Spence McCord Drug Co. Brandy

Image Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Image Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Abigail Wollam

Catalog Number: 2019.fic184

You might not believe it, but the image displayed here shows something that is both a medicine and an alcoholic beverage.

Throughout history, alcohol has been used to treat certain medical conditions. This fact was used as a loophole for people to access alcohol during the Prohibition Era.

After Congress enacted the Volstead Act in 1920, the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal in the United States. Prohibition was presented as a cure for societal ills to the public and was motivated by political factors and anti-German sentiment. However, this ban on alcoholic drinks does not mean that alcohol disappeared from society completely. Doctors and pharmacists were allowed to prescribe their patients alcohol to soothe some aliments.

During Prohibition the U.S Treasury Department allowed physicians to write prescriptions for alcohol using government issued prescription forms. Following this, the government also allowed for limited production of whiskey. ‘Medicinal whiskey’ became a popular ‘medicine’ that was prescribed to prevent and counter ailments such as cancer, indigestion and depression.

During Prohibition people figured out ways to access alcohol through bootleggers and speakeasies but the only legal way to get alcohol for personal use was this prescription loophole. Doctors used this loophole as a way to make a few extra dollars during the Prohibition Era. Those willing to pay for the prescription could legally obtain alcoholic beverages.

This jug is from the Spence-McCord Drug Company which operated in La Crosse from 1864 until 1973. Before and after prohibition, the drug company supplied its patients with liquor as medication. The jug’s label reads Stern’s California Brandy, Pure Grape.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 31, 2019.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.