Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Hour Update - the History of "Happy Hour" on the U.S.S. Arkansas

Happy Hour Update - the U.S.S. Arkansas, 

"Home Makers," Women's Clubs and President Taft

In an earlier post, The History and Etymology of "Happy Hour", I traced the history of "Happy Hour" back to the U.S.S. Arkansas and its involvement in the Tampico Affair during the Mexican Revolution in 1914.  The fact that several references reported separately about "Happy Hour" on the Arkansas, and not on any other ship, suggests that the event or the name of the event, was novel and unique to the Arkansas.  I concede, however, that it left open the possibility that "Happy Hour" might have been more widespread.  Those early reports could have mentioned the Arkansas because it was the flagship, which would have attracted more attention or provided more access to journalists.

This update examines new evidence that clarifies that the "Happy Hour" tradition in the navy most likely did originate on the U.S.S. Arkansas in early 1913, and that the name came from a group of sailors called the “Happy Hour Social.”  It is also possible, although not certain, that President Taft may have experienced one of the first "Happy Hours" on the U.S.S. Arkansas during his trip to Panama to observe construction of the Panama Canal.  Is it also possible that President Taft inspired the name?

The Origins of Happy Hour on the U.S.S. Arkansas

The first reference to “Happy Hour” on the U.S.S. Arkansas appears in a letter, published in early 1913 in Our Navy, the Standard Magazine of the United States Navy, outlining recent news from the ship:

I must not forget to tell you about our semi-weekly smokers.  These smokers are given by the “Happy Hour Social,” an organization of “home makers” we have on board.  

Our Navy, Volume 6, Number 11 (March, 1913), page 12. 

The same letter reported on President Taft’s stay on the Arkansas:

[T]he President said that . . . his trip on the Arkansas would be one of the most pleasant remembrances he would take with him into civil life; that he had knowledge of the ship being a sporting ship and a happy ship; that he knew that she was a crack ship, and that he hoped in the near future she would fly the flag of the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet.

Id.  The news from the Arkansas published two months earlier, in the January, 1913 issue of Our Navy, also mentions smokers, but without using the term, “Happy Hour.”

The vessel is going to give a Smoker to the Fleet at Guantanamo.  Other ships sit up and notice.  Remember the saying “Wisdom from infants.” We will be the infant of the Fleet.  We have something up our sleeves.

Our Navy, Volume 6, Number 9 (January, 1913) page 23.  The letter is undated, but seems to have been written early in December, before Taft’s trip to Panama was planned, as there is no mention of it in the letter.  Taken together, the letters suggest that the “Happy Hour Social” group, and their twice-weekly smokers, were new to the ship sometime between December 1912 and March 1913.

By June of 1913, the crew of the Arkansas referred to their twice-weekly smokers as “Happy Hour:”

U.S.S. Arkansas. Hampton Roads, Va., June 13, 1913. The Editor, OUR NAVY. We are going to have a “Happy Hour” on board tomorrow night and expect to entertain the crew of the Minas Geraes [(a Brazilian warship that the Arkansas was to escort to New York City)].  There will be some good bouts, movies, etc., and if the Brazilians do not enjoy themselves it won’t be our fault.

Our Navy, Volume 7, Number 3 (July 1913), page 21.  
Beginning in 1915, numerous reports of “Happy Hours” held on ships and at commands, other than the Arkansas, start popping up in the pages of Our Navy.  By early 1918, the entire  Atlantic Fleet was holding weekly “Happy Hours:”

Then next comes the popular “Happy Hour” programs which each ship stages once a week.  These “Happy Hour” programs are what is known to civilian life as a “Smoker” or “Stag” and are held on the Quarter-deck, the music is furnished by the band better known to the sailor as the ship’s “Boiler-makers.”  In the early evening the spacious deck is a modern day dancing academy but which later proves to be the arena while the big gun turrets serve as grandstands.  Several very good boxing exhibitions are put on and sometimes a champion match, at which time maybe a grudge is settled.  Cigars, cigarettes, and programs are distributed, and after the “bouts” maybe one will find ice cream and cakes.  The evening winds up with “movies” and between reels the howls for “Bando!” will ring your ears.”

Our Navy, Volume 12, Number 8 (December 1918), page 66. 

“Happy Hour” was here to stay.

Earlier Uses of “Happy Hour”

The U.S.S. Arkansas originated the use of the term, “Happy Hour,” which would eventually influence the spread of “happy hour” into civilian pop-culture.  However, the name of the group that organized the Arkansas' happy-hour smokers, “Happy Hour Social,” did not originate on the ship.  The name appears to have been drawn from a long-standing, common name for social clubs, usually women’s social clubs.  

The name “Happy Hour Club,” or some variation thereof, goes back to at least the 1880s.  Reports of meetings of such clubs show a variety of activities from sewing and quilting, to temperance lectures and educational seminars, to dining, dancing, games, music, drama and travel.  Clubs with “happy hour” in their name were located in all areas of the country, including, by way of example (there are hundreds of references to such clubs), “Happy Hour Clubs” in Kansas (1882), Nebraska (1890), Missouri (1901), New York (1903), and Utah (1907), the “Happy Hour Social Club” in Montana (1894), the “Happy Hour Dancing club” in California (1896), the “Happy Hour Euchre club” in Minnesota (1900), the “Happy Hour Social Circle” in Indiana (1902), and the “Happy Hour Society” in Virginia (1906). 

The name seems originally to have been intended to reflect the hope that when they meet, that they will spend a few happy hours together, and not the expectation of being happy by way of alcohol.  Of course, who knows what really happened at those meetings; I only have access to published reports.  The connotation of happy, as in tipsy or inebriated would only come later.

President Taft

President Taft boarding the Arkansas; New York, Oct. 1912
But the question remains, did President Taft experience one of the first-ever “Happy Hours?”  He is known to have ridden the Arkansas for nearly a week, from Key West to Colon, Panama and back during Christmastime, 1912.  He could easily have been present for one of the “Happy Hour Social’s” twice-weekly smokers (he would have missed the “Smoker to the Fleet” because he debarked in Key West before the ship sailed for Cuba). 

It is unclear, however, whether the “Happy Hour Social” club had formed by that time, and if so, whether they had already begun their tradition of holding twice-weekly smokers. But Taft did, reportedly, refer to the Arkansas as a “happy ship.”  Might his words have inspired the crew to use “happy” in the name? Hmmm????  It is at least interesting to see that Taft, the reputed (disputed) progenitor of the seventh-inning stretch, may have been associated with the early history of another long-lasting pop-cultural institution – the Happy Hour.


What we do know for sure, however, is that the term “Happy Hour” originated with the U.S.S. Arkansas in about, early 1913, spread throughout the Navy between 1915 and 1920, continued in use within the military into the 1950s, was adopted for civilian use on a small scale in the early 1950s, and would eventually make the leap into general use sometime after it was mentioned in an article in the Saturday Evening Post, April 25, 1959.

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