June 19 is National Martini Day, celebrating the cocktail which began as nothing more than gin and vermouth but has since become a catch-all for anything served in a martini glass. In honor of the drink, which became America’s favorite cocktail during Prohibition due to the ease of manufacturing bootleg gin, the National Archives shared the cocktail sets of two martini-loving presidents – Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt – featured in the Spirited Republic exhibition. So how much did these presidents enjoy their cocktails? We decided to find out.
Before he was president, Herbert Hoover was Calvin Coolidge’s secretary of commerce. It was during this time that Hoover developed a taste for “cocktail hour,” which he called “the pause between the errors and trials of the day and the hopes of the night.” Since this was during Prohibition, Hoover couldn’t enjoy his beloved martinis on American soil, so he would go to the Belgian embassy on his way home and have a drink. Of course, once Hoover won the presidency, this became a moot point, as the White House became wet despite Prohibition laws.
Hoover’s decanter set, pictured above, was actually a gift from his friend, diplomat Hugh S. Gibson. Gibson also happens to be the source of one of the many myths surrounding the creation of the martini’s close relative, the gibson. It has been said that Hugh S. Gibson couldn’t keep up with his friends’ drinking, so he would have water in a cocktail glass and use a cocktail onion to mark his drink.
Herbert Hoover’s successor, Franklin Roosevelt, was also fond of martinis. As New York’s governor and later as President, FDR would end the workday with a cocktail party, much to the chagrin of his wife Eleanor, whose father and brother were alcoholics. Roosevelt would mix the cocktails himself, using this silver cocktail shaker, but not everyone was a fan of his take on the martini. FDR’s grandson Curtis told the history channel:
“They were not that strong. He’d throw in a little gin at the end … He’d also put in two or three drops of absinthe, changing the taste of a martini to where many people — and this is recorded — say ‘The president made the worst martinis I’ve ever tasted.'”
So on this National Martini Day, do something presidential and make yourself a martini. But you probably don’t want to follow FDR’s recipe.