Editor's note, April 6, 2015: This post has been updated as indicated below.
From the random awesomeness department, we bring you this real document from the National Archives' series "Engineering and Architectural Drawings, 1934-2004":
A "Cocktail Construction" chart dated 1974 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Region 8, signed by a regional engineer named Ketchum and checked by "I Mixum," Ima Sot," "Jim Beam," "I.P. Freely" and "Bob Johns."
Shown at right, we've also embedded a close-up view of the martini instructions and symbol key, complemented by a Flickr photo of a martini taken by Alexander Forst-Rakoczy.
As far as we can tell, this wonderful chart entered the Internet consciousness via a Tumblr post by the National Archives, distributed by Web legend Jason Kottke, among others. We haven't yet been unable to determine how the document came to be, but we continue to research the matter, and we'll update this post if we learn more. We've also left messages with the National Archives.
Update, and credit where due: Miriam Kleiman of the National Archives just got back to us and said that the document is "one of our staff favorites, by far," but that archives staffers don't know a whole lot about it beyond "the assumption that it was a really bored employee ... and obviously an employee with a really good sense of humor!" Thanks to commenter Juanaquena below, we've discovered that Esquire dug up the apparent backstory on Friday, the same day that we originally published this post. (Evidently it was too new to turn up in our Web searches at the time.)
Esquire talked to Larry Chambers, the national press officer for the Forest Service, who said that the document probably shouldn't have been preserved at all.
"We're surprised it even made it into the archives," he told Esquire, because standards for preservation tightened after World War II. "This is the sort of thing our historian expected should have been tossed in the can." Maybe someone (understandably!) decided it was "too neat to throw away," he said.
Kenny Herzog of Esquire -- whose reporting on this story is almost as impressive a piece of work as the document itself -- also talked to a staffer for Region 8 and to the son of the man who seems to have devised the chart.
Region 8 Program Management Analyst Sharon Phillips identified the late Cleve "Red" Ketchum, a member of the Forest Service Museum Honor Roll who worked for the office from 1974 to 1980, as the chart's likely author. She assumed it was just a joke, something he did for fun, and not something he "passed along to the staff." She speculated: "It probably got mixed up with some legitimate stuff and ended up in the archives."
Ray Ketchum, Red's son, concurred. "I'm pretty sure it was an in-house joke with the guys" he worked with, Ray told Esquire's Herzog. "My father had one of them funny, cowboy senses of humor. The only thing Dad was interested in doing was making life better for folks. I would not be a bit surprised, if you really got to looking, if you found a whole bunch more of those in-house jokes that he may or may not have had something to do with."
For what it's worth, though: Yahoo commenter Todd below says that his dad worked at the Forest Service for a fellow named Harry Ketchum, and "I'm sure it was made by him." ... The more we think about it, the more we wonder whether the engineer's name was Ketchum at all. Doesn't the first initial look like an I, not a C (Cleve) or an R (Red) or an H (Harry)? And doesn't "I. Ketchum" (I catch 'em) sound like a punny joke a la "Ima Sot" and "I.P. Freely"?
Other commenters have said that they have -- or had -- versions of this chart dating back to the 1980s, and Maureen Hill of the National Archives in Atlanta (where Red Ketchum was based) says that when she posted the document to her personal Facebook account a few years ago, a retired architect friend commented that the drawing had circulated in his office in the 1980s. There's even an Ebay seller who claims to have the original two-page set. But the Ebay documents, which are probably the same as the prints that commenters are describing (larger, with no Forest Service label), sound to us like they might be copycats. The National Archives document is simpler (about half as many cocktails) and more homespun, since it's in handwriting, yet to our eye it looks more elegant too.
You can buy a matted 11-by-14-inch print for your home from the National Archives for $14.95. It's currently back-ordered till April 13; thanks to commenter John for pointing that out. Don't crash the servers! And happy cocktail-making.
(And please, by all means, if you know anything more about the backstory, let us know in the comments! You're also welcome to email us with comments and tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Incidentally, the Cocktail Construction chart was originally posted to Tumblr account in conjunction with the National Archives' fascinating exhibit "Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History," in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery through early next year. Contrary to some reports, the Ketchum cocktail chart is not part of the exhibit, but other fantastic items are, including an ID card for a Prohibition undercover agent named Daisy Simpson, also known as the "lady hooch hunter"; a doctor's prescription for whiskey; patents for a drinking flask, a beer mug and a cocktail shaker; and a $77.20 receipt for 70 gallons of "strong spt. wine" (brandy) and six kegs purchased in 1803 by Meriwether Lewis for his upcoming Lewis and Clark Expedition. We've added all those and more to our slideshow.