The Alcohol Abstinence Movement in Stavanger, Norway

Erling Jensen - Skudenshavn, Norway
In 1816, the newly formed Norwegian Storting passed a law that made it legal to make your own liquor in Norway. The Storting gave legislative permission to anyone who owned or used properly registered land to distill alcohol from their own self-grown grain and potatoes.

The Storting hoped that the distillation of spirits on Norway's farms would help to improve economic conditions in Norway over time. However, by 1833 the yearly consumption alcohol had reached a total of eight liters per inhabitant. In order to counter this upward trend in drinking, Norwegians began to form associations specifically intended to discourage the excessive consumption of liquor. The local response in Stavanger was the establishment of the Maadeholdsselskap (Temperance Society) in 1836. Its founding represented the first organized attempt in Norway to limit the drinking of alcohol. The members of Maadeholds-selskap agreed not to drink spirits (aquavit, brandy, vodka, etc.), but the consumption of beer and wine were allowed as long as these latter alcoholic beverages were drunk in moderation.

In 1859 another temperance group was established in the city; it was called the Stavanger Junior Abstinence Association. It was founded by Asbjørn Kloster, a practicing Quaker. The members of this association were required to stay away from beer and wine in addition to spirits. Interestingly, the Stavanger Junior Abstinence Association met with opposition from a number of the city's citizens, including the local Lutheran priests who thought it was going too far to demand total abstinence from alcohol by the citizens of Stavanger. They believed that this all out ban on drinking alcohol violated Norway's well-established traditional drinking customs. However, Asbjørn Kloster remained unmoved by the widespread opposition to his ideas about the consumption of alcohol. He rejected the argument that drinking beer and wine, even in small quantities, could be good for your health and your nutrition. In his eyes, both beer and wine were gateway drinks to the consumption and abuse of hard liquor.

In nineteenth century Stavanger, there were liquor sales available on almost every corner. All citizens of the city who held "letters of trade"; merchants, hawkers and marketers; had the right to sell liquor. Consumption grew its highest in the years between 1830-40, when it is estimated that by the end of the decade that every adult inhabitant of Norway drank 13 liters of pure alcohol in the form of liquor.

In 1857, it was forbidden for drinking establishments to pour liquor before 8:00 A.M. A law was also passed that imposed a tax on the malt used in the brewing of beer, which led to a significant increase in the price of beer. In 1863, the Poverty Act provided for imprisonment or forced labor for drinkers who inflicted expenses on the Poor Board by not earning a living. By the 1860s, there were 80 outlets for beer, wine and spirits in Stavanger. In 1907, to counter what were perceived to be growing social problems, a law on prostitution, drunkenness and begging was passed. This law provided penalties for anyone found intoxicated in a public place.

Stavanger's Brændevinssamlag (a city government organization) was established in 1875 to help overcome the major alcohol problems that had arisen in the city. The Brændevins-samlag had several outlets around the Stavanger. Unfortunately, sometimes the patrons of the official liquor outlets became rowdy, so police officers kept a watchful eye on them. How-ever, the profits from the sales went to non-profit purposes and money from the government liquor outlets financed, among other things, the museum building, Stavanger's permanent gallery and the Art Association. The sales also provided monetary gifts to the poor. In 1883, the Stavanger Brændevinssamlag had a turnover of 83,812 liters of liquor and 133,277 bottles of beer. During the years the organization was in business, it donated 657,000 kroner to charity. Despite its successes, the Stavanger Brændevinssamlag was finally closed down in 1896.

In the mid-1890s, wine consumption increased among ordinary people. "Laddevin" was a popular term for a cheap and somewhat dubious strong wine that was imported in large quantities from the northern German free ports in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ladde wine was made by mixing cheap Spanish weak wine with spirits, sugar, and essences.

From 1918-1940, Stavanger officially was a dry city. But after the First World War, the first beer clubs began to appear. These became a big problem for the police who could not get proper control over them. Eventually, there were more than 50 beer clubs in the city. Besides beer, some people also drank naphtha, rigabalsam (a home remedy made of oil, alcohol, and a tincture of saffron) and camphor drops. In 1945, five people lost their lives after drinking methanol and nearly 50 people were admitted to the hospital in that year.

The Vinmonopol (the wine monopoly) was established as a private limited company under state control in 1922. It was given the exclusive right to import and engage in the wholesale sale of spirits and wine. After World War II, in 1946, a local referendum was held on the question of whether Stavanger should have wine monopoly sales outlets or not. The referen-dum passed. After five years of occupation, there was a widespread desire by the citizens of Stavanger for freedom, and people were tired of restrictions and bans.

The liberalization of alcohol legislation in the 1980s signaled that the abstinence movement in Stavanger and the rest of Norway had almost died out and lost its former influence. By the year 2022, there were approximately 200 liquor licenses held by various drinking establish-ments around the city. The Norwegian temperance movement had become a passive shadow of what it had once been.

Source: The book Skaal Stavanger! Erling Jensen. Allmennforlaget 2019.

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