June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Beer, the Most Overlooked Invention in History

3 min read
Beer History

What if I told you that the most overlooked invention in history was beer? You would laugh, right? Well, there are those that would argue this point as factual. In 2011, the Discovery Channel released a documentary entitled, “How Beer Saved the World.” This documentary claims that all aspects of civilization evolved because of the invention of beer.

In what ways did beer do this? Here are just a few of the ways…

Beer transformed man from nomadic, hunter-gathers to an agricultural society. Beer was responsible for cuneiform, the first written language. Even math and the basis of economics were created as a result of beer.

Beer History I know that this seems hard to believe, but maybe–just maybe–there is some factual evidence to support these claims. As I watched the documentary, some of the facts revealed astonished me. Skipping all the interesting beer history previous to the establishment of the colonies in the New World–which is worth checking out–the involvement of beer in America’s birth played a crucial role.

Upon the arrival of the Mayflower to the New World, creating beer was a necessity. Coming from Europe, where the water was unclean and often made the drinker sick, the settlers of Plymouth were not willing to take the risk of drinking the New World’s water. The beer that the Mayflower had brought with it ran out and more was needed. Where beer had originally been created from barley or hops, which were sparse in the New World, the settlers of Plymouth colony needed a new source for making beer. The documentary credits the squirrels, because the colonist saw the squirrels with acorns, and acorns turned out to work wonderfully in brewing beer. So for now, acorn beer would suffice.

Are you familiar with our country’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner?

Beer Benjamin Franklin Did you know that it got its tune from a drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven”–which was a tavern sobriety test? 

Ya, I didn’t think so, but it did. 

Other than making man civilized, the main two claims to fame for beer is: 1) making advances in modern medicine, and 2) ending child labor.

In studying beer, scientists learned about living bacteria. If you work in the medical field, on a food line, or just use the restroom, you probably wash your hands, often. In a CDC report, nurses are reported as washing their hands seven (7) times, every hour. Properly using soap and water, a nurse will spend fifty-six (56) minutes of an eight (8) hour shift washing his/her hands. [1] We all know why this is so important, but were you aware that beer is to thank for this germ-killing task?

The other claim to fame for beer, is its invention of the factory. Where most credit the production line to Henry Ford, Dr. Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., professor at the University of Findlay, says otherwise. In 1903, Michael Owens created a machine that automated the production of glass bottles. I am sure you guessed it already, but the main purpose of these glass bottles was for housing beer. Owens’ machines cut labor by 80% and because of this, is predominately responsible for ending child labor, in America.

So, is beer really the most overlooked invention in history? Did it really save the world? The following is a review I snagged off Netflix, and I think it shares the same sentiment that I have.

Did beer save the world? Debatable. Was this film factual but biased & excluding? Certainly. Was it entertaining? Definitely. You have to recognize the dry humor & view this as one angle on history instead of an empirical absolute view. Loved it.

And there we have it. While I doubt most historians will take this Discovery Channel documentary as an absolute, that beer saved the world, it was worth checking out.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/download/hand_hygiene_core.pdf




7 thoughts on “Beer, the Most Overlooked Invention in History

  1. All of your suggestions were very intriguing, but I read this one first because…I just started reading a book called Salt: A World History. Now there is a substance which really does figure into history. It’s amazing what symbolism and traditions are related to salt. The most incredible thing I learned so far: in Welsh tradition, bread and salt were placed on coffins of the dead, then a “professional sin eater” would come in and eat the salt. What? Professional sin eaters?

    1. No doubt salt was a very important invention. I am not very knowledgeable about salt, but I want to say that I read somewhere once that before there were refrigerators, salts helped to preserve meats.

  2. As an avid beer drinker and home brewer, I would heartily agree that beer is a woefully overlooked invention. Beer has food value and allows humans to be hydrated when much of the water supply was not clean. Perhaps beer would get a better reputation if it wasn’t always identified with giant mass market garbage beer (we won’t mention any names, will we, bud light?)

    1. Not a big deal but the Ben Franklin quote is really, “…and wants to see us happy.” Also, despite this witty remark, Ben drank very little beer although he did open a cask of new ale for General Washington when he hosted the general at his home in Philadelphia just before the opening of the Constitutional Convention in May 1787. Ben preferred Madeira and Bordeaux wines. I don’t believe that there’s any record of anybody having seen him under the influence at all. Moderation was, after all, one of Ben’s 13 Virtues!

Comments are closed.