Booz and Booze


Where does the word “booze” come from?  I’ll begin by telling the truth, but let me tell you a Philadelphia story, too.

Let me start by saying that it is an adaption of the middle Dutch word “būsen”, which means “to drink to excess”, into the middle English word “bousen” in the 14th century.  The use of the English word “booze” didn’t appear in writing until the 17th century.  There are other options for the possible origins of the word from Germany, but the Dutch seems the most likely.  Though it is often dismissed, as a Philadelphian, I cannot dismiss the possibility that E.G. Booz had something to do with the term being used more often…

Edmund G.Booz was born in 1824 in Bristol, PA in Bucks County.  He was a very successful liquor merchant that had a shop at 120 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His shop may have been there during the restructuring of the street numberings of the city in 1856 which, before that date, would’ve put that same address at 26 Walnut Street.  (The city of Philadelphia renumbered all addresses and organized them into 100 block increments to simplify things.)  I only state that fact because Booz was most famous for his cabin shaped bottles which were not manufactured until 1858, but it is believed that Booz had his shop there before the changeover.  He also owned property directly behind his business on 15 Granite Street which was most likely his distillery or rectifying site.  The location of his business was right next to Whitney Glass Works’ Philadelphia retail location at 118 Walnut Street.  (Their production location was in Glassboro, NJ- You’ll never guess what type of manufacturing that city was famous for…)  Like Booz’s shop, many of Philadelphia’s liquor distributors and associated businesses were located near the Delaware River for shipping convenience.  It was the Whitney Glass Works that made those cabin bottles designed for Booz that became so famous and recognizable throughout the Delaware Valley.

Today E.G.Booz’s glass cabin bottles are some of the most expensive and sought after glass bottles available on the collector’s market.  There are a lot of stories about the origin of the bottle, let alone the word “booze”, so bear with me, as most of them are not true.  The story goes that during the presidential campaign for William Henry Harrison, a few sayings were coined…” Keep the ball rolling” came from Harrison supporters that literally rolled a ball made of paper and tin covered with Harrison slogans for hundreds of miles during the presidential campaign.  I would’ve liked to see that!  The other was that the word “booze” would become slang because Harrison supporters handed out E.G Booz bottles to get people to vote for him.  (Though Harrison was a wealthy man, his supporters wanted to spin it that he was a down-home boy that would rather sit on his front porch drinking whiskey than run for President!) The bottles have 1840, the year of the presidential campaign, embossed on them so it makes sense that people would not question that story years later.  The problem is that the bottles weren’t made for Edmund Booz until 1858.  I like to believe that Booz was a smart business man and used a glass mold from Whitney Glass Works that looked a lot like a cabin, had his name emblazoned on the roof, and spun his tale for sales purposes.  (The mold is actually a perfect replica of a common glass workers’ home in Glassboro- 2 story, 4 room home- and doesn’t look much like a log cabin at all!)  Another brilliant Philadelphia business man, indeed!  Though Booz probably had his shop on Walnut Street long before 1858 when the bottles were made, he could not have been making those bottles in 1840, as he was only 16 at the time!

Whether the story is true that the word “booze” came from E.G.Booz or not isn’t really the issue.  It certainly did not originate with him, but chances are it helped make it part of the Philly vernacular!  He’s now a part of Philadelphia distilling history and you can always pop by and visit him at the Laurel Hill cemetery in the East Falls neighborhood of the city where he is buried.   I like to think of Mr. Booz’s marketing savvy when I see new “misleading” bottles today…

There are lots of fakes on the market, but they are still cool!
There are lots of fakes on the market, but they are still cool!

You can look into the fakes vs. the real bottles by reading Tippecanoe and E.G.Booze Too! by Thomas Haunton.