I always learned that the 21 year old drinking age was the brainchild of Elizabeth Dole (wife of ex Sen. Bob Dole) when she was the head of the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safet Admin.)
The drinking age is clearly a state thing. Dole's contribution is by connecting the establishment of the 21 year old drinking age to federal highway funding. This was codified in the National Highway and Surface Transportation Act of 1982. States then needed to up their drinking ages to protect their highway funding.
One interesting side note to all this--the 21 year old drinking age made photo ID
fraud huge...and introduced it to criminals who weren't thinking about what they could achieve with fraudulent ID
cards...and then they got the picture, if you will.
Ohio has codified in state law that if congress removes the 21 year old drinking age, the drinking age will automatically drop to 19/21. Personally, living on a college campus, I don't see the merit of the graduated drinking age...you can get drunk on anything in the right quantity.
Two other interesting notes...the drinking age in Canada used to be 21...but about 10 years before the US went to the 21 age, the provinces changed to 18/19. Also, when Ohio codified alcohol laws at the end of prohibition...the drinking age was...16.
It probably was 16 well into the 1950's or even 60's...and it specifically said something like "no 16 year old will be served alcohol without parental permission or on the advice and counsel of a doctor."