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Why 21?


For most of us, the first 15 years of life consists of diapers, cartoons and school -- in that order (at least let's hope so). But at 16, just as the acne has started to kick in and the body is morphing in all kinds of strange and embarrassing ways, we're allowed to get a driver's license and enjoy our first taste of freedom. Then, at 18, we're eligible to vote and join the armed services -- Whoopee! But everybody knows the real fun doesn't begin until 21, the magical age of adulthood when all things become available, including the wonders of alcohol consumption and hangovers.

Ever wonder how it was decided that 21 was the age of majority? Well, all you frustrated youngsters looking to vent can blame the Brits. In medieval times in western Europe, young men of noble and knightly families normally left their homes to enter in the household of someone of equal or higher rank around the age of 10. There they served as pages, i.e., errand boys -- until the age of 14. For the next seven years they served as esquires attached to adult knights who, in return for having their horses attended to, their armor polished, etc., trained them in the knightly arts. By the 13th century, 21 was the customary age for a young man to be knighted. Likewise, among middle-class families, a boy would normally be apprenticed at the age of 14 to a master to learn a trade. The customary apprenticeship period was seven years. Hence, at the age of 21 they were usually considered adults and old enough to strike out on their own. Like it or not, this custom carried over to America and continues to influence our laws today.

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