Thursday, July 28, 2016

What did people drink in the 1800s?

Welcome, come on in and sit by the shady oak and have a glass if iced tea.               

So, what did people drink in the 1800s?

Water: But it wasn't always the healthiest. Cholera and typhoid were a danger and many people died from unhealthy water sources. This was a particular problem on the wagon trains headed west where water was scarce.

In the 1840s and 1850s, many of the largest USA cities piped in water from rivers or lakes but it still wasn't treated. Water from springs or wells had a better chance of being safe.

Milk: Before pasteurization, drinking milk was risky unless you owned the cow. Even then, you needed to make sure the cows didn't eat white snakeroot or it could be deadly. This was a real problem in the Ohio valley where the plant grew. It's most notable victim was Abraham Lincoln's mother in 1818. A frontier woman ~ Dr. Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby, learned from a Shawnee woman that the plant was poisonous.
Canned evaporated milk came into production in 1884.

Coffee and Tea: Staples for early Americans thanks to the Dutch and British. The percolator was invented in 1865. So at least, with drinking hot tea and coffee - the water was heated.
Chicory was often used as a coffee substitute. And of course, herbal teas such as dandelion tea. And if you were ailing - a healthy dose of beef tea which was more a broth and was supposed to strengthen the weak and ailing.

Iced tea didn't come about until later in the 1860s and 1870s where it made it's first appearance in cookbooks. It caught on and was served in hotels and railroad stations. It was introduced during the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis and the popularity increased dramatically.

Lemonade was a favorite.

And of course, the saloon staples - whiskey, rye, even champagne. Warm beer. And Sarsaparilla - which in the USA was made from birch oil and sassafras.

Interestingly enough, sodas made it on the scene earlier than I thought. "Soft" drinks were named because they weren't hard liquor.

Dr Pepper was invented in Waco Texas in 1885

and Coca Cola in Atlanta in 1886.

AS the heat of summer pours over you, sit back and enjoy a refreshing drink and think back to the struggles that early Americans had to just get something safe to drink.

Thanks for dropping by, enjoy that tea and keep cool.
You can find more about me and my books on my website.


  1. Fascinating. Isn't is interesting how with todays technology, we still end up with contaminated water.
    Here in Colorado where I live, the 'cowboys' would pick up the milk cows, take them to pasture in the morning, stay with them and bring them back in the evening. There was also a dairy that did well until someone may have doctored the food. It was called the Broadmoor, and the resort hotel where it stands is where that dairly was. Angela

  2. What a fun post, Patricia! :) I did not know Dr Pepper beat Coca Cola on the scene or that it was way back in 1885! I do remember going through a 'house' museum of i inventor and probably knew then, but that was before I write historical romance so it didn't stay in my brain :) Hugs and blessings! Thank you for the information!

  3. Thanks Caryl. Dr Pepper is my favorite. : )

  4. Loved this informative post, Pat. I'm a Dr. Pepper fan so it was very cool learning that bit of history! I also liked learning about sarsparilla. I had always wondered what it was made of--and the reason we call our sodas "soft" drinks. Now I know!