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April 20, 2023 9 mins

Some beverages are more powerful than others, because they compel humans to do some very curious things.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
There are four words that no person wants to hear.
They strike fear in the hearts of caffeine atticts and
morning commuters everywhere. Those words We're out of coffee. To some,
it's a fate worse than death. Whether you drink it
black or loaded with cream and sugar. Many of us
can't get through our day without our morning brew. And
if that describes you, I need you to know that

(00:57):
I am in the same club as you. Coffee is
an industry raking in tens of billions of dollars all
over the world each year, from global chains to independent roasters.
Our lattes and machiato's are serious business. But America's love
of coffee isn't new. We've been drinking it since before
we were even a country. Yet during the American Revolutionary War,

(01:18):
the colonies faced major food shortages. The farms that cultivated
the livestock and crops that people consumed were left to
the wives while their husbands went off to fight, and
that meant that women were just responsible for taking care
of the children and the home, but also the cows,
the pigs, the corn, and so much more, all by themselves.
International trade had come to a standstill as well, since

(01:41):
the war had blocked all imports coming from the West Indies.
And it wasn't like families got to keep everything they
grew either. Both sides, British and Colonial, were notorious for
requisitioning supplies for their own armies, and that included what
local farms produced. And you know how things go when
the supply is low and the demand is high. Basic
economics and greed kick in. Pretty soon merchants did one

(02:04):
of two things. They either hoarded goods for themselves, or
they started jacking up prices on basic necessities like sugar, flour,
and you guessed it, coffee. With people already at their
wits end, farmers and other local residents began taking measures
into their own hands, leading to an outbreak of activism
within the colonies, and they voiced their displeasure in a

(02:25):
few different ways. Sometimes they boycotted goods that had been
heavily taxed. For example, imported cloth from Britain was issued
in favor of cheaper, homespun alternatives. Other Times they sought
retribution through more violent means. Then, because so many men
were enlisted in General Washington's army, this charge against greedy
salesmen was led by women. Perhaps the best known incident

(02:49):
occurred in July of seventeen seventy seven. A Boston merchant
by the name of Thomas Boylston had gotten an idea.
It wasn't the smartest idea given the current socio political climate,
but it certainly was an idea. He decided to price
gouge his loyal customers on the coffee that they drank
each day. While the women who frequented his shop didn't

(03:09):
take kindly to such an egregious abuse of his position,
they kindly asked that he lowered the price back down
to a more reasonable amount. Boilston, though, wouldn't budge, and
the women of Boston wouldn't either. It wasn't like they
could go grow their own coffee beans in protest, so
they showed up on July twenty fourth, for a negotiation
of sorts. As Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to

(03:30):
her husband John at the time, a number of females,
some say a hundred, some say more, assembled with a
cart and trucks, marched down to the warehouse and demanded
the keys, which he refused to deliver. What transpired was
a short, yet powerful battle for dignity, decency, and dark roast.
One woman grabbed Boylston by the neck and launched him

(03:53):
into the cart. They all surrounded him, and with no
one there to help protect him, he handed over the
keys and then tip the carts and ejected him onto
the floor before opening up the warehouse and loading up
their trucks with as much java as they could carry.
What's more, Boylston wasn't alone when all of this happened.
There were several other men in attendants who stood on

(04:14):
the sidelines and watched it all go down. Perhaps they
didn't want to get involved in a matter that didn't
concern them, or maybe they feared what the women would
do to them if they tried to get involved. Whatever
the case, the Boston Coffee Party proved two important things. First,
protesters don't have to throw a beverage into the ocean
to make a splash. And secondly, never get between someone

(04:37):
and their coffee. If there's one thing we know about people,
it's that no matter how hard you try to stop them,
they will always find a way to get a hold
of alcohol. Prohibition was the result of religious groups and

(05:01):
legislators coming together to put an end to certain societal
ills such as domestic violence and drunkenness. And what did
they blame for all that alcohol? Once enacted, Prohibition shut
down the production and sale of hootch in the United
States during the nineteen twenties and early thirties, which led
to a massive black market booze industry. But that wasn't
the first time a country tried to outlaw alcohol. Back

(05:23):
in Ireland, during the mid eighteen hundreds, another type of
prohibition was getting off the ground, and the Irish people
weren't totally into it. It started, just as the American
movement had, with a religious organization in Ireland. It was
led by a Catholic priest named Father Theobald Matthew. Father
Matthew had created a group called the Total Abstinence Society,
and once people joined, they took a pledge that they

(05:45):
would not consume a single drop of alcohol. Ever. Again,
Father Matthew was surprisingly successful too. The Irish people seemed
to want to make a change. At its peak, almost
half the adult population had sworn off booze for the
rest of their lives after taking his pledge. But even
though they had promised to keep alcohol out of their lives,
some individuals couldn't stay away completely. They wanted a way

(06:06):
to relax after a hard day at work without the
guilt of violating their oath, so they sought other means
of getting drunk, ones that were non alcoholic, and that's
where doctor Kelly from Draperstown County came in. Kelly had
found a loophole. He couldn't consume whiskey or other spirits,
but he could drink ether. Ether had been discovered in
twelve seventy five by Raymundus Luias, a Franciscan monk and chemist.

(06:31):
Then in fifteen forty a German scientist by the name
of Valerius Cordus began synthesizing it in a lab, creating
what he called sweet vitrol. In eighteen forty two, an
American doctor put ether to work as a general anesthetic
during surgery, but doctor Kelly had found a new and
specific use for it now in Ireland, to get drunk
while still remaining faithful to Father Matthew's pledge. You see,

(06:53):
he figured out that ether could be consumed as both
a liquid and a gas, and so in eighteen forty
five he started drinking it in small doses to get
the buzz that he'd been so sorely missing. Then he
got his friends and patients in on it. Thanks to
doctor Kelly's ingenious life hack, ether became the drink of
choice for adults all over Ireland, even the clergy. One

(07:14):
priest remarked that it was a liquor on which a
man could get drunk with a clean conscience. Ether was
sold everywhere, including a grocery stores, and its widespread use
quickly led to widespread abuse. Seventeen thousand gallons of ether
were being consumed each year by as many as one
hundred thousand Irish citizens. Even children as young as ten
were found intoxicated from it, with the fumes clearly noticeable

(07:37):
on their breath. And Ether also worked its way across
Europe and even here Stateside. The French enjoyed it with
their cognac while Americans drank it down in their whiskey.
Sometimes it was watered down or spiced with cinnamon and clothes.
It was even poured into people's mourning coffee. Although ether
was only popular because of its potency, not its taste,

(07:58):
it was a means to an end, capable full of
some dangerous side effects. For example, some people who passed
gas after consuming ether would find that their emissions carried
a certain smell with them. Their chemical like odor was
a dead giveaway that these were ether vapors. Flammable ether vapors.
A careless drunk might sometimes light up a smoke or

(08:18):
let one rip near a fireplace and suddenly be engulfed
in a plume of fire, or at the very least
suffer a burned posterior. Ether was consumed in Ireland until
the law finally got involved toward the end of the
nineteenth century. As of eighteen ninety, the British government deemed
it a poison and sales of the substance were restricted
to chemists and pharmacists. But for a long time Ireland

(08:42):
was an ethereal wonderland where a person could have stained
from alcohol yet enjoy its effects without guilt. As long
as they minded where the wind blew. I hope you've
enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Describe
for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about the

(09:03):
show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show was
created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how Stuff Works.
I make another award winning show called Lore, which is
a podcast, book series, and television show, and you can
learn all about it over at the Worldoflore dot com.
And until next time, stay curious.

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