A Drink for New Year’s Eve

Douglas County sheriffs after a raid on an illegal still. Ca. 1922.

New Year’s Eve in the 1920s saw Nebraskans unable to legally include alcohol in their celebrations. Voters in this state had already adopted a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution in 1916, which took effect in May 1917, two years before the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed liquor nationwide. Many were philosophical about the more subdued New Year’s observances under prohibition. The Commoner (Lincoln) on January 1, 1922, said:

“Formerly John Barleycorn reaped his social harvest on the first day of the year. . . . If the Eighteenth Amendment has lessened for some the attractions of New Year’s Day, it has for a still larger multitude decreased the unpleasant reflections that come with the closing days of the year and made it possible for more families to face the future without fear. It will be easier also to keep the new resolutions that this anniversary calls forth.”

As soon as legal drinking ended, however, enterprising bootleggers began selling substitute alcoholic beverages, some made from industrial alcohol and then bottled with fancy labels. A tongue-in-cheek recipe for such a beverage appeared in the Kearney Daily Hub on December 26, 1926. The Hub said:

“Glen A. Brunson, prohibition administrator for Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, today came to the rescue of persons who planned to give the new year a wet welcome Friday night [New Year’s Eve], but were embarrassed in their efforts to get ‘anything’ to drink. Mr. Brunson listed at his office . . . the ingredients for a new year drink that is guaranteed to be as ‘successful’ as most of the other stuff that will be peddled. His formula follows:

“Mix 35 cents worth of denatured alcohol with a pint of varnish, three ounces of glue and a quart of rose water. Shake well and drink heartily. Mr. Brunson suggests that the label read ‘bottled in barn’ instead of the customary ‘bottled in bond.’

“The prohibition chief predicts that the mixture herein described will be selling at $15 to $20 a gallon New Year’s Eve. This will be a simple matter of salesmanship, he points out, after the concoction is put up in nice shiny bottles, with beautiful new counterfeit stamps and labels.”

National prohibition ended in December 1933, and in November 1934 Nebraskans voted to end the state’s constitutional prohibition, paving the way for legal drinking to once again be a part of New Year’s celebrations.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.