A Footnote to Pauly (1994): Yandell Henderson’s Lusitania Letters

Phil Pauly, 2007

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the late Philip J. Pauly’s (1) 1994 paper on the unlikely story of Yandell Henderson’s role in bringing about the legalization of 3.2% beer in the U.S. in April, 1933 — eight months before Repeal’s ratification in December, 1933 — then you have a real treat in store.  Pauly’s paper showed how Henderson, a Yale physiologist, and incidentally someone with no previous background in alcohol studies, managed to persuade U.S. Senate and House committees that low alcohol content beer did not meet the 18th Amendment’s standard for an “intoxicating liquor.”

In addition to providing Prohibition-weary legislators with a partial escape from the 18th’s increasingly unpopular reign, Henderson’s rhetorical success also sprang from a number of his personal attributes.  He was an adept scientific showman, he enjoyed the limelight, he knew how to pitch arguments effectively to a nonscientific audience, and, perhaps most important of all, he liked a good fight.  Henderson’s Laboratory of Applied Physiology at Yale would become — less than a decade after Repeal and under his successor as the lab’s director, Howard W. Haggard – the home of both the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies and the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, two key institutions in the rise of a post-Repeal mainstream alcohol science establishment in the U.S.  Pauly’s account of how expediency drove Congress’s favorable embrace of Henderson’s pronouncements also represents a dramatic case study in self-serving selectiveness and baldly dubious scientific assertions stemming from the interface between science and policy. In what follows, I’ve added merely a footnote to Pauly’s paper, offering further evidence of Henderson’s gladiatorial  contrarian inclinations with respect to hot political issues.

In the U.S. in the pre-World War I period, the anti-beer layer of temperance movement rhetoric was fueled a growing wave of anti-German sentiment.  Many of the nation’s major brewers had German company names and German-American chief executives.  World War I began in Europe in July 1914.  Thereafter, a series of aggressive events – including attacks on U.S. merchant ships by German submarines, the sinking of the Lusitania, and, finally, British intelligence’s interception of the Zimmerman Telegram – led the U.S. to declare war on April 6, 1917.

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