A Glimpse into the Cost of Whiskey in the 1870s American West

The American West in the 1870s was a land of opportunity, adventure, and rapid development. As settlers and pioneers ventured into the untamed frontier, saloons and saloon houses sprang up to provide a respite from the harsh realities of frontier life. Whiskey, a popular beverage of the time, flowed freely in these establishments. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of spirits and explore the prices of a shot and a bottle of whiskey in the 1870s American West, shedding light on the costs and economic landscape of the time.

The Rise of Saloons and Liquor Consumption

The American West of the 1870s was a region undergoing rapid change and expansion. As pioneers, miners, cowboys, and settlers flocked to the frontier, the social fabric of the West was shaped by a unique institution: the saloon. Often synonymous with the Wild West, these establishments played a significant role in shaping social interactions, community dynamics, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially whiskey.

Social Centers and Gathering Places

Saloons served as social centers in the American West, providing a place for people to gather, relax, and socialize. Often the first structures built in newly established towns and settlements, saloons became important gathering places for locals and newcomers alike. Saloons offered a respite from the challenges and harsh realities of frontier life and fostered a sense of community and camaraderie.

Entertainment and Recreation

Saloons were not only places for drinking, but also for entertainment and recreation. Many saloons had gambling tables, billiard tables, and even live music or performances. Card games, dice, and other forms of gambling were popular pastimes that added to the excitement and allure of saloon culture.

Whiskey and liquor as beverages of choice

Whiskey was the preferred spirit consumed in saloons throughout the American West in the 1870s. The availability of whiskey, both imported and locally produced, made it the drink of choice for many. The strong and potent nature of whiskey suited the rugged and adventurous spirit of the frontier, and it became deeply ingrained in the culture and folklore of the American West.

Economic Importance

Saloons played an important economic role in the West. Not only were they gathering places, but they were also businesses that contributed to the local economy. Saloon owners and operators profited from the sale of alcohol, gambling, and other forms of entertainment. As the population of the West grew, so did the demand for saloons, leading to their proliferation and economic importance.

Social hierarchy and gender roles

Saloons were not always welcoming to everyone. They often reflected the social hierarchies and gender roles of the day. While men were the primary patrons of saloons, women were usually excluded or discouraged from entering.

Some saloons had separate areas or “ladies’ entrances” for women, while others forbade their presence altogether. These gender dynamics within saloons reflected the broader social norms of the time.

Impact on Law and Order

Saloons were not without controversy. They were associated with rowdy behavior, violence, and criminal activity. The presence of alcohol, gambling, and a predominantly male clientele sometimes fueled conflicts and clashes. As a result, law enforcement and attempts to regulate saloons became necessary in many Western cities.

Temperance and Prohibition

The rise of the temperance movement, which sought to restrict or ban alcohol consumption, gained momentum during this period. The movement viewed saloons as centers of vice and moral decay. Prohibition laws were eventually enacted in various states and territories, leading to the closure of many saloons and a decline in alcohol consumption in certain areas.

Factors affecting prices

Whiskey prices in the 1870s American West were influenced by a number of factors that shaped the economic landscape of the time. Understanding these factors provides valuable insight into the dynamics of the whiskey market and how prices varied across regions and establishments. Here are some of the key factors that influenced whiskey prices during this period:

Availability and Cost of Production

One of the primary factors influencing whiskey prices was the availability of ingredients and the costs associated with production. Whiskey production required grains such as corn, rye, or barley, the availability and cost of which varied by region. Areas with abundant grain supplies and established distilleries could produce whiskey at a lower cost, resulting in potentially lower prices.

Transportation and Distribution

The transportation and distribution of whiskey played a crucial role in determining its price. In the vast expanse of the American West, the availability of reliable transportation infrastructure, such as railroads or waterways, affected the cost of moving whiskey from distilleries to saloons and other establishments. Areas with efficient transportation networks often had more competitive prices due to reduced logistical costs.

Regional Supply and Demand

Demand and supply dynamics for whiskey varied in different regions of the American West. Areas with higher concentrations of settlers, miners, or urban centers experienced greater demand for whiskey, which affected prices accordingly. Conversely, regions with limited population or sparse economic activity may have had lower demand, resulting in potentially lower prices.

Local economies and wealth

The economic conditions and prosperity of specific locations played a significant role in whiskey pricing. Booming mining towns or cities experiencing rapid growth often had higher levels of disposable income, leading to increased demand for whiskey. As a result, prices in these areas tended to be higher because consumers were willing to pay more.

Import vs. Local Production

The source of whiskey, whether imported or locally produced, had an impact on pricing. Imported whiskey, often from established distilleries in the East or Europe, generally commanded higher prices due to factors such as transportation costs, import duties, and exclusivity. On the other hand, locally produced whiskey, often from smaller or regional distilleries, tended to be more affordable and accessible.

Quality and brand recognition

The quality and reputation of whiskey brands influenced their prices. Higher-quality whiskeys known for their craftsmanship, aging process or distillation techniques often commanded a premium price. Well-established brands with a reputation for excellence also commanded higher prices due to their perceived value and consumer demand.

Prohibition and Legal Restrictions

The influence of prohibition and legal restrictions cannot be ignored. In certain areas, the implementation of temperance movements and prohibition laws led to the restriction or outright prohibition of alcohol sales. This resulted in a shortage of legal whiskey, driving up prices for those willing to pay a premium for illegal or bootlegged products.

Market Competition and Business Strategies

Competition among saloons and establishments also affected whiskey prices. In areas with numerous saloons, competition for customers could lead to lower prices as establishments vied for patronage. In addition, saloon owners may have used pricing strategies to attract customers, such as offering discounted prices during certain hours or days of the week.

Prices of a shot

The cost of a shot of whiskey varied by location and establishment. In larger cities and more affluent areas, a shot of whiskey might cost 10 to 25 cents. In more remote or less prosperous areas, prices might be lower, with a shot of whiskey costing around 5 to 10 cents. It’s worth noting that these prices were not fixed and could fluctuate based on economic conditions and local factors.

Prices of a bottle

The price of a bottle of whiskey in the 1870s American West ranged from 50 cents to $2.50, depending on quality and brand. Higher quality whiskey, often imported or from well-known distilleries, commanded higher prices. In contrast, cheaper and locally produced whiskeys were more affordable, making them accessible to a wider range of customers.

Economic disparities and variations

Economic disparities in the American West meant that prices could vary widely from place to place. For example, booming mining towns with higher concentrations of wealth and demand could have higher prices than remote frontier settlements where resources were scarce and economic activity was limited.

Impact of Prohibition

It is important to note that the temperance movement was gaining momentum during this period, advocating the restriction or outright prohibition of alcohol. Some states and territories in the American West enacted prohibition laws, which affected the availability and price of whiskey. In areas where prohibition was enforced, the prices of illegal or bootlegged whiskey could be significantly higher due to the risks and illegal nature of the trade.

Consumption Patterns and Social Dynamics

Whiskey prices in the 1870s American West not only reflected economic factors, but also influenced consumption patterns and social dynamics. The affordability of whiskey made it a popular choice among cowboys, miners, and other workers who sought respite and camaraderie after a hard day’s work.


The prices of a shot and a bottle of whiskey in the 1870s American West were influenced by a variety of factors, including location, availability, demand, and economic conditions. While specific prices varied by region and establishment, whiskey remained a popular and sought-after spirit on the vibrant and evolving frontier. Exploring the economic landscape of the era and the costs associated with whiskey provides insight into the social, cultural, and economic dynamics of the American West during this transformative period in history.


Price of a shot and a bottle of whiskey in 1870s American West?

It stands to reason that a so-called “shot” would have been priced somewhere between 10 and 25 cents, and a bottle (of rotgut) would have been $1 or so.

How much did a shot of whiskey cost in the Old West?

25 cents

Saloons were a cheap form of entertainment. A glass of beer cost 5 cents, a shot of whiskey 25 cents (two bits) and a premium cigar another 5 cents. A visit to a soiled dove in one of the nearby “cribs” to top off the night might cost him another dollar.

How much was a shot of whiskey in the 1800s?

What was the average price for a shot of whiskey in an American Old West saloon? 25 cents to 50 cents for unaged basic whiskey from corn or rye, often made nearby or in the saloon itself like the beer often was.

How much was alcohol in the Wild West?

Alcohol could be purchased in St. Louis for 20 cents a gallon sold for $5 a pint and watered down before reaching the rendezvous. Prices for all they needed to survive another year in the wilderness, powder, lead, traps, tobacco, geegaws to trade or make presents for the native women.

How much did a glass of beer cost in 1870?

about 10¢

In 1870, a glass of beer cost about 10¢, about $1.77 today.

How much did a shot cost in 1942?

Otherwise, a double shot of tequila costs roughly $30 – $50 in the United States.

Prices, Variations & Sizes of Don Julio 1942 Tequila.

Item Average Price Size per Bottle
Don Julio Reposado Tequila $45,99 – $46,99 750 milliliters

How much is a single shot of 1942?

A 60-ml/double shot of Don Julio 1942 in a bar in the United States, for example, costs between $30 and $50 on average.

How much did Americans drink in the 1800s?

In fact, in the early republic, Americans drank quantities we would consider astounding today. In 1790, we consumed an average of 5.8 gallons of absolute alcohol annually for each drinking-age individual. By 1830, that figure rose to 7.1 gallons!

How much is a shot of whiskey cost?

How Much Does a Liquor Shot Cost?

Size of Shot 750ml Bottle Cost Cost per Shot
2 oz. $30 $2.50
1 1/2 oz. $30 $1.88


How much did a shotgun cost in the 1800s?

A used single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle would cost $8. The fancy seven-shot Sharps Repeating Rifle cost $50. A breach-loading shotgun would go for $60.

How much was a shot of whiskey in 1920?

On Boardwalk Empire they charge $3 for a shot of whiskey. That is $37 in today’s dollars.

How much was a shot of whiskey?

1.5 ounces

Like other liquors, a standard whiskey pour is 1.5 ounces for shot, 2 ounces for a neat or rocks pour, and 3 ounces for a double. Pouring whiskey is right up there with pouring beer in importance, as every bartender needs to master these.

How much is a single shot of whisky?

Pubs and bars used to commonly serve spirits (like vodka, gin, rum or whisky) in 25ml measures – that’s about one unit of alcohol per measure. But these days many pubs and bars have switched to 35ml or 50ml measures – meaning you might be having a lot more alcohol without realising.

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