By Dr. Anthony Policastro

It is hard to watch a movie of the Old West without seeing a scene set in a saloon. Watching movies about England always seem to have scenes in pubs.

One might wonder why that is the case. It is related to medical reasons. We take clean drinking water for granted. However, the history of trying to make drinking water safe shows that it was not really successful until the early twentieth century.

That is not surprising. It was in the nineteenth century that Louis Pasteur became known as the father of modern microbiology. We still pasteurize milk.

There was an outbreak of cholera in London in 1854. Dr John Snow was able to conclude that the outbreak was caused by contamination of the Broad Street Pump. This was before the germ theory of disease was discovered.

Robert Koch was considered the father of medical microbiology. He created the germ theory of disease. He used a series of requirements that we call Koch’s Postulates. Koch studied in detail the cholera epidemic in Germany in 1892.

Chlorination of water in the early twentieth century went a long way toward helping keep water supplies clean.

Of course, before the germ theory of disease became popular, people still knew that drinking water should be clean. However, they could not guarantee that.

A second factor was that water was not always plentiful. That was especially true in the Old West. Therefore, it had to be conserved. Drinking it was a waste of water.

Given these circumstances, there is an approach that is helpful. If you do not drink the water, you will be less likely to get sick. If you do not drink the water, you will have more to use on your crops.

Therefore, it becomes a good idea to drink something else. That something else often took the form of alcoholic beverages. In a British pub, it might be ale or beer. In the Old West it might be beer or whiskey.

So the next time you watch a movie and see a pub or a saloon, you need to realize there is a reason for that. And it happens to be a medical reason.