The History of Kentucky Bourbon

Thank you for your contributions to the Kentucky Bourbon Timeline. Bourbon Historians: Chuck Cowdery, Dixie Hibbs, Chris Morris, Mike Veach & Al Young, The Belle of Louisville, The Filson Historical Society, The Kentucky Historical Society, Members of the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

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The term “Bourbon” was first printed in the Western Citizen Newspaper (Bourbon County), with the firm Stout and Adams advertising “Bourbon Whiskey by the barrel or keg.”

1830s Brand Name

Brand Name – It is a long-standing tradition among distillers to burn the distillery name onto the barrelhead. Early saloons stored barrels above the bar with the branded names visible to customers. This is how the term “brand-names” originated. Brand names such as Old Crow started to gain recognition in the 1830’s. Distiller E.H. Taylor took special care to ensure his Bourbon was distinctive by using brass rings on his barrels that he polished before each shipment. E. H. Taylor also had an elaborate trademark designed for his barrels.

1830 Louisville & Portland Canal

The opening of the Louisville and Portland Canal in 1830 marked the first major river improvement project to be successfully completed in the US. This two mile canal near Louisville Kentucky bypassed the Falls of the Ohio. Prior to the construction of the canal, shippers and boatmen relied on locals to assist in navigating the Falls of the Ohio. Furthermore, navigation in this area was exceptionally difficult during summer, fall, and winters months when the flow of the river was low. The completed canal decreased shipping costs and extended the shipping season.

1850 Railroad

The Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Railroad was chartered by the state of Kentucky in 1850. The first track extended just south of Louisville, but, by 1859, the track construction finally reached Nashville (180 miles). For more information, visit this link:

1803 Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase opened markets for trade in southern states along the Mississippi river. Whiskey was shipped downstream from Kentucky on flatboats, headed for their final destination of New Orleans.

1811 Steamboat

Using the design patented by John Fitch, Robert Fulton built the first steamboat in 1807. Four short years later, the steamboat arrived in Louisville, KY. Louisville is now the home of the only remaining authentic steamboat from that era, the historic 100 year old Belle of Louisville. For information, visit

1790 Revolutionary War Debt

At the recommendation of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Congress voted to assume remaining war debts of the states in 1790. The combined state, foreign, and domestic war debts totaled $80 million. In order to pay these debts, the US Government levied a tax on alcohol. War debts paid by alcohol taxation began during the Revolutionary War and persist throughout American History. With the exception of the Spanish American War, debts from every American War have been paid with alcohol tax revenue.

1941 WWII

According to Mike Veach, “After the United States was drawn into the war by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Production Board assumed control of the distilling industry and oversaw a transition from the production of beverage alcohol to the production of industrial alcohol… the distilling industry was responsible for 44% of the 1.7 billion gallons of industrial alcohol produced during the war”. To learn more about the impact of whiskey on our nation’s history, pick up Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage by Mike Veach. For more information, visit this link:

1919 Volstead Act

The power to enforce prohibition came with the Volstead Act. Gerald Carson, in his book The Social History of Bourbon explains, “the Volstead Act, named after Representative Andrew J. Volstead of Minnesota, the devoted dry who introduced the bill, provided drastic penalties for making or selling liquor”.

1919 Prohibition

On January 29th, 1919, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, prohibiting the production, transportation and sale of alcohol. Enforcement of prohibition began on January 17, 1920.

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