2016 Press Releases

National Archives Explores Alcohol and Technology December 3 at 7 p.m.
Press Release · Monday, November 23, 2015

Washington, DC

See related National Archives “Spirited Republic” exhibit!

On Thursday, December 3, at 7 p.m., the National Archives hosts a special event titled “The "Drunkometer" to Digital Apps: How Technology Changes the Way We Drink.”

This event is free and open to the public and will take place in the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, and on the National Archives YouTube Channel. Attendees should use the Special Events entrance on Constitution at 7th Street NW. Metro accessible on the Yellow and Green lines, Archives/Navy Memorial station. Reservations are recommended and can be made online.

A panel of experts will explore the history of and current research on alcohol consumption and the promise of new technology. First used by the criminal justice system to enforce drunk driving laws, alcohol monitoring technology now has the potential to improve personal health and aid scientific research. Gary Wolf, writer and contributing editor at Wired magazine and co-founder of Quantified Self, will moderate a panel discussion with Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health; Susan Cheever, author of Drinking in America: Our Secret History; and Dr. William Rorabaugh, history professor at the University of Washington and author of The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition.

About the "Drunkometer"

While the first arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol was in 1897, and the first U.S. laws against driving while intoxicated date to the early 1900s, at the time, there was no way to easily determine the amount of alcohol in a person’s body. In 1932, biochemist Rolla Harger patented a process for "determining alcohol content in live animals." Four years later, he patented the "Drunkometer," a device that allowed a person to monitor his or her blood alcohol content. In 1955, Robert Borkenstein, who had worked with Harger on the Drunkometer, patented the first "breathalyzer." Fast forward to today - NIAAA has issued a national challenge to design a wearable discreet device to easily measure blood alcohol levels in real time.


Gary Wolf is co-founder of Quantified Self and contributing editor at Wired magazine. His contributions to the emerging practice of self-tracking have been covered in publications like Vanity Fair, The Economist and Financial Times Magazine. His 2010 TED talk on the Quantified Self has been watched more than 700,000 times. Wolf was the founding executive editor of HotWired/Wired Digital, where he launched one of the first daily technology news titles, Wired News.

Dr. George F. Koob is the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the nation's lead agency for research on the health effects of alcohol. He is a preeminent expert on alcohol and stress, and the neurobiology of alcohol and drug addiction. As NIAAA director, Dr. Koob oversees a wide range of research investigating the genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment of alcohol problems.

Susan Cheever is a best-selling author who has written about the cultural history of alcohol, as well as her own experience with addiction. Her most recent book, Drinking in America: Our Secret History, chronicles how alcohol has influenced U.S. history. Her other books include My Name is Bill - Bill Wilson: His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, a biography of Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson; Home Before Dark, a memoir about her father, John Cheever; Treetops: A Memoir; and five novels?.

Dr. William Rorabaugh is a professor of history at the University of Washington and was managing editor of the Pacific Northwest Quarterly and president of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.? Rorabaugh's book: The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, demonstrated the exceedingly high rate of alcohol consumption in the United States in the early nineteenth century.

Spirited Republic and related events are presented in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of HISTORY®, the Lawrence F. O'Brien Family, The Tasting Panel Magazine, and Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America. Additional exhibition funding provided by the Beer Institute, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

Related exhibit: Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History
Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, through January 10, 2016
Who was the lady hooch hunter? What is "medicinal alcohol?" Why did some Americans campaign against the spirit ration? Find these answers and more in this fascinating collection of alcohol-related posters, films, patent drawings, petitions, photographs, and artifacts. Visit Spirited Republic and learn about American debates about alcohol and its place in society. Preview the exhibit online.

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