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“The ’Right’ To Sell” vs. “The Sanctuary of Christian Homes”: Proposed Legislation to Limit Liquor Advertising

Organized temperance movements have been part of the American political landscape since the early 19th century. Reform groups, dominated at various times by clergy, social elites, workingmen, and clubwomen, tried alternately to convince individuals to take a pledge against drinking alcohol, to promote drinking only in moderation, and to enact laws prohibiting the production and sale of liquor. Prior to the ratification in 1919 of the 18th Amendment banning liquor nationwide, two-thirds of the states had passed similar legislation. After rampant noncompliance with the Amendment led to its repeal in 1933, anti-liquor advocates focused protests against liquor advertising on the radio. While the Federal Communications Commission did not have the authority to ban liquor ads, their threats to hold license renewal hearings for offending stations induced broadcasters to self-impose a ban. Similarly, in 1948, the television industry voluntarily decided to restrict alcoholic beverage advertising to beer and wine commercials. Congress, nevertheless, proposed legislation in the 1950s to prohibit all liquor ads from radio, TV, and in interstate commerce. In the following testimony, an attorney for an advertising association argued that a proposed House bill would interfere with the “right to sell,” while a police sergeant and member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union contended in a Senate hearing that children should be protected from televised liquor ads in their homes. No legislation was enacted, and in November 1996 due to a sharp decrease in sales of hard liquor, the Distilled Spirits Council voted to allow advertising of its products on TV. In December 2001, NBC became the first network since 1948 to broadcast hard liquor ads.



This statement is made on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers in opposition to H.R. 4627.

The association takes no position either for or against the sale of alcoholic beverages as such.

Its opposition to the bill is based upon the fundamental principle that honest and proper advertising of a lawful commodity should not and cannot be subjected to censorial blackout. The association’s opposition to legislation of that type would be just as vigorous if tobacco, pharmaceuticals, or automobiles were involved instead of alcoholic beverages.

The association is a nonprofit membership corporation of the State of New York, with more than 540 member companies, representing a full cross-section of American industry, whose common interest is the promotion through advertising of the sale and distribution of services and manufactured goods in interstate and foreign commerce. Its members include 18 distilleries, 13 brewing companies, and 4 vintners. Thus only 6 percent of its membership is directly concerned with alcoholic beverages as such. If the association had no such members, its opposition to H.R. 4627 would be just as intense.

To the extent that H.R. 4627 is based upon a feeling that sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages is against the national public policy, it is counter to and in derogation of the national will as expressed in the Federal Constitution

When the people of the United States enacted the 21st amendment, they expressed as their will that, insofar as the Federal establishment is concerned, there is no public policy against the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Stated in the form of a constitutional amendment, that mandate is superior to other forms of governmental decree. The right of Congress to undermine it is dubious. The moral obligation of Congress not to do so is clear.

The ability (and hence—for practical purposes—the right) to sell alcoholic beverages in interstate commerce is closely allied to use of advertising. To say that a manufacturer has the right to sell a product but may not advertise it is—in a realistic sense—a revocation of his supposed right. The “right” to sell is rendered illusory if the means by which sales can be made are forbidden.

A proposal that Congress ban liquor salesmen from traveling from one State to another, or from using interstate telephone lines to solicit orders, would be looked upon as an absurdity. Yet advertising is but another method of selling or soliciting orders. Personally transmitted or mechanically transmitted sales messages and solicitations are but different versions of the same tool, used toward the same objective.


Senator PAYNE. Will you have a seat, Mrs. Whyte. Do you have a prepared statement or do you wish to proceed in your own way?

Mrs. WHYTE. I wish to read.

The CHAIRMAN. That is perfectly all right.

Mrs. WHYTE. I am Violet Hill Whyte, a special representative of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Sergeant of Police Women, Baltimore City, Md. I refer to the Langer bill S. 923 and I will speak on the topic, “The Effect of Alcoholic Beverage Advertising on Children and Youth.”

Recently a mother and her little daughter of 6 years were relaxing and watching the evening TV show in the quiet and dignity of their own home. Suddenly the child inquired of her mother: “Mommy, when will I be old enough to try some of that beer?” The mother answered with a question: “Why do you want to try it?” "Well,“ replied the child, ”our TV says its good for you, and I think it peps you up. Does it, Mommy?"

Today alcoholic beverage advertising comes into the sanctuary of our homes. Over the TV, through the medium of radio, as we turn the pages of our daily papers, as we read magazines, each child in the family is thus contacted, influenced, and exposed to false values. America’s future depends upon the kind of custodial care, supervision, and maintenance we give our children.

Here I pause to charge alcoholic beverage advertising with invading the sanctuary of Christian homes, and after gaining entry, with contributing to the unrest, with false stimulation to little children and to the weakening of certain moral fiber so necessary in the correct rearing of little children and youth.

Good sound care includes the finest in training and the protection from elements, conditions, and influences that may cause injury to health or morals. Alcoholic beverage advertising, through its humorous, artistic, educational, and stimulating appeals, very definitely causes children to learn rapidly. They learn: What shall I drink? “It’s smooth, it’s exhilarating, it’s smart, it’s safe, it’s sure, it’s healthy, it’s pleasant, it’s beautiful, it’s satisfying.”

Discriminating intelligent parents have taught and are continuously teaching little children that “milk, water, cocoa, fruit juices, are good for you because they are smooth, exhilarating, smart, safe, sure, healthy, pleasant, beautiful, satisfying, they are good, so good for children and youth.” "See,“ parents say, ”In this pretty glass, from this attractive cup, use this colored straw, have this dainty napkin, drink it all. This will make you grow in mind and body.“ With the average child of about 3 years of age, certain definite emotional changes cause a question—if you will, a question of authority. This child wants to assert his personality. He makes an attempt at real vital decisions, even at 3, and he reasons: ”What do I want, what do I like?" Our children see and they believe. They heard and they believe. And then they evaluate.

Here, alcoholic beverage advertising becomes strong, effective, educational, a real tool in the minds of our precious American children. Is it small wonder that confusion at times causes real rebellion and asserts itself in children and youth? Then we label them as delinquent or perhaps predelinquent. Children ponder the questions we ourselves permit to be raised: Which is best for me to drink, they wonder. Is it really stimulating, what the TV says, or is Mommy right? Is it glorious and beautiful and safe and satisfying and sure to drink the things that TV advertises or the radio says?

Children should be reared in decent healthy Christian homes, where confidence, friendship, patience, understanding, control, aggressiveness, honesty, alertness, and sobriety exist. Yes, these all should be encouraged to correctly raise little children. Are our homes safe places to raise our children in these days? Yes, if we adhere to true American principles such as I have already expressed, but no, if we permit alcoholic beverage advertising to enter and seep through the sanctuary of our homes, thereby confusing the progressive thinking of our boys and girls.

Millions of little children today ask: “Mommy, when will I be old enough to try some of that beer?” or, as the case may be “wine.” Mommy should reply by actually agitating for a cessation of alcoholic beverage advertising. She should reply by educating in the direction of and for safe, sane, refreshing, stimulating, healthy drinks, and then if need be, by urging legislation to protect our children and youth.

“Mommy, when will I be old enough to try what the TV, what the radio, what the daily paper, what the magazine says is stimulating and good for me?”

The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mrs. Whyte.

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Advertising of Alcoholic Beverages, 84th Cong., 2d Sess. February 16–17, 1956 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1956); Congress, Senate, Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Liquor Advertising, 84th Cong., 2d Sess., February 15–17, 1956 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1956).

See Also:Air Waves "are in the Public Domain": Public Television Advocacy in the 1950s
"The Shadow of Incipient Censorship": The Creation of the Television Code of 1952