Finally, the end of the day. 5 o’clock.
It’s probably the last thing on your mind whenever you walk in to a bar to enjoy half-priced cocktails and cheap drafts.
After all, you made it through the work day, and now this is your reward. This is what you’ve earned after a long day of meetings, phone calls and spreadsheets.
There’s a margarita or a dirty martini with your name on it, and no one is going to stop you from getting it. Enjoy.
But, haven’t you ever wondered why happy hour exists, or where it came from? Turns out, the answer is surprising.
The origin of happy hour has nothing to do with cheap drinks after work and everything to do with war.
A Birth at Sea
The phrase “Happy Hour” was first used on naval ships in the early 19th century. It was code for a time of day in which naval soldiers in the U.S. Navy would gather around and compete in wrestling or boxing matches.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the Prohibition Era that the term became associated with drinking in general.
After the 18th Amendment went into effect, the sale or consumption of alcohol became illegal in the United States. The legal measure was voted for by the American electorate after a brutal campaign waged by “the Drys,” who tied drinking to all of society’s ills and problems.
It wasn’t long before contraband drinking really caught on. The so-called “Wets” gathered and huddled in small dark clubs where the phrase “happy hour” became synonymous with a small period of time allocated to smuggling and partaking in alcoholic contraband.
13 years after Prohibition was passed, the American public voted to put an end to the ban due to its unintended consequence of increased crime rates.
By the end of World War II, the phrase had become so well-known that bars during the “Mad Men” era quickly used it as a marketing tactic.
Bars began to advertise drinking specials as “Happy Hour” deals starting mostly in the mid-sixties. The culture of this era, where most workers went from blue-collar jobs to white-collar jobs, fit well with the practice of post-work drinks at a nice bar.
Bars quickly recognized this trend of 5pm and 6pm rushes and began to compete with one another for larger crowds. Hence, the official Happy Hour was born.
Day drinking became even more popular with the highly competitive nature of the Mad Men era, where high-end executives often partook in martinis during lunch or whiskey at meetings.
This explosion in day-drinking culture quickly ended because of harsh economic times and a hard push against drunk-driving.
The economic downturn of the 70’s and early 80’s changed the cultures of many companies from the boards on down. CEO’s and executives who were sober and clear-of-mind were preferred over socialites and heavy drinkers.
Drunk driving opponents made the argument that Happy Hour specials increased incidents of DOI during work-to-home commutes.
The result was a ban on reduced-priced drinks in a handful of states.
Today, with the advent of Uber and other ride-sharing options as well as public transportation, Happy Hour is making a comeback. Gen X’ers and Millennials support post-work drinking by very wide margins, and it looks like the pendulum is swinging back to a more liberal view of alcohol.
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