‘Joe Six-Pack’: meaning and origin

The U.S. term Joe Six-Pack, also Joe Six-pack and Joe Sixpack, designates a hypothetical ordinary working man.

Like Jack, pet form of JohnJoe, familiar abbreviation of Joseph, is colloquially used as a generic term for a lada fellowa chap.

And, like Joe Bloggs and Joe Soap in British English, names such as Joe BlowJoe Citizen and Joe Doakes are applied to a hypothetical average man in American English.
—Cf. also Onion Johnny.

As for Joe Six-Pack, this term refers of course to the fact that the ordinary working man reputedly buys beer in packs of six bottles or cans.

The earliest occurrences of Joe Six-Pack that I have found are from the following article, published in The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) of Friday 28th August 1970—the author, Martin F. Nolan, attributes the coinage of Joe Six-Pack to “one of the […] livelier political informants” on the “three-decker, blue-collar, hard-hat” area of Fields Corner in Dorchester, in the neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts:

The Nation . . . by Martin F. Nolan
After the soul of Joe Six-Pack

Politics is in many ways an endless pool game and its practice is intensely admired nowhere more than in the Ninth Congressional District of Massachusetts.
The billiards parlors of Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston and Jamaica Plain plus other rialtos of political intelligence offer up the basic angles and aims the three congressional candidates seek to employ before the Democratic primary Sept. 15.
City Councillor Louise Day Hicks is the favorite at straight pool, rotation, Chicago, eight-ball—she is the champ in public-opinion samplings and her record in city elections is formidable.
Joe Moakley has been ready for the tournament since he entered the state senate in 1965, waiting for Speaker John W. McCormack to step down.
Unlike Mrs. Hicks, Moakley is respected among the district’s 20,000 black voters. He has worked diligently on housing, crime and other issues that should—but don’t—unite the blacks in Roxbury with the Irish, Italo-Americans and Jews in Dorchester and Jamaica Plain.
Moakley’s work in this area may be going for naught because of the unusual combination shot being attempted by the third contestant, David Nelson of Roxbury.
Nelson is hoping for a heavy Moakley vote to neutralize the Hicks strength in Dorchester. Then, with almost every black vote plus white liberals in the Back Bay and South End, Nelson would win a close three-way struggle.
Moakley would probably beat Mrs. Hicks in a two-way contest, the forces of Men’s Lib alone providing strength. Nelson would almost certainly lose a two-way confrontation.
Greeting shoppers at Fields Corner in Dorchester yesterday, Moakley conceded that he and Nelson don’t disagree on any issues, “just who’s going to win, that’s all.” If Nelson were out, Moakley would almost certainly inherit the anti-Hicks vote in Roxbury and the Back Bay.
Fields Corner—it is the heart of the 9th C. D. geographically, economically, culturally. It is three-decker, blue-collar, hard-hat. It is where Mrs. Hicks is strongest and it is the kind of place where the hope of America may lie.
The middle-class city workers and truck drivers who would battle a typhoon to vote for Mrs. Hicks have an image of themselves. Coined by one of the area’s livelier political informants, the picture is that of “Joe Six-Pack,” a guy who works hard and wants to be left alone.
Mrs. Hicks’ only visible platform is “You know where I stand,” a code not for racism, but for a misty status quo ante of clean sidewalks and trouble-free schools.
The force of this illusion is the single greatest barrier facing Moakley and Nelson. While they are talking about Vietnam, pollution or housing, she avoids issues and debates, not because she is attempting to deceive her constituency, but solely to avoid interfering in the course of their own self-deception.
Moakley plans to make Mrs. Hicks the major issue in the campaign, challenging her to debate, talking about issues in the media and shouting in Joe Six-Pack’s ear to wake up and face the un-simplistic facts of life.
Nelson plans to “get it together” in the argot of Dudley street, rooting for Moakley to push the Hicks juggernaut slightly off course to make way for the newly-solidified black vote.
Mrs. Hicks must consolidate and sit tight, go the house-party and handshake route, avoiding TV cameras and controversy.
And Moakley must play all the angles, hustling his own organization, stimulating the interest of Back Bay liberals, hoping for anything in Roxbury, priming the pride of his fellow “Southie” residents, and appealing most of all to the conscience and soul of Joe Six-Pack in Dorchester.
(Globe Washington Bureau)

On Thursday 17th September 1970, the same newspaper, The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), published this irate response to Martin F. Nolan’s article:

Fields Corner
Who made Globe writer Martin Nolan the expert on the Fields Corner-Meetinghouse Hill section of Dorchester when he called us “Joe Six-pack?”
As a life long resident . . . I resent his derogatory and condescending remarks, which seem to be the typical suburbanite analysis of our section. It appears that his opinions were based on casual observations from a subway train as it passes an auto junk yard near Fields Corner station or from a Bowdoin st.-Geneva avenue busride where a lack of political leadership has resulted in a ‘combat zone’ appearance.
If Mr. Nolan were an objective correspondent he would have looked beyond the veneer of blight and found that the vast majority of people are sober, hard working, law abiding citizens, both blue and white collar, and that many of the young go on to success in business, as well as in unions, the professions, clergy and in college.*
This section of Dorchester believes in helping itself and the result is that there is an aggressive, dedicated committee that is building a new multimillion dollar Fields Corner Neighborhood Center that will improve, vastly, the recreational and health services in the area.
Mr. Nolan’s remark down grades Fields Corner, and makes the task of this committee more difficult.
Fred MacDonald
Chairman, The New Fields Corner Neighborhood Center
Dorchester House
*Including the Editorial Page of The Globe. Reporter-columnist Nolan was born in Roxbury and has lived most of his life in Fields Corner—Ed.)

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