When you think “military beverage,” three things typically come to mind: coffee, beer, and energy drinks. But did you know that around the turn of the century, grape juice was the drink of choice among troops? That’s right. For roughly twenty years, everyone from sailors to soldiers to Marines couldn’t get enough of the purple stuff.
Grape juice reigned supreme during the times of the temperance movement and Prohibition, but it wasn’t just because troops couldn’t drink booze. There were plenty of other reasons for troops to reach for the good stuff.
Welch’s grape juice first came about in 1869 when the American physician and dentist, Thomas Bramwell Welch, invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice to halt the fermentation process, preventing it from turning into wine. The result was non-alcoholic and more suitable for church services. Then, it caught on with the temperance movement crowd — long before Prohibition took effect.
On June 1st, 1914, General Order 99 — which banned alcohol on all Navy vessels and installations — was instituted and, as you might expect, sailors lost their minds. They were left with two options: coffee or juice.
From that moment on, sailors referred to their coffee as “cups of Joe,” named after the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. The slang was adapted as an insult to the man who took away their booze. But sailors couldn’t just constantly chug java — they needed something rich in much-needed vitamins, and fruit juice was the answer.
Welch’s caught on to the trend and doubled down in lending support to the troops. It was a massive success. The sailors loved grape juice and it quickly became a coveted commodity aboard naval vessels.
A few years later, during World War I, Welch’s turned their Concord grapes into a jam called “Grapelade” and sent it to the troops overseas. Once again, the delicious, fruity goodness was a smash hit among the troops. When the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution was put in place in 1919, effectively disallowing booze across all branches of service, troops took a page from the Navy’s playbook and turned to grape juice.
But troops weren’t just drinking it for the taste — it provided a number of health benefits, too!