Indiana Invention: The Drunkometer Mixed Spirits and Science
If you enjoy a multi-drink evening from time to time and hold a valid driver’s license, it’s a safe bet that Indiana is responsible for running up your cab bill and ruining a number of your nights. Indiana state law might have even saved your life or the lives of others.
There is, as most would agree, a grey area between the amount of alcohol one can safely drink before operating a motor vehicle and the amount of alcohol one can legally drink before operating a motor vehicle. Nondrinkers (and teenagers) might not require much to reach a dangerous state of impairment, while older folks with tolerance can likely handle a bit more.
As citizens and community members, we can all likely agree that it is much better to be safe than sorry. We aren’t always firing on all decision-making cylinders after a few rounds.
The breathalyzer test or the threat of a breathalyzer test, has helped millions of not-quite-drunk-but-also-not-sober people who would have otherwise jumped behind the wheel make better travel arrangements. For that, we can all thank Indiana University professor Rolla Neil Harger.
Born in 1890, Harger graduated from Yale in 1922. He was hired as an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Working in the school’s newly formed department of biochemistry and toxicology, he was made a full professor and remained in the position until 1960. Harger served as department chair from 1933 to 1956.
In 1931, during his time at Indiana University, Harger invented a device that he called ‘The Drunkometer’. The device measured blood alcohol levels. It was a direct precursor to the breathalyzer test in use today. Harger was given the patent to the Drunkometer, or breathalyzer, in 1936.
By 1938, as automobiles became increasingly popular, the government recognized the immense benefit of the device. Harger was named to a 5-man subcommittee for the National Safety Council. The organization drafted model legislation for blood alcohol limits to prevent impaired driving.
Although the name Rolla Neil Harger may be relegated to an obscure Trivial Pursuit question or Jeopardy clue, variations of his Drunkometer invention are still widely used across the world. The device acts as a reliable drunk driving test and a deterrent.
Thanks to Harger’s long-term thinking in the 30s, local governments had access to the Drunkometer long before it became an essential tool. The rise of suburban sprawl, mass-produced cars, and traffic congestion have all contributed to the need for this device.