Originally on the water wagon or on the water cart, referring to carts used to hose down dusty roads:[1][2][3] see the 1901 quotation below. The term may have been used by the early 20th-century temperance movement in the United States; for instance, William Hamilton Anderson (1874 – circa 1959), the superintendent of the New York Anti-Saloon League, is said to have made the following remark about Prohibition: “Be a good sport about it. No more falling off the water wagon. Uncle Sam will help you keep your pledge.”


  • Hyphenation: on the wa‧gon


on the wagon ‎(not comparable)

  1. (idiomatic) Abstaining from drinking any alcoholic drink, usually in the sense of having given it up (as opposed to never having partaken); teetotal.
  2. (by extension) Maintaining a program of self-improvement or abstinence from some other undesirable habit.
    He’s been on the smoking cessation wagon for two weeks now.




  1. ^ On the wagon”, World Wide Words, Michael Quinion, created 18 July 1998, last updated 27 January 2006.
  2. ^ on the wagon” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary (2001).
  3. ^ Robert Hendrickson (1997) The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, rev. and exp. edition, New York, N.Y.: Facts On File, ISBN 978-0-8160-3266-2.