“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
– Mark Twain
During prohibition (1920-1933) whiskey and most other alcoholic drinks were outlawed by the 18th Amendment, which was enforced by the Volstead Act. However, America’s thirsty population employed a myriad of ways to acquire liquor. Some illegal, such as smuggling in booze from Canada or distilling it in their own homes. Others wanted to avoid bathtub gin or white lightning and chose to acquire their alcohol legally. During prohibition the U.S. Treasury Department authorized physicians to write prescriptions for medicinal alcohol. In our collection we have two bottles of prescription whiskey, one of which is still full with the seal unbroken.
The sealed bottle was prescribed to Percival N. Cutler by Kenilworth’s resident physician Dr. Rufus Stolp on August 26th, 1929. Stolp was highly active in the village, having founded the Kenilworth Historical Society. His practice was located on the second floor of the Kenilworth Store and later in his home.
Cutler, who lived at 207 Woodstock Avenue, may have suffered from a variety of ailments. Alcohol was prescribed as a treatment for anemia, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and high blood pressure, among other disorders. A pint of prescription whiskey cost $3 – $4, equal to around $40 today. In 1917 the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a resolution stating that alcohol’s “use in therapeutics as a tonic or stimulant or for food has no scientific value…the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be further discouraged.” However, many doctors ignored the AMA’s statement and issued prescriptions for record amounts of medicinal alcohol, cashing in on their privileged status.
Our empty bottle of Sour Mash Whisky was distilled by Old Hermitage, a brand owned by W.A. Gaines and Company from Frankfort, Kentucky. Gaines erected the Hermitage distillery in 1868 and were the largest producers of sour mash whiskeys in the world. W.A. Gaines and Co.’s involvement in the whiskey industry ended with prohibition in 1933. National Distillers owned the brand until 1987 when it was bought by Jim Beam. Apparently, the prohibition age whiskey still holds up as one reviewer found.
Both bottles are currently featured in the museum. We’ve raised the bar with our newest exhibition, How Can I Help You? Business and Commerce in Kenilworth. Stop on rye and see them soon, they’ll be gone before you know it.