The Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute, home of the soft drink long identified with Waco’s teetotaling Baylor Baptists, hosts a look at the years when liquor was outlawed nationally in the exhibit “Spirited: Prohibition, Temperance and Soda Pop.”
And, in a sign of a changing Waco that earlier generations of sober Baptists might shake their head over, the exhibit’s opening night reception not only will feature cocktails featuring both Dr Pepper and Balcones Distilling whiskey, but tours of the Waco distillery that has won international attention.
Based on the larger exhibition “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” organized by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, “Spirited” comes to Waco through the Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Humanities’s NEH on the Road initiative.
It’s been supplemented with material produced by the museum’s assistant director Joy Summar-Smith and collections manager Rachael Nadeau Johnson, who’ve added displays on advertising responses from Dr Pepper, IBC Root Beer and Canada Dry; the Texas Rangers, who both destroyed home stills and fought tequila smuggling on the border; and Waco’s Texas Guinan, one of New York City’s more flamboyant speakeasy operators during the Prohibition years.
Friday’s grand opening will feature such cocktails as a Dr Pepper Old Fashioned, a Dr Hot Toddy and Tom Collins; other Keurig Dr Pepper soft drinks; food catered by Rio Brazos; and music from the Waco Ukelele Orchestra.
Keurig Dr Pepper’s Adrian Sepcic, senior manager of Product Development Innovation Research, will join Balcones Distilling’s head distiller Jared Himstedt and Audrey Ladd, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame’s education programs manager, to talk about the Prohibition years and answer questions.
The Waco History podcast, with hosts Stephen Sloan and Randy Lane, will go live with Prohibition historian Joe Coker of Baylor’s religion department, and Balcones Distilling’s Andrew Anderson. Reception tickets are $30 and limited to those 21 and older.
“Spirited” comes to Waco on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition, when the 18th Amendment took effect on Jan. 17, 1920.
The culmination of decades of organization and lobbying by temperance forces, the amendment banned the sale of drinking alcohol — with certain exceptions for religious and medicinal uses — across the nation.
Thirteen years later, national sentiment had changed and the amendment was repealed, but not before the era had impacted both American history and culture.
Summar-Smith said during Prohibition Dr Pepper marketed itself as a healthy drink (“a painless prohibition for the over plump”) available at pharmacies, not saloons, and as a social alternative to alcoholic drinks.
Other exhibits showed how distilleries and breweries coped with the loss of their alcohol-driven business, with some breweries shifting to root beers and distilleries producing products like “medicinal rye whiskey,” for which a buyer needed a special time-limited prescription. Prohibition also proved a second opportunity for the pasteurized grape juice that Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch had created some 50 years earlier — yes, that Welch’s Grape Juice — as an alternative to alcoholic communion wine.
Coker, a senior lecturer in Baylor’s religion department, said the common misperception was that Prohibition was forced on the public by a “puritanical,” largely Protestant followers in the South. In reality, the anti-liquor temperance movement enjoyed support across the country, including political conservatives and progressives. The latter saw restrictions on alcohol as a way to curb social problems such as poverty exacerbated by a wage earner’s drinking, he said.
Even with the repeal of the 18th amendment in 1933, the effect of Prohibition lingered for decades in state and county laws restricting alcohol sales and in lower national consumption. “Prohibition made a significant cultural change in how we approach alcohol,” Summar-Smith noted.