policy was modified to allow alcohol on shore at stores and clubs.

Exceptions

Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo modified the Navy's drinking rules to allow two beers to sailors who had been at sea for more than 45 days.

Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo modified the Navy’s drinking rules to allow two beers to sailors who had been at sea for more than 45 days.

There are exceptions to the rule. Ships keep a small stock of alcohol for so-called medicinal purposes such as when a crewmember is shaken by an accident or a pilot is suffering from the pressures of a demanding mission. The alcohol can only be issued on the authority of the medicinal officer or captain of the ship. During World War II, some submarine commanders, such as Adm. Eugene Fluckey of the USS Barb tried to relieve the stress of living in a contained and dangerous environment by providing his crew with beer after an enemy ship was sunk. In 1980, Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo decided to allow crew members of ships that had been out to sea for an extended period to each have two beers (later set to 45 continuous days). According to letter by Capt. Lawrence B. Brennan, published in Naval History magazine, the surprise announcement to again permit limited beer on board was prompted by Hidalgo’s experience on USS Enterprise during World War II when a kamikaze attack plane crashed though an elevator and destroyed the cargo of beer.

  • JoeBtfsplk

    Anyone who’s served on a large vessel knows where the still is located. I’m pretty sure that tradition has survived.

  • Joseph A. Clark

    What an even bigger insult is that the Navy named a ship after Daniels……British sailors were given a ration of beer in the days immediately after the ship left home port….when the beer was gone, then they were given rum, which was more potent, but watered down into grog, so the amount of alcohol a sailor got was pretty much the same day-to-day. They are restricted from drinking within 8 hours of assuming their watches, so it’s not like the sailors are a bunch of drunks……too bad ONE person had so much hatred of alcohol that he decided to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Yes, he was in a position of authority, but I believe he overstepped the boundaries of good morale in this case. Did I miss not having a beer at sea? No, not really, but I would have been much happier if “I” had been allowed to make the choice, not some high-falutin’, former newspaper editor and teetotaler. Suppose I had been in his position and he was a teetotaler and I said, “You WILL drink one pint of beer every day or I will have you court martialed.” Same idea……

    • Alan Zukor

      You are an idiot.

      • Todd McDonald

        Not helpful.

        • Alan Zukor

          Indeed.

    • Indigo Mordant

      And here I thought a person in the armed forces would already be accustomed to a reality of reduced personal freedoms.

      I personally am rather excited about the Navy’s increased efficiency efforts, especially in the realm of automation, which would preclude the need for large complements of crew in the first place, and sizable beer deliveries too, I guess.

      • Alan G. Palazzo

        Are you serious? Minimum Manning ONLY works if you’re minimum manned. Obviously you have never served on a MM ship!!

      • E Wolfe

        Minimum manning is the thought process of bean counters not sailors. Try manning the duty station of a critical crew member on a MM ship when that member is killed or disabled, how about with 20% or the crew disabled. How about with the electronics knocked out, power out or hydraulics damaged. I do not believe that many of these new ships are equipped with redundant modes of control. They certainly are not properly armored to protect crew or vital equipment. Nor are they properly armed to defend themselves. The U.S. Navy today operates on the cheap, and eventually the nation will pay a price for that.

      • Actionwriter

        You would not have liked the life at NAS Cubi Point ( Phillippines) in 1990 then Indigo—we had draft beer at the chow hall EVERY NOON meal. You could have as much as you wanted but it was diligent to NOT return to your work area socked because you were 86’d from the beer scrog AND you risked having the spigot removed for a few days and your name –or on the LIST of names the reason. It was a bitch of a payback to have your name on that list. You caught every late watch, trash burn and gally duty that came up.

  • allgayshaveaids

    this is what happend when you allow the f a g s to rule. it all went down hill with the women. f a g s are women but worse.

    • MarkCValdez

      Google is paying 80$ per hour! Work for few hours and have more time with

      friends & family! On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from

      having earned $4151 this last four weeks… Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve

      had. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      ————————————————–

      Here ­­­­­­­­­is ­­­­­­­­­I ­­­­­­­­­started,————,, HuL­­­uJoB.­­­C­­­O­­­M

      ——————————————————–

      GO TO THE SITE AND CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND HELP

  • Ron Noname

    That’s me in my avatar. Guess how I feel about this. lol

  • FoilHatWearer

    In 1994, we were underway in the Persian Gulf for 68 days straight and didn’t get any beer. Bunch of CRAP!!

    • tentaro

      it’s 90 days unfortunately…. I had 2 beers days in all of my15 years of service, they usually make sure they don’t happen lol

    • Alan G. Palazzo

      That’s because you might have had an idiot as BG Commander. I had many Steel Beach Cookouts during my time in the Navy and we ALWAYS had our 2 beers if we met over the 45 day rqmt!!

      • FoilHatWearer

        Our 2-month shakedown cruise (58 days without a port visit) was another one that we should’ve gotten 2 beers. We definitely had crappy leadership, that’s why I got out. They’re not looking for LPOs who think, find ways to do the job better, and do what’s right for their guys, they just want followers that question nothing. Biggest career-killer in the Navy: being an LPO and being able to do the job of your lazy chief and butter-bar division officer better than they can.

  • Kevin Lewis

    We had 3 beer days in 1984 when I was on the USS Cochrane (DDG-21) and the USS Midway Battle Group during the Persian Gulf Conflict.172 days at sea…our relief Carrier was involved in an accident when it ran over a Russian Sub during an exercise and had to go into drydock in P.I.

    • Thomas Webster

      AH! The PI. San Migeal

  • Kevin Lewis

    Everyone had their own private stock onboard every ship I was ever stationed on…

    • XSANDIEGOCA

      Ah, memories…..

      • Actionwriter

        One of the most vivid memories of the Korean war was when my VF squadron reported aboard the PhilSea and I caught Galley duty. Myself and Bernie Wilhelm loaded a captured five gallon can with raisins apricots and some water. Stuck it in a big storage cabinet in the back and waited. What we didn’t know was that there was a steam pipe behind the cabinet. Three days later, the five gallon exploded and made the most awful mess ever cleaned. But we weren’t in the galley when it happened. We were busy with three GQ when some MIG pilots liked to watch our reaction to a low pass and then afterburner back across the Yallow.

        • XSANDIEGOCA

          Wonderful!! :)

    • TheSlot1942

      Yeah, and then those “Health and Comfort” inspections started and damn near caused every line officer to get deep-sixed by their crews.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    The single biggest mistake ever made…same old story though, some Prude just has to get his way & enforce Their sense of morality over everyone else…the U.S. military is history…

  • XSANDIEGOCA

    Bring Back the Booze!

  • The_Hitter

    I
    hate teetotalers or any other self righteous types who force their beliefs on
    others. Plus, I like beer.

  • ADM64

    Banning alcohol on ships has worked better than banning fraternization.

  • ChiChiChiba

    While setting the longest continuous period at sea aboard USS Enterprise I saw two steel beach picnics, with allotted beers. On one occasion the festivities were wrecked by a TU95 flyover. The incredible din of counter rotating props flattened beer as well as expectations.

  • Sam Riddle

    Every ship has it’s drunks and they always managed to hide their booze for the impending cruise. One ship I was on they would lock themselves in the armory, I was also shocked to find a few rarities where people also smoked pot in the fan rooms and the uptakes. Another big thing is everyone buying duty free booze coming back from the caribbean.

  • VertRepper

    The biggest problem with the no-alcohol policy wasn’t what Josephus Daniels thought. It was some young sailors going on liberty away from home, hearth, sweeties and beer/mojo/whatever and hitting the liberty ports too hard. Saw it many, many times in WestPac. How many times you’d see sailors who didn’t drink on the ship (yes, there was liquor) “let loose” on their first liberty and sometimes continue for days if they didn’t have duty in port.

    I have always believed that a sane shipboard alcohol policy similar to the Brits and Aussies would have served US Navy better, those who chose to have drink after work/watch would not have been so tempted to go out and binge-drink. Make no mistakes about it, it was binge drinking and there was plenty of trouble to be had because of it.

    We moved a palette of Aussie Beer from a grateful Aussie Destroyer Skipper for helping him out with fresh water and repairs; it went straight to the reefers and wasn’t seen until an all-hands picnic months later.

    As for Hidalgo’s “beer days” had several onboard the supply ships I was on, and the Midway. Gave my beers away, ooops did I say that out loud? LOL!

    • MarkCValdez

      Google is paying 80$ per hour! Work for few hours and have more time with

      friends & family! On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from

      having earned $4151 this last four weeks… Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve

      had. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it

      ——————————————————–

      Here ­­­­­­­­­is ­­­­­­­­­I ­­­­­­­­­started,————,, HuL­­­uJoB.­­­C­­­O­­­M

      —————————————————-

      GO TO THE SITE AND CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND HELP

  • Robert Brough

    Ike (CVN-69) was involved in an eight month deployment to the IO in 1980 in support of the hostage crisis in Iran. We had only one 5 day port visit (Singapore) and it was dubbed the “six pack cruise” because we had THREE beer days – two for each crew member along with a relaxing flight deck barbeque picnic each of those days. It was tightly controlled and great fun was had by all hands. Many watchstanders volunteered to forego their portion. Those special days occured some 45-60 days apart. There may well have been other such deployments since 1980.

  • buzzman1

    French field rat’s have brandy. The Germans deploy with Beer. The Russians deploy with vodka and Hookers. I think I was in the wrong army.

  • USNVO

    I have had numerous discussion of alcohol on ships with British, German, Australian, and Canadian Officers, usually in their Wardroom over a beer. To a man, they were all thankful that they could have a beer onboard, and everyone, to a man, wished they had a dry Navy. The more senior they got, the more they wanted to change but didn’t see any way they could accomplish it.

  • zaza

    HOOP ! Break out the torpedo juice ! ! !

  • jack anderson

    In 1974 I was assigned to be the driver for the CO of a New Zealand ship that was at 32nd St, when I got over there the the Kiwi Captain told me that he was being picked up so I could either go back to my destroyer and stand Quarterdeck watches or hang out with his crew. Great guys, gave me a cools New Zealand Naval shirt and best of all they had a beer machine on the messdecks like we had one for Peps, had a coupla of “Strong” beers, which they certainly were and had a great time.