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History of Underage Drinking in the State of Wisconsin - An Outline

Updated on May 29, 2011
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  • 1839 – “The Territorial Statutes of Wisconsin” forbid the sale of alcohol to minors less than 18 years of age without permission from their parents, guardian, master (if minor was an apprentice), or the minor’s servant.
  • 1848 –Wisconsin became a formal state in the union and territorial law pertaining to underage drinking remained unchanged.
  • 1866 – Chapter 36, Laws of 1866, later known as Revised Statutes of 1878 (section 3962) was enacted and made underage drinking by anyone under 21 years old illegal.
  • 1919 – The ratification of the 18th Amendment banned the “manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors” in every state, which spawned the Prohibition era under the Volstead Act of 1919.
  • 1933 – The 18th Amendment was ineffective and caused high and organized crimes, which resulted in such being nullified and replaced by the 21st Amendment both ending Prohibition and allowing the regulated use of alcohol by adults.
  • 1933-1984 – The states were allowed to choose their legal drinking age. Twenty-nine states, includingWisconsin, chose the age of 21. However,Wisconsinhad a separate law that allowed for 18 year-olds and older, to be able to purchase beer only.
  • 1970-1975 – Most states, including Wisconsin, lowered the legal drinking age to 18. The Vietnam War unleashed great debates over the legal age of adulthood, which argued that if 18 year-olds are allowed to vote, marry and join the armed forces, that they ought to be old enough to legally drink as well.
  • 1984 – The U.S. Congress passed the National Minimum Purchase Act, which reduced federal highway funding to states that didn’t raise the legal drinking age limit from 18 to 21 years of age. This was as a result of 18 year-olds crossing state lines in order to purchase/consume alcohol from states that otherwise restricted them. Teens from neighboring states crossed into Wisconsinto take advantage of our state’s low 18-year-old limit at the time. Highway incidents prompted for the age limit to be raised to 19.
  • 1984 – Cindy Lightner founded national organization M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to help prevent underage drinking through education, awareness and proposed legislations.
  • 1986- Present –Wisconsin passed uniform legislation making drinking legal at age 21 statewide. Exception was made to this when the Wisconsin Act 337 of 1986 was passed, which allows 18 year-olds to purchase, possess and/or consume alcohol as long as they’re accompanied by a parent, guardian or spouse of at least 21 years of age. This is legislation currently found under Wisconsin statute 125.07.



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