"There’s evidence to suggest that commercial rum production originated in Barbados in the 1600s. In colonial days, when there was significant rum production in the USA, rum was part of a trade triangle that involved molasses, sugar cane, and the slave trade. The manufacturing supply chain invariably entailed lots of ocean transport of merchandise to and from the Caribbean, which contributed to much of the nautical imagery that we associate with the spirit today.
"If you look back to American history, George Washington requested a barrel of rum at his inauguration, and rum was certainly the dominant spirit in a young United States, before it started becoming affectionate with whiskey and bourbon.
"During Prohibition, the term 'rum-runner' came into existence, and a new era in rum-centric cocktail-making emerged. Certainly Prohibition in America damaged a lot of the spirits industry, wherever it was reliant on business in the United States, but rum bounced back much more quickly, in part because the rum bootleggers were some of the most effective guys in that industry, but also because rum, especially in the Caribbean, can reach maturity much faster than other liquors.
"Following World War II, rum emerged as the leading spirit in the United States, in part because there was a huge tiki-drink wave popularized by American sailors and American servicemen returning from the Pacific Theater. Eventually, rum gave way to vodka, and that brings us up to speed, more or less."