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Rushing the Growler

‘Rushing the Growler’ was a slang term that gained practical prominence in the late nineteenth century. It described the process of bringing an empty growler or growlers to a local tap house to be filled with alcohol — usually beer — and then carrying the container off-site to drink its contents.

Saloons of the period were almost exclusively male-dominated spaces. They were a workingman’s “home-away-from-home” where a person could come to socialize with others, find a job, cash their paychecks, and more. It was a place of refuge, offering access to hard to find facilities and services. Furthermore, the saloon was a chance for men to temporarily step away from the drudgery of industrial work and spend time in the company of other like-minded individuals. ‘Rushing’ growlers was an opportunity to take the social aspects of saloon life beyond its walls and into a community of friends and family.

Early growlers came in different sizes, shapes, and materials. Some examples included tomato cans, water pitchers, and glass or stoneware jars. Typically though the growler was a simple looking pail with a carrying handle, usually made of tin or steel, which held roughly two-quarts of alcohol. Often, but not always, the container had an attached metal lid that helped to keep any of the purchased beer from spilling out during its transportation. ‘Rushing the growler’ described taking growlers to be filled at the local saloon.

Parents often sent their children to the saloon to have their growlers filled with beer. Boys and girls as young as six-years-old tasked with ‘rushing the growler’ entered the bar through a separate ‘family entrance,’ had their containers filled with alcohol, and brought back full growlers for the adults to enjoy. A cottage industry of sorts even developed from this practice. Kids hung around local saloons during lunch hours to fill growlers of beer to sell to nearby factory workers at a small profit. These ‘professional rushers’ maximized their earning potential by cutting a series of notches into long sticks, allowing them to carry multiple pails at one time.

While growler filling was widespread, especially in busier sections of the city, it wasn’t very profitable for the saloon proprietor. Pints of beer sold for roughly five cents a glass. A filled growler cost ten cents, and customers expected four generous servings for their dime. Bartenders didn’t officially measure beer pours, recognizing a growler as full when froth touched its brim. Arguments ensued when customers believed that the pour fell short of their money’s worth. Some tried to cheat the saloon by ‘greasing the growler.’ They wiped fat around the inside of the pail to hinder rising suds. The pour resulted in more beer and less foam.

Although it took place in up to two-thirds of city saloons, society-at-large considered ‘rushing the growler’ to be vulgar and held the type of person that indulged in the practice in low regard. Growler fills were commonplace all-day occurrences in local saloons, but the attached social stigma forced daytime ‘rushers’ to go to great lengths to try to hide their pails from the public’s judgmental gaze. Some wrapped their growler in a newspaper, surrounded it with flowers, or placed it in a hat box to hide it. Large ‘growler bags’ soon became a fashionable way for men and women to conceal their full growlers from the saloon to their destination.

Temperance era advocates had begrudgingly stomached the act of drinking in saloons but saw it as a corrupting influence on women and children when used outside of its boundaries. The fact that ‘rushing the growler’ relied so heavily on children likely placed stopping the practice high on the list of public priorities. In March of 1893, Minnesota legislators passed the “Sullivan Bill,” making it illegal for liquor-serving establishments to sell alcohol to minors. A large part of the reason behind the passage of the bill, alternately known as the “Anti-Growler Bill,” was to stop people from ‘rushing the growler.’

Growler filling and ‘rushing the growler,’ in spite of growing political pressure, continued for the rest of the decade. As the country began its journey into the twentieth century, Increasingly stringent anti-growler laws, advancements in bottling and refrigeration methods, and finally the National Prohibition Movement proved to be the death knell for the growler. While the beer growler eventually made its triumphant return, the slang term ‘rushing the growler’ remained a part of the past.

Bibliography available here.

Creative Commons Attribution

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 International License.

Matt Reicher

Matt has a BA in history from Metropolitan State University and a MA in museum studies from Oklahoma University.

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