Beer is without question, like Pizza, Madonna, and fast cars,
an icon of modern American culture. That the white working class
American male is stereotypically referred to as "Joe Six-pack" is
but one example of the dominance of beer as lower and middle-
class America's preferred alcoholic beverage. But this was not
always the case. 150 years ago, in the 1840s, hard cider held the
position now held by beer as the preferred alcoholic beverage of
the working class.

    But somehow, by the end of the 19th century and well before
Prohibition, Cider all but  disappeared in the United States.
That hard cider remains popular in all the other outposts of
British culture, that apples are still a major American crop, and
that every other alcoholic drink once popular in America came
back after prohibition make the question of cider's disappearance
all the more perplexing. 

    Order a glass of hard cider in an American bar today, and the
bartender might look at you strangely. The only hard ciders to be
found are relatively expensive English imports like Bulmer's and
Woodpecker's. So foreign has this drink become that most
Americans have never even tasted it. While hard cider remains a
favorite draught beverage at most British pubs and is still
consumed in large quantities in Canada, Australia, and its
country of origin, France, descendants of anglo-culture in the
United States, and only in the United States, no longer know what
hard cider is.

     Had hard cider never been produced in the U.S., for whatever
reason, then this might not seem such an oddity. But what makes
this particularly problematic is that hard cider was not only
widely produced and consumed in the U.S. but held a place of high
esteem on American tables and in American taverns well into the
19th century. Perhaps the height of cider's popularity came in
the election campaign of 1840 when the conservative Whig
candidate, William Harrison, managed to convince a majority of
working class Americans that he was one of them by associating
himself with the symbols of "log cabin and hard cider."

     Numerous anecdotes testify to the popularity of hard cider
as Americans' preferred drink on the farm and in the town from
the colonial period to its demise. Because public sources of
water in unsanitary old England were not fit to drink from, the
colonists at first distrusted the water in the new world, and
their opponents even used the fact that they drank water as a
sign of their obvious desperation. Apple trees for cider
production were among the first fruits planted in the British
colonies. John Hull Brown reports that from the early 18th
century to 1825 even children drank hard cider with breakfast and
dinner. By the 1670s, orchards in New England were producing up
to 500 hogsheads of cider annually in some communities. In 1721,
several villages in New England reported a cider production of
over 3000 barrels a year per village. John Adams drank a tankard
of hard cider every morning. Horace Greeley, looking back at the
early years of the 19th century, recalled that a barrel of hard
cider lasted his family barely a week; anybody dropping in had
his mug filled again and again, "until everybody was about as
full as he could hold....whole families died drunkards and
vagabond paupers from the impetus first given by cider-swilling
in their rural homes." (Demon 21)

      Nor was this a peculiarly New England phenomenon. Cider
appears constantly in the literature and letters of 17th and 18th
century Virginia.  William Byrd's Diary provides ample evidence
that cider was a staple drink on his plantation.  In 1682,
Nicholas Spencer, secretary of the Virginia House of Burgesses,
speculated on the cause of the riots of the past two years: "All
plantations flowing with syder, soe unripe drank by our
licentious inhabitants, that they allow no tyme for its
fermentation but in their braines." Virginia's Shenandoah valley
continues to be a major apple producing region, and yet even
there hard cider is little known today.

    In the one good study of patterns of consumption of alcoholic
beverages in early American culture, W. J. Rorabaugh provides
tables which attempt to catalogue alcohol consumption by
different drinks. His data indicates a dramatic disappearance of
cider as a favored drink in the year 1840 followed by the
beginning of beer as a national beverage.  By his own admission,
however, the table, while it looks authoritative, is based on
guess work from anecdotal and "literary sources." No good hard
data exists. Furthermore, there is ample evidence that beer, for
instance, was consumed along with cider from the colonial period
on, and that cider continued to be consumed along with beer and
other alcoholic drinks well after 1840. Yet Rorabaugh's table
poses the problem sharply. What happened to cider? How can the
almost complete disappearance of a popular cultural artifact be
accounted for? And just what significance does this have for
American cultural studies?

    While tastes in cider and beer may seem frivolous subjects
for serious scholarship, foodways have come to be recognized as
an important element of culture and are a fitting part of the
recent emergence of cultural studies. The disappearance of hard
cider is an oddity that provides important insights into American

       Easy answers to this problem leap quickly to the mind.
Temperance and prohibition were often cited by those to whom we
posed the question. But these movements were directed against all
alcoholic drinks, particularly whiskey and rum, all of which,
except cider, survived to be drunk again. A popular example,
cited in several texts, refers to a farmer who chopped down his
orchard in a fit of Temperance enthusiasm. But this one example
is only one anecdote repeated as if it represented a trend; it
does not provide evidence of a movement, nor does it explain the
continuation of significant apple production in numerous regions
of the country. As long as apples continued to be grown, cider
could have been made. Nor does the mere citing of temperance
answer the particular problems posed by the disappearance of
cider; why should the temperance campaign affect cider so
completely and not beer which is equally alcoholic? Rumors of
apple tree blights and diseases that killed the orchards and
forced people to switch to beer are not backed up by any
evidence. And, again, apple production continued despite whatever
blights may have occurred. To say, as some have, that Americans
simply preferred harder, more alcoholic drinks does not explain
the continuing popularity of beer.

    Perhaps the most often heard theory is that German immigrants
arriving in the 1840s and 1850s brought with them superior
methods of brewing which produced better beers which "just"
tasted better and therefore replaced cider. Why this would happen
in the United States, however, and not in the other British
cultural outposts, or in England, remains a mystery unexplained
by the "just tastes better" theory. Moreover, this ignores
anthropologist Marvin Harris' thesis that taste follows behavior
and does not determine it. We like what we like for reasons of
cost, efficiency, protein requirement, ecology, and hierarchical
social desires. Even religious food prohibitions, argues Harris,
follow and rationalize ecological and social/historical
necessity; religious prohibitions are an effect and not a cause. 

     What we then call "taste" is but a question of familiarity
and habit. Taste is as conditional and as shaped by context as
any other value. To say that beer "just" tastes better is to
imply that there are no external causal factors responsible for
this change in taste. But nothing in our cause and effect
universe "just" happens. There are reasons for change and these
need to be explored. One can readily understand German
immigration and improved beer production as causes for beer's
assuming a much larger share of the beverage market, but why
cider-drinking Americans should immediately give up their
traditional drink  for that of a recent immigrant group remains a
mystery. If anything, one would assume resistance on the part of
older inhabitants to the peculiar symbols of the cultural
preferences of recent immigrants who are often viewed as an alien

     Cider, before we get much further, needs to be defined. For
tax purposes, the U.S. government defines cider as "a  beverage
made from fermented apples of not more than 8% alcohol." The
sweet apple "cider" available at roadside stands in the Fall is,
literally, apple juice, the product of squeezing fresh apples.
The thin, clear liquid sold in the stores as "apple juice" is in
fact apple juice that has been homogenized, pasteurized,
sweetened, filtered, and otherwise processed until almost all of
the flavor, color, and content has been removed. True cider, or
what is sometimes called "Hard Cider" is the result of fermenting
fresh apple juice without the addition of any extra sugar. This
produces an alcoholic beverage of about 5% alcohol, depending on
the sweetness of the apples. Consumed before all the sugar is
fermented, or kept alive by the addition of extra sugar, cider
usually has a slight carbonation. With additional sugar added,
historically in the form of molasses, honey, or maple syrup, the
alcohol content can be brought up from an average 5% to around
10%. Any alcoholic drink over 8% but under 14% is technically a
wine. Much confusion, therefore, still remains in any discussion
of cider. Most people today use the term inappropriately to mean
fresh, unprocessed apple juice. Many who do ferment the juice but
add sugar still call the resulting 10 to 12% alcohol content
"cider" instead of "wine." For the purposes of this paper, the
term "cider" refers to the beverage made from fermented apples 
without any extra sugar having been added.

     The very fact of cider's disappearance also needs to be
clarified. After all, even today, many road side stands will sell
a gallon of cider along with their apple juice. In the last
decade, several small wineries have begun to produce true apple
cider and to market it nationally.  And the English and Canadian
imports still have a loyal if small following. But none of these
are examples of a significant industry or market share. They
remain at best marginal. Rorabaugh's rather dramatic charts also
need some clarification. The drop-off in cider consumption in the
United States does not seem to have been nearly as dramatic as he
implies. Anecdotal evidence in literature and in popular culture
continue to link cider and rural American life even up to the
turn of the century. Currier and Ives produced at least three
paintings which all depict cider making in the late 1800s. There
is, however, in each of these, a element of nostalgia that
suggests that such scenes were indeed a fading part of the
American landscape.

   It is even possible that the best evidence of the popularity
of cider in the early nineteenth century, the Whig's 1840 "Log
Cabin and Hard Cider campaign," owes more to nostalgia than to
the contemporary popularity of cider.  Just as having been born
in a log cabin came to be a symbol of the values associated with
the early republic, so cider seemed also to partake of the flavor
of those earlier times.  The suggestion here is that by 1840,
cider drinking was already fading from the American scene and
hence could be used to evoke an earlier, simpler, and supposedly
more virtuous era.

    What we have then is not the sudden decline in cider drinking
suggested by Rorabaugh but a gradual decline that began early in
the century and took many decades to complete.  The catastrophic
theories presented by a few, such as the possibility of an apple
blight that ruined the orchards and forced every drinking
American to turn to beer, have no verification.  

    Instead of such simple, unicausal answers as an apple blight,
or the temperance movement, we are forced to recognize that the
demise of cider occured for a complex variety of interrelated
reasons. These causes are not merely economic, or political, or
horticultural, or ecological, or social but all of the above. If
anything, they demonstrate the extreme complexity of any attempt
to unravel even the most seemingly innocent of cultural changes.
And they demonstrate that understanding such changes requires an
understanding of the way in which different, seemingly
unconnected cultural factors reinforce one another.

     Among the causes that contributed to the demise of cider in
the United States, without question the Temperance Movement
belongs near the top of the list. From the 1820s onward,
Temperance spread steadily and had significant impact on American
drinking habits. According to Rorabaugh, the United States in the
early years of the century was on a massive drinking binge.
Release from the constraints of a more rigid social order,
anxieties that accompanied the unsettled mobility of life in a
rapidly expanding country, succeeding waves of prosperity and
depression, the availability of cheap alcohol, and a justified
fear of drinking contaminated well water all contributed to this
binge. The Temperance Movement was part of a reaction to what was
perceived to be a growing lack of social discipline. Temperance
advocates feared that drunkenness would destroy the republic. 

    Coupled with this was a perceived threat from recent
immigrant groups. The Irish and the Germans, particularly in the
massive waves of immigration in the 1840s, were seen as threats
to Anglo dominance. Temperance was very much a WASP movement
centered in the Protestant churches geared towards maintaining
the hegemony of WASP institutions. The disintegration of the
family due to alcoholism was seen as  particularly dangerous as
prolific German and Irish immigrants competed for jobs and
political control. Cider, as a traditional English drink, was
much identified not so much as an American drink but as a symbol
of rural WASP culture. The earlier English settlers who drank
cider could be distinguished from the Germans who drank beer and
the Irish who drank both beer and whiskey. When in an effort to
end drunkenness among the WASP majority Temperance advocates
urged their countrymen to refrain from alcoholic beverages, cider
was therefore peculiarly vulnerable. 

    The Cult of Domesticity was also a part of the Temperance
movement. The establishment of the home as a secure haven from
the cultural and economic storms of the early Republic,
separating male and female spheres, was part of the larger
movement to reassert some sort of control over what seemed to be
the disintegration of traditional, WASP values. Women were among
the most active proponents of Temperance citing the damage that
alcoholism did to the family. Temperance literature was colored
with stories of wife beating and child abuse. In their
influential Domestic Economy, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her
sister, Catherine Beecher, who has been called practically the
founder of the Cult of Domesticity, wrote that even such
seemingly "innocent" alcoholic drinks as apple cider have no
place in a Christian home where children might be led into
unwholesome activities. Hence, even those not in danger of
becoming alcoholics or of harming the home were obliged to
observe strict temperance in order not to  set a bad example for
those weaker than they. Cider drinking in the home such as that
which Horace Greeley remembered from his youth had to go.

    Against this decline in alcohol consumption generally among
the temperance-minded WASP majority, German settlers in
Pennsylvania and the mid-West found themselves obliged to produce
their own alcoholic drinks, something they would have done in any
case. Among the technological innovations that the immigrants
brought from Europe was the recent introduction of bottom
fermenting yeasts. Previously, beer made in the United States had
been made with top fermenting yeasts, yeasts that floated on the
top of the wort exposed to air during the brewing process. This
exposed the beer to numerous bacteria and unwanted yeasts which
more often than not produced off flavors or outright spoilage.
Prior to the 1840s, American beer was of fairly poor quality.
With the introduction of bottom fermenting yeasts, these spoilage
problems were overcome. At the same time, waves of German
immigrants provided a ready market for the new and improved
styles of beer. What's more, many of these new immigrants settled
in urban areas.

     Urbanization was an important part of the changes in social
life that lead to the decline of the dominance of cider and the
rise of beer.   The concentration of immigrant Germans,
particularly in Pennsylvania and later around the Great Lakes in
cities like Milwaukee, was one factor that favored beer in the
cities. Another is that cider production has to be done on site
near the orchards or in towns surrounded by orchards. The apples
required are too heavy and bulky to be shipped over great
distances, and without refrigeration they would spoil. Hence,
cider had to be produced from apples at the orchard and then
delivered to urban markets in large wooden barrels. Beer on the
other hand could be brewed right in the middle of the city. The
only ingredients required were barley, which was light and easily
shipped without spoilage, and water, which was plentiful. Thus a
combination of German ethnic preference for their native beer,
the development of bottom fermenting yeasts, and the economics of
cider and beer production all favored beer over cider in the

     Another factor which influenced urban drinking patterns, and
kept the Temperance Movement at bay, were the repeated Cholera
epidemics of the 1830s and 1840s. Polluted water in the cities
was the cause of several extremely serious CHolera epidemics.
Water become as feared in the Urban United States in the middle
of the nineteenth century as it had been in England in the
seventeenth century. Unspoiled alcoholic beverages were known to
be safe from the disease. Not until the beginnings of sanitary
water works in the late 1840s was it safe to follow the
Temperance crusaders cold water army. Milk drinking did not
become widespread in urban areas until later in the century with
the development of railroads and the invention of refrigerated
railroad cars. By then, cider drinking was already a quaint,
peculiarly rural WASP tradition.

     Even among rural WASPs, however, cider drinking remained
largely an Eastern tradition. The five to ten years that it took
for an apple tree to mature to full fruit production made it a
less desirable crop for a mobile population. The rapid expansion
of the frontier westward, often by entrepreneurial settlers who
cleared the land, built a farm, sold it, and then moved on, was
not congenial to the time and stability required for cider
production. Barley, on the other hand, could be grown and
harvested in a single summer. Even further to the West, in the
plains, the winters were too harsh for apple trees, but the flat,
rich prairies were ideal for grain. There was only one Johnny
Appleseed, and his efforts were more symbolic than

     Assuming then a niche for low-alcohol beverages such as
cider and beer, in the competition between them, cider never had
a chance. Even if the Temperance campaign had not seriously
restricted cider drinking in the ethnic WASP community, the
comparative economics of cider and beer production, the relative
ease and cheapness of beer brewing compared to the time and
expense of apple growing, would have favored the growth of beer
over cider. 
     The anthropologist of foodways, Marvin Harris, has developed
what he calls "Optimal Foraging Theory." This states, in essence,
that humans will like those foods which are the easiest and the
cheapest to obtain. Hence, Americans do not eat insects, not
because they taste bad but because the amount of energy required
to gather them is high and the return in protein is relatively
low. Our perception that they "taste Bad" follows their 
undesirability as a source of food. Presumably, if insects in the
new world were slow and fat, our ancestors would have developed
a taste for them.  We can state then that beer became America's
favorite working class drink, not because of any defect in the
taste of cider, but because of the economics of production.

     This still leaves behind the curious question of why cider
consumption disappeared so completely. One would assume that some
remnants of the old habits would persist, just as some people
continue to favor peculiar regional foods or to use hula hoops.
One answer has to do with the identification of cider drinking
with the older WASP values of rural America. Because that ethnic
group was the primary carrier of Temperance, its peculiar favored
beverage, cider, was particularly vulnerable. Beer and rum and
whiskey and wine had consumers outside of the WASP community.
Hence these beverages maintained a market share and were
available after the temperance movement and later after
Prohibition. When later generations of Yankees and other WASPs
did return to drinking low-alcohol beverages, beer was already
cheaply and widely available. Moreover, cider drinking had become
so closely associated with that older rural lifestyle that
although it was rejected by the Temperance crusaders it still 
was perceived as a part of the culture that produced Temperance.
In other words, a younger generation in rebellion against the
teetotaling habits of its parents rejected those things which
smacked of that quaint old Currier and Ives culture. What little
commercial cider production still existed in the United States by
the turn of the century seems to have been done in completely by
Prohibition in the 1920s. When prohibition ended in the 1930s,
there was neither the desire nor the means to resuscitate the
cider industry.

     Another curious factor seems to have been added to the
mystery early in the century, however. Evidence exists that the
beer industry, keeping a wary eye on its once formidable rival,
perhaps aware of the fact that cider continued to rival beer
consumption in England and Canada, bought up what little remained
of the cider industry.  And as if this wasn't enough, in the
Federal alcohol regulations of 19??, for unexplained reasons,
cider was expressly prohibited for sale if it contained any added
preservatives. What made this suspiciously noteworthy is that
wine and beer were not subject to the same restrictions. They
could continue to be sold across state lines even though they
contained sulfites and other preservatives. Only cider was so
restricted. The result, of course,  was to forestall the
redevelopment of any cider industry. This explains why today
cider can be sold at farm stands but that there is only a tiny
cider industry which is just now trying to become national. It is
hard to avoid the conclusion that the beer industry did its part
to make sure that cider would never again become America's
favorite low alcohol drink. 

   Last but perhaps not least, in addition to the attack on
cider from the beer industry at the turn of the century, soft
drinks, notably coca-cola, seem to have been marketed for exactly
the niche once filled by cider. The slight degree of stimulant
promised by the cocaine with which Coca-cola was first produced
and the effervescence both imitate aspects of cider. In 1896, an
editorial in the New York Times even made this comparison
explicit calling on American workers to switch from debilitating
alcoholic refresheners like cider and to try the new cola

    Thus, the temperance movement remains as a major culprit
responsible for the decline of cider consumption in the U.S., but
the association of cider with rural WASP culture was the added
factor which distinguishes cider from beer or wine. Add to this
the economics of beer production, growing urbanization, German
immigration, a predatory beer industry, and a substitute drink in
coca-cola, and there seems to be enough factors working together
to explain why and how cider so completely disappeared.