Posts Tagged ‘99 percent invisible’

Petaluma’s temperance fountain

July 7th, 2019

Abstinence fountain
 

I happened to walk by a stone drinking fountain in downtown Petaluma with a curious inscription on the side:

ERECTED 1891

TOTAL ABSTINENCE
IS THE WAY TO HANDLE
THE ALCOHOL PROBLEM

It seemed odd at first glance, I think mostly because the word “abstinence” is generally only used in modern American English by religious zealots peddling unscientific sex-ed material. But in this context the word is referring to abstaining from something else: drinking alcohol.

Yet again, the connection seems unclear: what does a drinking fountain have to do with avoiding alcohol?

An episode from the 99% Invisible podcast about the history of modern drinking fountains explains the connection — in fact this very fountain in Petaluma is mentioned at about 10 minutes into the episode.

The gist of it is this: back in the day water wasn’t always safe to drink due to bacteria, so many people stuck with alcohol. Once modern science made water reliably safe to drink, the temperance movement promoted the use of drinking water as an alternative to alcohol.

Obviously people still drink alcohol today, but thanks to plentiful clean water (well, in most places) we don’t have to choose between feeling thirsty and feeling tipsy.