Fifth (unit)

Fifth (unit)

A fifth is a unit of volume formerly used for distilled beverages in the United States, and is equal to one fifth of a gallon, 45 quart, or 2535 fluid ounces (757 mL); it has been superseded by the metric fifth[1] of 750 mL, approximately 1% smaller, which is the standard capacity of wine bottles world-wide.


In the late nineteenth century, liquor was often sold in bottles which appeared to hold a quart (32 fl.oz.) but in fact contained 2, 3, or 4 fluid ounces less than a quart and were called "fifths",[2] short quarts, or commercial quarts.[3]

A quart or one fifth of a gallon was a common legal threshold for the difference between selling by the drink and selling by the bottle or at wholesale,[4][5][3] and thus the difference between a drinking saloon or barroom and a dry-goods store.

The fifth was the usual size of bottle for distilled beverages in the United States until 1980.[6] Other authorized units based on the fifth included 45 pint and 110 pint.[7]

During the 1970's, there was a push for metrication of U.S. government standards. In 1975, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in cooperation with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, proposed six metric-standard bottle sizes to take effect in January, 1979,[8] and these standards were incorporated into Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations.[7] These sizes are 50, 100, 200, 375 (355 for cans), 500 (until June, 1989), 750, 1000, and 1750 mL.

See also


  1. ^ E. Frank Henriques, The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine, p. 298
  2. ^ United States Congress, "Report of hearings on H.R. 16925 to Regulate the Storage of Food Products in the District of Columbia", January 24, 1910, p. 300
  3. ^ a b Municipal League of Los Angeles, Municipal Affairs 2:1 (January 1907) "commercial+quart" p. 4
  4. ^ The Southwestern Reporter 55, 1900, p. 212
  5. ^ Annual report of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners (California), 1894, p. 71
  6. ^ testimony of Carl L. Alsberg, "Amendments to the Pure Food and Drugs Act", Commonwealth of Virginia, 1919, p. 17: "The ordinary whisky bottle contains one-fifth of a gallon, or 2535 ounces... They are either marked 25 ounces, or one-fifth of a gallon."
  7. ^ a b 27 CFR Chapter I, Part 5, Subpart E, Section 5.47a Metric standards of fill for distilled spirits bottled after December 31, 1979
  8. ^ "Old Standard Fifth Due New Moniker", Indiana Evening Gazette, 16 July 1975, p. 40 (?)