“Wait, if I’m not on this list, then it’s clearly bullshit.”
~Every AFFotD staff member
Alcohol is a lot like sex—90% of the population really enjoys it, and they’re all kinda made uncomfortable by the 10% that doesn’t. We at America Fun Fact of the Day make it our mission to celebrate alcohol and the Americans who drink it. For example, everyone reading this has consumed alcohol at some point within the past week—we managed to make a teetotaler firewall that automatically directs people that don’t drink to the google image results page for the search “third degree burn + penis.”
We of course celebrate alcohol in its many incarnations here, as well as the great consumers of alcohol. Naturally, America is a great nation of great drinkers, and trying to find, say, the ten best drinkers in American history would be a foolish act of hubris, almost offensive to the very same Americans you are attempting to tribute. So let’s list the ten greatest drinkers in American history.
The 10 Greatest Drinkers in American History
What makes an American drinker truly great? Is it a great man who happens to drink? Or is it a man who drinks in such a way as to make people go, “Holy hell, AFFotD, you really shouldn’t celebrate this kind of reckless drinki-ow, stop it, why are you flicking my ear repeatedly, that’s extremely irritating”? Well, in our minds, it’s that rare combination of both. Someone who can smash a home run, or create a classic, enduring piece of art or literature, or who can bravely lead the nation, all while being drunk enough that their children are born with a genetically induced buzz.
Below are ten of those celebrated heroes. Find them listed below arbitrarily, because it seems wrong to try to rank which one of these greats was better than the other, and also because we’re kinda drunk so we’re going about this fairly haphazardly.
Given that only one currently-living American made our list, you might be surprised to see Wade Boggs take this slot, unless you remember Boggs’ own AFFotD article from a few years back. Boggs was born in 1958 in Omaha, Nebraska, which, due to its association with Boggs, is now most commonly referred to as “Miller Lite Presents: Omaha, Nebraska.” He managed to play for eighteen years as one of the best pure hitting baseball players in recent MLB history, with 3,010 hits, 1,014 RBI’s and 20,000 cases of Miller Lite consumed.
Yes, while his beer tastes could politely be described as, “We get it, you got drafted out of high school and didn’t drink in college, so your taste for beer atrophied,” his ability to put them away is simply Herculean. Namely, he makes this list because he once downed 64 beers during a cross country flight. This is going to be a short entry, because you should really just be re-reading that last sentence until it accounts for about 3 paragraphs worth of reading, because that’s the most American goddamn thing imaginable.
He’s since publicly shied away from that figure (not wanting to tick off groups that “complain about alcohol abuse” and “aren’t fun to hang out with” and “might actually be Chinese dissidents?”) while coyly implying that, yeah, the story is definitely true by saying things like, “Put it this way, uh, it was a few Miller Lites.”
And there are just a few American heroes, Wade. We see you.
Ulysses S. Grant
Many American Presidents have been known for liking a drink or seventeen to help take the edge off from that whole “running the free world” thing, but few could claim to be as great at it as Ulysses S. Grant, who literally drank his worries away, and then made life-or-death decisions while totally smashed. That’s not an exaggeration—he spent much of his time leading the Union army during the Civil War while completely shithammer drunk. When Grant saw overwhelming odds, or a situation where most Generals would proceed cautiously, he’d just drink a carefully measured amount of alcohol (a unit referred to as “all the brandy ever”) until he got drunk enough to “brush aside caution” and save America through the power of alcoholism.
To put this in modern day perspective, that’d be like going out to an out of the way bar with a friend who has a car. On the way out, he drives horrendously, like a total idiot. And then, to your abject horror, he starts downing shots in a manner that’s less “getting in the party mood” and more “this man has some demons, and he’s running away from them as fast as possible.” And when you demand that he hand over his keys, or at least let you taxi home, he shoves you in the car, locks the door, and speeds off… and drives flawlessly on the way back. Ulysses S. Grant did that, regularly, only instead of “the lives of three drunk guys who should find a better friend to be a designated driver” being at stake, it was hundreds of thousands of lives.
Our lawyers are screaming at us right now to say something like “tell the readers they shouldn’t drink and drive, goddamn it, for the love of God” so um, we guess, you shouldn’t drink and drive. Unless you’re Ulysses S. Grant, in which case, that’s the only way you should drive.
You probably remember Frank Sinatra as that guy whose face was embroidered on the pillow your grandma once made, or maybe you might recall him from that one time he had a stage show with an African American Jewish fellow. Well, he’s also one of the most iconic and bestselling entertainers in American history, winner of eleven Grammys, an Oscar, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and if you had a grandmother or great aunt who visited Las Vegas in the 60’s or 70’s, well congratulations, you’re related to someone who has had sex with Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra also was one of the great American drinkers of all time, a man who drank Jack Daniels with such regularity that Jack Daniels actually decided to use his name as a ploy to charge $175 bucks for a $40 quality whiskey honor him by selling Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, which of course would have pissed off Sinatra because it’s overpriced and pretentious, while Sinatra began downing the then-little-known Tennessee whiskey because of its humble, no-nonsense approach to getting you smashed. That said, he loved Jack Daniels so much he was buried with a bottle of it (as well as a pack of Camel cigarettes). If you think about it, Sinatra burying himself with a bottle of booze is a lot like the Egyptian Pharaohs of old, only instead of filling their tomb with jars of their organs for use in the afterlife, he had bottles of booze to destroy his organs in the afterlife.
We can only salute a man who managed to make it to 82 while consistently polishing off a bottle of Jack Daniels over the course of a night while saying words of wisdom such as, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” Our lawyers are informing us that we should probably say something like “drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels in a night and then bragging about it is irresponsible” but first of all, shut up law men why did we even hire you in the first place? Oh right, the libel suits. And secondly, don’t listen to them, they’re just cranky ‘cause they’re really hungover. They were out last night, taking out a bottle of whiskey, so this section probably is hitting them a little too close to home at the moment. No matter. On to the next drunk!
If you haven’t heard of Jerry Thomas before now, you clearly didn’t read our fun fact about him from three years ago. For shame, because not only was Jerry Thomas one of the greatest drinkers in American history, he’s expressly responsible for most of the best drinks that America has ever created. His Bartender’s Guide was one of the first ever cocktail recipe books, and he is known as the “father of American mixology.” Born in 1830, he was the first person to prove that bartending can involve both creativity in drink creation as well as showmanship in its preparation, the former trait is the reason why you can get elaborate and delicious cocktails at thousands of bars and speakeasies throughout the nation, and the latter trait is the reason why Tom Cruise got that girl pregnant in Cocktail.
He published the first written recipes of the Brandy Daisy, Fizz, Flip, Sours, and Punches (the earliest form of mixed drinks), the Tom Collins, and his recipe for the Martinez is largely viewed as the precursor to the Martini. Basically, if you’ve ever paid thirteen bucks for a highball glass with three different boozes in it that you justify the purchase of because of how impossibly strong it is, you can thank Jerry Thomas. And if you’re more used to getting whiskey diets at the nearest bar that’s serving $3 you-call-its on a Monday night…well, you know what, we respect the hell out of that, that’s economical as shit, but you still probably should thank Jerry Thomas, since he was the first person to even think about mixing alcohol with mixers in the name of leisurely getting drunk without having to chug rocket fuel.
Oh, and his most famous drink was called the Blue Blazer, which he made by lighting whiskey on fire and pouring the fire back and forth between two glasses, because the only way to make booze better is to set it on fire and play with it in a crowded room made out of wood. Jerry Thomas was a goddamn lunatic hero.
We’ve also covered Jack Kerouac in these hallowed halls (actually, all but a handful of the people on this list have their own fun facts already) but Kerouac made a name for himself by writing his life stories down as fast as he could and changing the name after the fact. His endearing cultural legacy rests in On the Road, and the generations of kids who decided that On The Road is their favorite books because, like, you know, damn the man, you know? Really, it’s just a story of Kerouac and his friend driving from the East Coast, to the West Coast, to Mexico, to the East Coast, while getting really drunk, really high, and hitting on as many girls as possible while listening to jazz.
And hey, we can totally get behind that. Kerouac’s drinking was legendary in its own right, but we really have to admire a man who spent much of his literary career describing getting sloshed. Yes, there are books worth of interpretations of the various cultural importance and philosophical merit behind his writing, but this is a website that jokes about vodka enemas, not the goddamn New Yorker. Plus, he wrote in On the Road about how he “drank sixty glasses of beer and retired to the toilet, where [he] wrapped [him]self around the toilet bowl and went to sleep” which, interestingly enough, is how many of our staffers end up falling asleep on most Wednesdays.
Babe Ruth was one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game, and he managed to accomplish that while treating his body like a group of stoned teens figuring out how various chemicals and foods will affect the behavior of a stray dog. He was a professional baseball player of iconic stature, and in the film version of his early life, he was played by John Goodman. Think on that for a second. Naturally, Ruth drank like a fish and smoked cigars to such a degree that we’re going to add some unnecessary asides here to put a little distance between ourselves saying that and us pointing out that he was a fairly prolific womanizer as well. He is third on the all-time home run list, having hit 714 home runs throughout his career, but he holds the record of “most home runs hit with at least a little bit of a buzz on” by a whopping 600 dingers (Wade Boggs only hit 118 in his career, so).
It’s easy to forget that a lot of Ruth’s prime happened during Prohibition. That isn’t our way of saying, “well, since he wasn’t drinking during the 20’s that probably helped him stay sober, and helped him perform at a high level.” Quite the opposite. That’s our way of saying, “He managed to get himself smashed, on the regular, when it was illegal to do so, and then he’d wake up, nurse his hangover, and crush some home runs.” What a goddamn pro.
Charles Bukowski is so synonymous with epic drinking that it’s honestly a little bit of a surprise that there’s not a “booze” subsection on his Wikipedia page (though the introduction section lists alcohol just behind ‘the lives of poor Americans’ and ‘the act of writing’ in his list of writing topics). Bukowski was born in Germany (booooo) after a sergeant in the US Army knocked up the sister of one of his German friends (hell yeah!), eventually moving back to America when Bukowski was about three years old (yayyy!). He spent most of his life in Los Angeles, a city which was featured prominently in much of his writing, but nothing, possibly not even the concept of verbs in the English language, played a larger role in his prose than alcohol.
Reading Charles Bukowski write about alcohol is like reading an essay entitled, “Why Star Wars is the very best movie ever” written by George Lucas. While we’re not exactly objective when we describe the wonders of alcohol, Charles Bukowski makes us sound like members of the temperance movement in comparison. Charles Bukowski makes drinking in excess sound so right and noble that it’s very possible his career was underwritten by generous donations from Citizens For The Propagation Of Cirrhosis. At this point, his legacy is one prorated Buzzfeed article consisting of Bukowski saying shit like, “I think a man who can keep on drinking for centuries will never die” and sounding cool as hell while doing it which, honestly, as far as legacies go, isn’t half bad.
Andrew Johnson was the seventeenth president of the United States, by which we mean to say that he happened to be Vice President on that fateful night when John Wilkes Booth took the parlor trick “you’ve got something behind your ear” way too far. If you don’t remember him, it’s probably because you thought for a second that we were talking about Andrew Jackson, Johnson was never elected for a full term, and history class is hard, there were so many damn presidents, it’s not fair of the teachers to make you memorize forty-four names in a world where we have Google. If you do remember him, it’s probably because he’s consistently considered one of the worst Presidents we’ve ever had, was the first President to be impeached, and he pretty much fucked up the initial post-Civil War Reconstruction period something awful.
However, we at America Fun Fact of the Day don’t focus on politics. We focus on character. We focus on things like “Andrew Johnson looks weirdly like Tommy Lee Jones” and, more importantly, “Andrew Johnson was stumbling drunk when he was sworn in as Vice-President.”
That’s actually it. That’s the only reason he’s on this list. He’s not a particularly historic drinker, and he wasn’t a particularly good President, but if you get sworn in for the second highest office in the land, and you do it while rip-roaring drunk? Well, someone’s gotta at least give you credit where credit’s due.
Edgar Allan Poe
If you’re wondering why so many great American drinkers were writers, you’ll need to apologize to our writers on staff who somehow managed to twist that into a personal attack against their own abilities, and are currently in the corner suckling a mason jar of moonshine to chase the feelings away. That being said, one of America’s greatest writers was also one of their greatest drunks, to the point that Baltimore is doing us a disservice by only having 20% of their bars make copious references to Poe’s love of booze.
Oh, and hey, here’s an article about that time Poe wrote a letter to a publisher that basically said, “Hey, so, I was blackout drunk when I met you, so, uh, sorry?”
Edgar Allan Poe is best known for the classic poem The Raven and the fact that Lisa Simpsons once tried to sabotage a diorama about The Tell-Tale Heart, but he also was one of those epic American drinkers who imbibed to the point that websites more polite than the one you’re currently reading feel they have to spend paragraphs defending how his drinking “wasn’t all that bad” in the same way that when you were a kid you’d try to tell your friends that your dad’s super cool and can totally slam dunk a basketball in response to everyone walking in to see him slamming beers on the La-Z-Boy while shouting angrily at the TV because the Eagles just covered the damn spread. You don’t have to apologize for Poe, man. Sometimes your dad was a Division II Basketball player who blew out his knee his Junior year, and sometimes your literary hero mixed alcohol and ether, married his cousin, and died in a gutter under mysterious circumstances. All that matters is that they’re champions to you, sport.
Easily the GOAT drinking American writer, and possibly the GOAT American drinker period, Ernest Hemingway loved red wine, bullfighting, and shotgun maintenance. The man liked his martinis dry, his drinks cold, and his plane crashes occurring consecutively. He was a man who preferred not to waste words, so we won’t waste them here. Hemingway was one of America’s greatest drunks, and he probably could still kick your ass despite being dead for 53 years. It’s the goddamned American way.