Near Beer, a Steer, and “Better Take Something for That Cough, Dear”

Two Texas colleges have mascots whose names can be traced to prohibition and to products advertised in the Star-Telegram and sold in Fort Worth early in the twentieth century.

The name of the University of Texas mascot steer is, of course, “Bevo.” One theory (there are others) traces the origin of that name to a beverage of the same name. Anheuser-Busch was brewing its Bevo brand near beer (less than .5 percent alcohol by volume) by at least 1908 but in June 1916 began promoting it more vigorously to hedge against the growing temperance movement and the threat of national prohibition. Sure enough, after national prohibition began in 1920 Anheuser-Busch’s near beer crossed the welcome mat of many a mouth. (The brand name “Bevo” is an amalgam of the words beverage and pivo, the Slavic word for “beer.”) In the Star-Telegram ad below, from July 1916, the brewer took a stance of preparedness as war in Europe threatened America’s supply of hops.

In December 1916, five months after big ads for Bevo the near beer began appearing in Texas newspapers, the editor of UT’s campus magazine first referred to UT’s mascot steer as “Bevo”: “His name is Bevo. Long may he reign!”

The Star-Telegram ad below is from October 1916.


Late in 1915, just months before UT named its mascot “Bevo,” SMU students at a pep rally sang these words to the tune of the song “Coming ’Round the Mountain”:

“She’ll be loaded with Peruna when she comes,

she’ll be loaded with Peruna when she comes . . .”

(Lyrics begin at 2:30.)

The altered song became SMU’s fight song, and the name “Peruna” was later given to the Mustangs’ mascot pony, who was first trotted out in 1932.

The “Peruna” in the fight song referred to Peruna tonic, a patent medicine that Dr. Samuel Brubaker Hartman had concocted in the 1890s as a cure for catarrh. Hartman ran large display ads in newspapers. The ads often included testimonials and often were aimed at women. Shown below are parts of Star-Telegram ads from 1903 and 1905. The top ad shows the evening-gowned Peruna Girl offering a swig to a catarrh-plagued world. The bottom ad shows that catarrh was a versatile ailment indeed: Its symptoms could be just about anything a patent medicine seller wanted them to be.

The 1904 Star-Telegram ad below is a testimonial by Miss Hattie Grace of New York, who had been “fretful, irritable, and nervous,” bless her heart, before she began chugging Peruna. Afterward, she testified, “Nothing seems to worry and to fret me any more.” And why should it? Peruna contained 28 percent alcohol. That amount was reduced to 18 percent after prohibition began, but from 1920 to 1933 Peruna remained a popular cure for the particular strain of catarrh caused by overexposure to the Volstead Act.

More on patent medicines:

Once Upon a Malady (Part 1): Of Cod and Continence

Once Upon a Malady (Part 2): Of Mandrake and Maltobeef

From Drooper to Super: Of Snake Oil and Lip Service

The Weaker Sex? “Ladies, Here’s to Your Health (Hic)”

Shock Jock: “Just Let the Electrodes Work Their Magic”

Up a Lazy Liver: Snake Oil, Celery, and Feeling No Paine’s

This entry was posted in "Read All About It", Advertising, Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *