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A shot glass is a small glass designed to hold or measure spirits or liquor, which is either drunk straight from the glass (“a shot”) or poured into a cocktail. A “shot” of liquor is not the same as a “shooter“.
The Oxford English Dictionary‘s first citation for the term “shot glass” is in The New York Times during the 1940s, but the earliest known written reference was in a 1913 book by Dr. Jehu Z. Powell, A History of Cass County Indiana from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time [Lewis Publishing Company, 1913].
More About Shot Glasses
On page 655 Dr. Powell recounts an incident c. 1857 in the small town of New Waverly, Indiana. occasioned by a local man attempting to open a saloon against fierce local temperance opposition. The initial stock was a barrel of whiskey, which had arrived by train and was sitting on the open freight platform awaiting delivery to the would-be barkeeper. A local man who was an ardent temperance supporter fired his rifle from an upper floor window in his house. And as it turns out, he shot a hole in the barrel. Thus draining it of its contents. “The remedy was effectual, and the saloon was not opened, and ever after, when the boys wanted a drink they would ask for a ‘shot of redeye'”.
Also, New Waverly is located just outside Logansport, Indiana. It was an important transportation hub for northern Indiana. In the 19th century as a riverboat port on the Wabash River and a stop on the Wabash and Erie Canal. As well as an important railroad engine maintenance and repair center during the first half of the 20th century. This intensive involvement in transportation could account for the gradual dissemination of an otherwise obscure local expression over a much broader area.
Several examples also exist from the 1930s. However, although it was used by some, the term apparently did not come into common usage until much later.
Many references from the 1800s describe giving a jigger (1.5 US fl oz or 44 millilitres) of whiskey or rum to workers who were digging canals. Most shot glasses are found in the United States, but shot glasses from before the 1940s are very rare.