Wednesday, January 14, 2009


In honor of the 56th presidential inauguration, some bars in DC have been granted permission to stay open for extended hours beginning Saturday, January 17th and running through the morning after President-elect Obama's inauguration (5 a.m. on Wednesday, January 21st). This couldn't be a more entertaining week (historically) for that to happen.

First, because 90 years ago Friday, the 18th Amendment was ratified and officially enacted a year later (1920). It was subsequently overturned December 5, 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment (do you think there is something odd connecting the numbers 18 and 21 with alcohol consumption?), but not before providing Rolla Neil Harger the incentive to create the forerunner to a fairly common device - the breathalyzer.

Dr. Harger was born on this day, January 14, in 1890. A toxicologist and biochemist at Indiana University, he created the first apparatus (1931) to test the content of alcohol in a person's bloodstream. Breath blown into a balloon was released into a container with crystals in it. The acetic acid (or vinegar) in the breath would change the color of the crystals. The more colored crystals, the more alcohol in the blood stream. He called his invention the Drunkometer.

In 1938, Dr. Harger took his expertise and became an advocate against drunk driving by sitting on the National Safety Council subcommittee that helped decide on a legal limit for intoxication. That limit was incorporated into drunk driving legislation across the country.

Dr. Harger's research was able to inform policy - mostly because alcohol consumption was a highly political issue. But more importantly, Harger invested his time to continue informing policy decisions in addition to his responsibilities at Indiana University. Harger passed away August 10, 1983.

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