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.
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|
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.
the South American gentian root extract, cinchona, sassafras, caramel and flavorings. This bitter root extract was reported to have medicinal qualities in use since the Roman era.
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.)
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|
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.
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.
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|
|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|
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.
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.
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 know—the 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?