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"The Bottle," Illustrated Panels, George Cruikshank, 1848


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


The temperance movement was one of many reform efforts that built support in the decades before the Civil War. Temperance is defined as moderation in action, thought, or feeling, and is often used to describe the long campaign to decrease the consumption of alcohol by Americans that culminated in the national Prohibition Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the 20th century. Since the European settlement of North America, alcohol consumption had been common and by early in the 19th century, many Americans believed that alcohol was to blame for a variety of societal problems, including unemployment, crime, poverty, and domestic abuse.

Supporters of the temperance movement blamed alcohol for family and social problems like poverty, domestic violence, child abuse, unemployment, and disease. People of all social classes, race, gender, and religious affiliations joined anti-liquor organizations and sought to use moral persuasion to curb alcohol consumption. Many women were involved, even though they did not have the right to vote. Instead, they sponsored public events, established rooms stacked with prohibition literature, and canvassed for the prohibition vote. Virginians joined such organizations as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Sons of Temperance, all of which carried the message of total abstinence from alcohol and encouraged political support for reform using pamphlets, novels, newspapers, music, sermons, lectures, and art.  

The Bottle is a series of eight illustrated panels about the potential dangers of alcohol consumption. Originally published in England in 1847 by George Cruikshank, The Bottle became wildly popular, selling more than 100,000 copies in its first few days and inspiring plays in eight London theaters at the same time. The Bottle was exported to the United States, where, lacking a copyright, it was reproduced by several publishers. Plates 1 and 6 are shown here. The first plate shows a prosperous and happy family where “The Bottle is brought out for the first time: the husband induces his wife ‘Just to take a drop." The following plates show the deleterious effects of alcohol: the father loses his job, they sell their belongings, the baby dies, the children beg in the street. In plate 6 the same family is featured. They are in the same room as the first panel, but the drunken father is attacking his wife and his children try to restrain him as a concerned neighbor bursts into the room.

Inspired by images such as these and encouraged by the rise of anti-alcohol tracts and lectures, Americans jumped on the temperance bandwagon. The Civil War swept these concerns to the side, but by the 1880s the temperance movement had spread widely. Voters in many counties and states across the nation to vote to ban alcohol, including in Virginia, which enacted a statewide ban on alcohol in 1916, four years before national Prohibition was implemented.

RELATED DOCUMENTS: To see all eight panels, visit the Library of Virginia's UncommonWealth blog post on The Temperance Movement and the Road to Prohibition


The Bottle, Plate V. “Cold, Misery, and Want, Destroy Their Youngest Child: They Console Themselves with the Bottle,” 1847. Lithograph by D. W. Moody after etchings by George Cruikshank. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Cruikshank, George. “The Drunkard’s Children.” London: David Bogue, Publisher, 1848. Available at British Museum Collection Online:


History: VS.8, VS.9, USI.8, USII.4, USII.6, CE.6, CE.10, VUS.8, VUS.10, GOVT.7, GOVT.9

Art: 4.1, 5.1

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at it: Look at the images. What do you think is the subject of the images? 

Post Activities 

Current Connections: How would you change or update these drawings to show the dangers of opiates or other potentially addictive substances?

Think About it: If you were a member of this family, what would, or could you have done to stop this chain of events?

Social Media Spin: Create a post in which you promote temperance for the 21st Century. Include information which might sway a person to seek treatment for alcohol or drug addiction.