Thursday, August 11, 2022

We've Got Moxie

Do you have it too?

In case you didn't know, the term derives from a soda named the official soft drink for the state of Maine in 2005. 

Who knew states had official drinks? 
In the U.S., the first known usage of declaring a specific beverage a "state beverage" began in 1965 when Ohio designated tomato juice as its official beverage. Milk is the most popular choice for a state beverage designation.

Forget about milk because  in Maine, there's only one celebrated drink — Moxie, a carbonated soda, and it's what fostered the slang word, moxie, synonymous with having spunk, pluck or verve.
Now, you know and, yes, the drink came first.

Having moxie is one thing, finding it can be a challenge depending on where you live now.

Years ago, you would have been in luck as Moxie was available in over 30 states and parts of Canada. In recent years it's almost exclusively sold in the New England states, especially Maine, where it gets the most love. There's even a Moxie museum and annual July festival devoted to the soda.

But, here's the thing, unlike other soft drinks, Moxie is an acquired taste. Many never develop a liking—folks either love or hate it (no in between). Diehard fans are said to have distinctively different taste buds.

As the saying goes when in Rome, so when in Maine it follows that Grenville and I, usually non-soda drinkers, were first timers who tasted Moxie on our recent Maine trip and—we liked it. So much, in fact, that once home, we were happy ecstatic at finding it on the shelves of two Nashua, NH, grocery stores. We bought the zero calorie diet version shown at the right. 

Like many other drinks and two most  popular ones, Coca-Cola (created in 1885 by Dr. John Pemberton) and Pepsi Cola (created in 1893 by pharmacist Caleb Davis Bradham). Moxie started as a medicinal cure for various ailments. (Most of this information was learned during visits to Coca-Cola's Atlanta, GA, birthplace in March and Pepsi's New Bern, NC in May.)
Delivery wagons at Moxie Nerve Food Company, Boston, MA
But, here's a twist most folks don't know — Moxie created in 1884 is older than both those colas. It was created in New England by a Maine-born physician. Not only that, it dominated the beverage market for decades through clever and extensive advertising, always called Moxie. Surprisingly, it's mostly a regional beverage now, one that many have never heard of before this post, so here goes all about Moxie.

It Started as Nerve Food
Dr. Augustin Thompson
The man responsible for Moxie was Augustin Thompson (1835-1903), born in Union, ME, and a wounded Civil War veteran who developed tuberculosis, which led to his discharge. Coincidentally, Pemberton, Coke's inventor, and Thompson were both injured military veterans. Pemberton was a Confederate soldier.) After the war, Thompson became a homeopathic physician. He specialized in natural remedies to improve health and well-being which contributed to the ingredients he included in the drink.

After graduating with honors from Hahnemann Homeopathic College in Philadelphia (now Drexel University School of Medicine), Thompson set up a medical practice in Lowell, MA, an important textile manufacturing hub. In 1867, he reportedly had one of the largest patient lists in New England and earned over $15,000 annually, a considerable sum then.

In 1876, like many others in those days, Dr. Thompson created a cure-all patent medicine that included
 the South American gentian root extract, cinchona, sassafras, caramel and flavoringsThis bitter root extract was reported to have medicinal qualities in use since the Roman era. 
His product was
 advertised as effective against: paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia and (ready or not)
 claimed to have cured drunkards by the thousands; made more homes happy; cured more nervous, prostrated, and overworked people. In 1884, Dr. Thompson marketed it as a soda fountain syrup: a delicious blend of bitter and sweet, a drink to satisfy everyone’s taste. (Detractors then and now may disagree.)

When carbonation was added in 1884, it was re-branded to “Moxie Nerve Food” sold as a soda fountain syrup and in quart bottles at 40 cents each. It was merchandised as an invigorating drink said to have been kept available by bartenders who dispensed it to customers too drunk to be given more alcohol.

About that Name 
According to a debunked folk legend, the product was named for a Lt. Moxie, who had discovered the secret ingredient plant root and used it to cure ills. This story was completely made-up and in reality, he never existed. More widely believed is that the name comes from a Native American word for “dark water” used by the Abenaki tribe that called Maine home.

In 1885, Thompson received a trade mark for Moxie, and soon released it as a carbonated beverage. Shortly after, his son, Francis, and Freeman N. Young, built the first Moxie Bottle Wagon, a horse-drawn four-wheel cart with an eight-foot model of a Moxie bottle on the back. Moxie Bottle Wagons became one of Moxie’s chief advertising gimmicks in the first half of the 20th century and toured eastern cities. The drivers called Moxie Men handed out aluminum tokens good for one Moxie. Later replicas were pulled by trucks.
An early Moxie Bottle Wagon
The drink's high point came in the early 1900s when many American cities had a large Moxie billboard and sides of buildings with the Moxie logo painted on. It was a marketing blitz with Moxie songs, celebrity endorsements, a game, and candy. Popular at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, it became the nation’s favorite soft drink. 
Moxie, which long claimed there was no medicine, poison, stimulant, or alcohol in its makeup, removed nerve from its labels and was simply called Moxie. After passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 unmasked the patent medicine industry, makers had to put active ingredients on product labels. There could no longer be claims for a medical cure-all. Buyers learned how many "medicines" had alcohol, cocaine, or opium. Companies changed formulas or shut down completely. 
Moxie survived as one of the patent medicines that made the transition to another consumer product, the soft drink. The brand worked to keep its name as the original distinctively different drink. Imagine a soda now that claims it's wholesome, as Moxie did in the early above ad.

In 1911, its still current product identifier, the Moxie Boy, first appeared in ads yet was never officially named. In recent years, a historical group, The Moxie Congress, has identified him as John T. Chamberlain of Revere, MA, an employee of the lithographer, who posed for the ad and became forever famous. 

The ad with piercing eyes and a pointing finger was and still remains striking, so much, that after its introduction, storekeepers found that posting it near displays of fruits and vegetables could reduce pilferage. Over the years, this very identifiable company logo has appeared in different colors and styles. In 2011, it was removed from labels as executives considered it old-fashioned. It was a short-lived removal as it was revived after complaints from long-standing Moxie customers who are very loyal to the beverage.

According to Moxie lore (and perhaps only that) the pointing Moxie Boy was the inspiration behind this iconic WWI recruiting poster with the fierce finger-pointing depiction of Uncle Sam. There's no proof to that assertion. American illustrator James Montgomery Flagg created the I Want YOU image for a July 1916 issue of Leslie’s Weekly magazine and it was later adopted by the U.S. Army for a recruiting poster. 

Flagg was known to draw upon the work of other artists for his art. This one was uncannily similar to one that British artist Alfred Leete drew in 1914 of war hero Lord Kitchener wagging his finger to draw recruits.

What is completely true is that the Moxie Horsemobile, a horse car (you read right) became one of the most famous mobile advertising devices in America starting in 1915 or 1916. The first model was a full-size car with a live horse mounted on the rear. The vehicle was top-heavy and difficult to maneuver and was redesigned with a papier-mâché and later aluminum dummy horse mounted on a modified car chassis, usually a Buick, LaSalle or Rolls Royce. 
Moxie Horsemobile in 1920
By 1918, some two dozen mobile Horsemobiles were being driven in parades and other public functions. Drivers controlled the car's speed and steering with specially designed pedals and extensions. Quite expectedly, crowds followed everywhere it went. Today, Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, NH, currently has a modified 1929 LaSalle, the world’s only surviving original Moxie Horsemobile on display. It's definitely on a future roadside stop for us.
The now defunct Moxieland manufacturing plant, Roxbury, MA
The drink has always been a New England staple. From 1928 through 1953, Moxie was bottled in Moxieland, a huge manufacturing and distribution facility in Roxbury, MA, near Boston, MA. It featured an advertisement on the roof along with an arrow pointing in the direction of Logan Airport. The Boston Housing Authority demolished the factory to build a housing development.

Even though Moxie was first popular only in New England, aggressive marketing in the 1920s, pushed its sales ahead of rival Coca-Cola. No doubt helped by popular personalities like George M. Cohan, and Ed Wynn who endorsed and promoted it. Its popularity produced advertising jingles such as Make Mine Moxie!  and the slogan Just Make It Moxie for Me. 

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was known to favor the drink. In 1923, President Warren Harding suffered a heart attack and died in San Francisco during a western speaking tour. Vice President Coolidge was visiting family in Plymouth, VT; after his notary father, swore him in as President, he's said to have celebrated with a cold glass of Moxie.
Red Sox baseball player Ted Williams was a Moxie spokesperson
Sports personalities also endorsed Moxie, none more than Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams who served as its spokesperson on radio and in print. The popular outfielder had his likeness on a bottle of Moxie. Author E. B. White, an adopted Mainer, was another notable fan.
Thanks to this widespread advertising, the Moxie name became synonymous with courage, daring or determination. During war years, the company sort of went patriotic, exhorting, What this county needs is plenty of Moxie. Of course, it was a slick advertising gimmick. Soldiers and civilians were urged to use the invigorating taste of Moxie to: overcome enemy threats, endure air raids, till victory gardens, and collect scrap metal to support the war effort.

All things come to an end and so in the 1960s, the company was on a decline as merely a regional New England product. In 1962, its fortunes were briefly revived by Mad Magazine, which placed Moxie logos on pages. Moxie sales increased by 10 percent. Financial problems continued to plague the company as it kept getting bought and sold over the following decades.

Up tol August 2018, Moxie was produced by the Moxie Beverage Company of Bedford, NH, but  was ironically purchased by the Coca-Cola Company that year. Luckily for us and other fans, the brand’s production and bottling operations remain in NH.

Moxie remains regionally popular, particularly in New England, but also in Pennsylvania, and some other places in the northeastern U.S. Today its ingredients include carbonated water, gentian root extractives (less than 2%), natural and artificial flavors, caramel color and additives.

As noted earlier, it's celebrated in Maine, especially in Union, birthplace of Dr. Thompson, where a Moxie museum houses a 30-foot high wooden bottle of Moxie. The museum is in an annex to the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage. Of course, this place is on our list for a future road trip. 

Unfortunately, we missed out on All things Moxie annual festival that began in 1982 and is held in Lisbon Falls, ME. The three-day festival falls on the second weekend in July and was held on during our Maine visit. We missed it due to a conflicting ham radio event in Brunswick, ME, which included another Maine favorite, lobstah. There's always next year for the festival.

Yes, there's a Moxie ice cream seasonally available in Maine in limited quantities. It's taste is said to be milder in flavor than the soda. No, we haven't tried it—yet, but we will one day

Cooks have used Moxie as an additive for its savory-sweet flavor profile. It's often used in reductions as a glaze for meats. Many folks add it to New England baked beans. We're going to find alternative uses in the kitchen too. Of course, any good ones will be posted.

Wondering what Moxie tastes like?
It's definitely an acquired taste described by some like: tastes like root beer, cola and coffee mixed together; sort of tastes like a root beer, but one gone bad; tastes like a flat root bear and cola mixed with medicine; tastes like licorice. 

Although we're still undecided on how to best describe its unique taste, we lean more towards an unusual root beer flavor with licorice.

Admittedly, this has been a very long-ish post. But, after trying this completely new to us, I became very intrigued by the backstory. Per my usual style, I've shared with all of you and now you knowthe rest of the story (a nod to  the late radio commentator Paul Harvey).

Your Turn—Have you ever tried Moxie? 
If so, what did you like or not about its taste?


David M. Gascoigne, said...

I have heard the term "moxie" used to indicate a certain bravado, but had no idea it was a drink, nor did I know anything else of its history. I doubt that I shall be motivated to seek it out!

Bijoux said...

How interesting! I had no idea where the word came from. I sort of thought it was Yiddish! I’ve never seen the drink, so no, I haven’t tried it.

Latane Barton said...

I have not tried Moxie. Never heard of it but I would think that with sassafras in it, it may be similiar to root beer.

MadSnapper said...

I have heard the word moxie in movies and also in books but never heard it used in person. also have never heard that it was and still is a drink. I always took it to mean dealing with things, like the Moxie to deal with it. also i thought it mean having the guts to do something

Pamela M. Steiner said...

What a wonderful history of the "Moxie" drink! Yes, when we lived in NH and Maine, we saw Moxie everywhere, and my family tried it, but was not fond of it. I personally do not drink soda very often, and when I do it is usually either Root Beer or Ginger Ale or Orange soda, so I was not interested in trying Moxie. We had a good friend, now deceased, who LOVED Moxie and the Maine Red Hot Dogs. He and his wife moved to Florida and he couldn't get either one down here and was not happy, so they would stock up whenever they did go back up north. They even had the red hot dogs shipped in a freezer pack. LOL. I think my kids said Moxie tasted a lot like Dr. Pepper. I've never tasted either one. But I love the story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

Linda P said...

An interesting post. I'm not sure that I would like this drink. I've been trying to think of regional UK drinks. There's Somerset cider since the county is famous for growing apples and specialist mineral water from places like Buxton in our area. At the moment in this heatwave ice cold water is the best option. :)

mimmylynn said...

Moxie is a new brand name to me. Interesting history.

Vee said...

Of course, I have, but I am not a fan. However, for many years and to his last, my father received a case of Moxie under the tree at Christmas. He loved it! I live not many miles from Lisbon Falls and can't imagine that you missed much by choosing your Brunswick engagement over the Moxie parade. 😉 Very interesting post!

Jon said...

I've never heard of Moxie before - - but I like the old advertisements, which are much more intriguing than those of Coke or Pepsi.
And if Moxie "strengthens the nerves", I can definitely use it.

Anvilcloud said...

it’s new to me although, of course, the expression isn’t. I guess I have never had moxie of either kind.

DeniseinVA said...

This is fascinating! My mother-in-law who was from New England, drank this. It was her favorite. We don't get it in the stores we go to, but Gregg and our son always have one when they have had occasion to go up north. It's been a while. I'm going to show them your post, I know they will find it as interesting as I did. Thanks Dorothy!

Joanne in Massachusetts said...

Raised in Massachusetts, we often had Movie in the refrigerator as my Dad was a fan. I didn't care for it unless I diluted it with ginger ale.
In 2019, while in Tucson, a friend mentioned Moxie and a few days later I found it in a chain store that had a selection of "older" carbonated beverages.
I found it more palatable than before but will always reach for root beer or cream soda first.

DUTA said...

Nice, interesting ads of a drink I've known nothing about till reading your post.
I love Soda since childhood, and it"ll always be on my table as I consider it good for digestion.
I also like carbonated beverages (coke, black beer), and keep some bottles (usually the diet version) in the fridge.

Linda G. said...

I have had Moxie…didn’t care for it.

L. D. said...

You certainly do have a lot of moxie to share the post about it. I read the described taste and am not sure that I would like it. I do like Dr. Pepper but the moxie doesn't sound like the same. I will never think of the word"moxie" the same again after reading your blog. Thanks...

My name is Erika. said...

I didn't know the word moxie (not drink related) came because of the drink moxie. I'm not a moxie fan, but then again it's been 40 years since I tried it and can only remember I didn't care for it. I don't really remember what it tasted like. And it's great you can get it in Nashua. Thanks for the story about it. It was fun to read.

Margaret D said...

You have enlightened me, thanks for all that good information. Never heard of it down here (yet)

Stevenson Q said...

Would super love to try Moxie! As described on your article, it tastes like root beer, cola, and coffee - very interesting mix! I love root beer, not sure if Sarsi is popular there but I love that!

First of all I want to thank you so much for passing by my blog, and to thank Blogger for notifying me that you did because your comment meant so much to me Beatrice! I landed a new position three months ago and I got so busy, like so busy that I had problems stopping my mind from thinking about work and gave me anxiety. I am a very anxious person and it always take time to overcome something I get anxious about but lately I have been little by little after slowly gaining confidence at work and efforts to start a nice routine that made me observe hours outside work.

Thank you so so much Beatrice, people like you are the reason I always blog and I get to come back to blogging even after long pauses. Hope you are doing well and your family too. Hope to post sometime again soon on my blog even just something short to greet you my blog friends :)

Sorry for the Novel, I missed these!


gigi-hawaii said...

Very interesting post! I don't hear that word used here in Hawaii, nor have I drunk Moxie. If it tastes like licorice, then I probably won't like it, as I don't like licorice.

William Kendall said...

I've heard of it but never tried it.

Lee said...

A very interesting post, Beatrice. I've heard of the word "moxie" and its meaning...but never the drink. Thanks. :)

Nil @ The Little House by the Lake said...

I'd love to try Moxie. :)

I didn't know states had official drinks. After reading your post, I looked up the state drink of FL. It's orange juice, of course! :)

David said...

Beatrice, Your report on Moxie was much more thorough and detailed than CBS's bit on it this past Sunday. Interesting historical details for sure! CBS Show coverage Love your photos! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Christina said...

I want to taste Moxie now, after reading this super interesting post. I am intrigued by the description of the flavour, it sounds unusual. We have a Scottish soft drink called Irn Bru. It is bright orange and has a weird taste that I can't describe. I am not keen on it. Recently back from Switzerland I brought home a small bottle of the Swiss version of a national soda, it is called Rivella. Who knew that soft drinks were so fascinating to learn about.

Edna B said...

Very interesting. Yes, I've drank Moxie and I like it. Enjoy your day, hugs, Edna B.

nick said...

I'd never heard of Moxie. It doesn't seem to be available in the UK. There are firms called Moxie but they either manufacture medical instruments or (ahem) sex aids. I gather the American Moxie was never advertised as an aphrodisiac! Interesting how it went from being the nation's favourite soft drink to a more regional product. The Horsemobile must have been a sight to behold!

Jenny Woolf said...

I'd never heard of Moxie. Now I'm curious to try it. I wonder if any has made its way over to Britain?