Domesticating Drink: Refashioning Beer and Social Drinking in 1940s and 1950s America

Lisa Jacobson

This paper examines how new fashions in alcohol consumption were created, contested, and legitimized in the 1940s and 1950s. It focuses on the U.S. beer industry, which had seen significant consumption gains during World War II but still struggled to broaden beer's appeal to middle-class consumers. Less than half of beer drinkers considered it "suitable" for home entertaining. To broaden beer markets, the brewers' trade association funded a twelve-year magazine advertising campaign that promoted beer as a beverage of moderation and linked beer to fantasies nurtured by the deprivations of war and the dislocations of postwar suburbanization: fantasies of consumer abundance, a glamorized and sexualized domesticity, and neighborliness. By appealing to such aspirations, brewers further weakened beer's association with the raucous masculinity of the saloon and repositioned beer as a revitalizing adjunct to marital happiness and home-centered recreation. Players outside the fashion system—the dry activists who pressed for a nationwide ban on alcohol advertising and the alcoholism experts who weighed in as arbiters of problem drinking—both eased and complicated brewers' quest for larger markets. By examining the tensions and synergies between alcohol producers, tastemakers, and alcoholism experts, my paper illustrates how commerce, culture, and politics interacted to legitimize new drinking fashions.