Sunday, October 26, 2008

Prohibition Poster - Fact or Fiction?

I am always behind the times when it comes to the almost weekly regular blog carnivals and missed the 58th edition called "Fact or Fiction". But when I came across this e-mail from a friend yesterday I figured some of you readers will get a kick out of it. It reads:

Comment: If you were around in 1919 (just before prohibition started) and came upon the following poster ...

Would you quit drinking?

So I wanted to find out if it was a spoof or a real poster (which I didn't believe it was). I typed in 'prohibition poster' in Google and the first hit was a forum page discussing this poster. You can follow the discussion (and some of the snide remarks) here.

I followed some of the links and found out this photo was listed by the National Park Service archives as "Caption: Movie Still, "Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch Ours." in the Black Maria; Unknown Date; {23.430/25} (jpg)." That looked interesting. So I tried to find out what the movie Black Maria was about and at first tried to search IMDB but came up with 3 foreign films that obviously didn't match. Then I found the entry to Thomas Edison's Black Maria studio on Wikipedia.

So this dates the picture back to 1893-1901 when the studio was in operation. But the 18th amendment was passed in 1919. So that didn't make sense to me until I read a little more about the prohibition movement and found out it started in the mid 1800's. Now it all makes sense.

Still, this is a very progressive, satirical way to fight prohibition almost a century ago. When I scan through century-old census enumerations and see mostly farmers and day laborers I tend to forget that other parts of the US were thriving with cultural and "modern" occupations. A movie studio making a spoof on prohibition never really crossed my mind!

One last tidbit about the poster. The words on the poster are from the name of a song that was received at the Library of Congress on May 11, 1900, but was created in 1874 and published in San Francisco:

LOC has 34 entries under 'temperance' for these kinds of songs. So it was a legitimate phrase from the temperance movement. The LOC listing comes complete with sheet music too. So all you musicians out there can download and play it.

Even a funny e-mail spoof can lead you down an educational historical sleuthing adventure. I hope you enjoyed it.


  1. Interesting post, Abba-Dad. It's fun to see how bits of history come together into a story. Thanks for researching it!

  2. According to the Thomas Edison National Historic Park Archives, this is a still from an Edison motion picture produced around 1910. They do not know the title of this film. The caption information is incorrect -- this photograph was not taken in the Black Maria, an experimental motion picture studio constructed by Edison in the 1890s. The original Black Maria was dismantled in 1903.

    I contacted them directly, since I was trying to locate information about this image, and had done some of the same research you had.

    Andrea V. Grimes
    Special Collection Librarian
    Book Arts & Special Collections
    San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102

  3. I was searching as you did and found this picture from the Calais Womens Temperance Society :
    According to the dresses and hats the photography with the "Lips that touch liquor..." is not a 1919 picture, but rather a group picture from the same period as the picnic photography from Calais (Maine) : circa 1890.
    And looging close to some of the ladies, I am almost wondering if they are not the same group!
    And for the words in the poster I have found this extensive source :
    So the words that inspired the ladies come from a poem from George W. Young.
    I quote the fresnostate site :
    "EARLIEST DATE: 1878 (The Speaker's Garland #4, according to Gardner; supposedly writen c. 1870). According to Gardner, the first "Lips That Touch Liquor" was by George E. Young; it is the version that has been found in tradition. This inspired a temperance crusader by the name of Harriet E. Glazebrook to compose a sort of parody which begins "Alice Lee stood awaiting her lover one night." In it, Lee convinces her lover to give up drink. This version does not seem to have gone into tradition, but Gardner's notes seem to imply that it is more popular as a poem." Here is the poem :

    Lips That Touch Liquor

    by George W. Young

    You are coming to woo me, but not as of yore,
    When I hastened to welcome your ring at the door;
    For I trusted that he who stood waiting me then,
    Was the brightest, the truest, the noblest of men,
    Your lips, on my own, when they printed "Farewell,"
    Had never been soiled by the "beverage of hell;"
    But they come to me now with the bacchanal sign,
    And the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine."

  4. For the entire poems (the original from George W. Young and the one from Harriet E. Glazebrook) you can search in google books "Famous Poems from Bygone Days" and found them around page 70.

  5. The Temperance movement continues today and is the origin of Blue Laws, DUI/DWI, the modern War on Drugs and the Criminal Justice system. The main focus of this movement was "Quality of Life" issues, now enforced by Public Safety Health Laws mainly as a tool for employment discrimination purposes, just as it is used today. It is also the origin of taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling winnings, called a "Sin Tax" and is why Las Vegas is called "Sin City." South Carolina is one the few states that continues to implement Prohibition Law.

    Source: Inciardi,James A. "Criminal Justice" 7th Edition. 2007

  6. I'm pretty certain this wasn't Edison's movie studio making a spoof on proof on prohibition for two reasons:
    1) Edison was a prohibitionist:

    2) I'm pretty sure that's Carrie A. Nation on the left, pointing at the sign:

    1. Le French AncapistaniMay 11, 2022 at 10:43 PM

      That looks nothing like Carrie A. Nation.

  7. Wow! The doors just keep opening.

    Enjoyed this bit of history. Thanks.

  8. William VietinghoffApril 24, 2016 at 12:16 AM

    The way I heard the phrase was"

    "Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine. My lips? No, my liquor!"

  9. After seeing this poster years ago, I'm so happy to have stumbled on this post, thank you all!