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The word "Moxie" means courage, guts, self-sufficiency, chutzpah, confidence, fighting spirit, and nerve -- it also took a lot of moxie to swallow more than a mouthful of the stuff. At best, the flavor has been described as unforgettable. Early advertising campaigns informed potential patrons that they would have to "Learn to Drink Moxie." The thought of people drinking this stuff out of pleasure is incomprehensible, yet Moxie has a strong following who will drink no other soda. In fact, as late as the 1920s Moxie was our nations most popular national brand.
Augustin Thompson was born on November 25, 1835 in Union, Maine. He grew up on the family farm, and when the Civil War erupted, he enlisted in the Union Army with some buddies. He must have been a pretty bad dude, because he went from private to Lieut. Colonel by the end of the war. After the war he enrolled in medical school and graduated from Hahneman Hospital in Philadelphia.
Once he graduated he setup practice in Lowell, MA and was soon developing and offering patent medicines to supplement his medical practices income. Patent medicines were extremely popular at the time, and had made millionaires of several entrepreneurs (and at that time a million dollars really meant something). In fact, Lowell, MA was already home to three very popular patent medicines, and in 1876 Lowell became home to a fourth -- Moxie. This gentian root flavored extract was a nostrum, which meant that it was stronger than a tonic, and was dispensed a spoonful at a time. However, a few years later Dr Thompson had noticed the immense popularity of the soft drink trade, and he decided to make a little modification to his medicine. So, in 1884, Moxie was being sold in a carbonated form and was called "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food." This new version was a HUGE success.
An old label found on one of those original "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food" bottles even provides us with some clues to the history and ingredients to the original Moxie (eventually "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food" would change its name to simply "Moxie").
The name Moxie could have came from an old army buddy of Mr. Thompson's like the label stated. However, a thorough searching of Civil War records indicate there never was a Lieut. Moxie. Most likely the name came from Mr. Thompson's boyhood home. Mr. Thompson grew up in the state of Maine where there is a Moxie Falls, a Moxie Cave, and a Moxie Pond. Maine also had moxie berries and moxie plums. The word Moxie is probably Indian in origin, and nostrums were frequently marketed as if they had come from secret Indian recipes. With all of this being said, the chances that there was ever a Lieut. Moxie are pretty slim, and if Mr. Thompson wasn't completely truthful about the origins of Moxie then can we believe what he says about the ingredients Moxie contained?
Moxie was very bitter and medicinal tasting, and gentian extract is generally given credit as being the primary ingredient. However, Dr. Dale Covey's book "The secrets of the Specialists" published in 1903 claimed Moxie was a decoction of oats flavored with sassafras and wintergreen. Lending credence to this theory is an old label of Moxie that depicts a woman carrying what appears to be oats. A later label lists the ingredients as water, sugar, cinchona (a bitter bark from South America), alkaloids, caramel, and flavoring. In any event, the formula to Moxie would be revised over the years, but it always (with one exception) retained a bitter or medicinal flavor, and up until the 1960s sassafras was a main ingredient. When the use of sassafras was outlawed by the FDA in the 1960's the formula had to be revised. Over the years Moxie had also declined greatly in popularity, and in 1968 the Moxie company made their famous tonic sweeter to compete with other soft drinks. BIG MISTAKE! They not only didn't win over any new patrons, but also seriously enraged the Moxie faithful and lost 50% of their loyal customers almost overnight. In 1980, Moxie would change their formula back, and today Moxie is flavored with primarily gentian root and wintergreen, and although it still lacks sassafras it taste pretty similar to the way it did before the FDA outlawed sassafras.
One last note on the original ingredients that composed Moxie. According to "Beverages" written by Charles Sulz in 1888, the popular "Nerve Foods" that are being sold use cocaine as their primary ingredient. (Authors note: I have dozens of old soda fountain formulary guides and Mr. Sulz is easily the best and most thorough book I have read at over 800 pages -- one of my favorite books). Just keep in mind that in the 1870s when Moxie was invented that cocaine was considered beneficial, and not harmful in the least (the original Coca-Cola formula also contained cocaine). Clearly opinions changed, and by 1906 the Food and Drug Act outlawed the use of cocaine and Moxie had certainly removed the cocaine from their formula by this time. However, the early use of cocaine in the drink does make since -- it fits in with the plant grown around the equator, it was reputed to address the same problems that the early Moxie cured (nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, etc.), and it explains why people would buy a second bottle of this bitter tasting concoction.
Another reason that Moxie was so popular was because of its prodigious advertising, and Frank Archer was the man responsible for Moxie's advertising campaigns. A student of advertising would do well to study a case history of Moxie. When it was being advertised it grew to become the world's most popular soft drink, but when advertising dollars were reduced it disappeared into near extinction. As was said earlier, Frank Archer spearheaded Moxie's advertising campaign and that handsome man pointing at you and telling you to drink Moxie is probably Frank Archer. No one knows for sure, but there is some strong evidence supporting this theory. This poster, and slight variations on the same theme, was one of Moxie's most successful campaigns. Just like the old "Uncle Sam Needs You!" poster, the eyes follow you wherever you go (try it -- lean you're head to one side of the screen -- spooky huh?). And check out that smile -- Mona Lisa might want it back. Do you want to drink some Moxie now?
The most popular of Moxie's advertising campaigns were their mobile campaigns. This originally started around 1886 with a giant replica of one of their bottles being loaded onto a delivery wagon that was pulled by a team of horses. By 1899 this had evolved into the Moxie Bottle Wagon, in which a horse pulled an 8' tall replica of a Moxie bottle. There was a door in the back of the bottle that a salesman could enter and then dispense ice cold drinks to paying customers. By this time Moxie had became so popular that competitors had started copying the flavor of their product, the shape of their bottles, their advertising campaigns, and even their name. The post card displayed on the left is for a product called "Noxie" that was produced in Canada.
Around 1905, and possibly earlier, Moxie began using the newly created automobile or horseless carriage to advertise their product. In fact, the first automobile ever seen in many towns may have had "Moxie" lettered on its sides. Moxie was also responsible for helping to setup signs showing the next town and how many more miles. They put up advertising material in the towns they visited, and their automobiles led many town parades and fairs. Moxie didn't just use cars for just their advertising benefits, but the company realized (just a little quicker than the rest of the nation) that automobiles were actually cheaper than other transportation. Unlike the train, stage coach, or trolley you didn't have to accommodate their schedule, and you could go to destinations that they didn't serve.
However, at least during the early days of the automobile, the drivers had to be remarkable individuals. They not only had to have the brains to learn how to drive these technological wonders, but they had to be able to repair them as well. These cars were harder to learn to drive than the cars of today -- no automatic transmissions back then, heck, they didn't even have paved roads. The drivers of these cars were looked upon as daredevils with the brains to master modern technology. Think jet pilots.
The automobile would quickly become more commonplace, and the horse was soon being replaced by the automobile. Moxie was soon being marketed as the perfect beverage for "Safe Driving" or "One for the Road." Patrons could no longer get tipsy and trust their horse to get them home. Although this wasn't completely new since Moxie had long been touted as a substitute for whiskey, and "The New England Cure for Alcoholism." Heck, Moxie's bottling plant, known as Moxieland, had once been an old brewery. But with more people using cars it meant that Moxie would need to do something special to capture the publics attention.
The first Moxiemobile was created sometime between 1915 and 1916 by Frank Archer -- maybe even earlier. The Moxiemobile, also known as the Moxie Horsemobile, consisted of an automobile with a horse mounted to the back. Unfortunately, the Moxiemobile was too top heavy and dangerous to drive, so Mr. Archer approached Fred Wright and asked him to improve the contraption. Mr. Wright, an Auburn and Dort dealer in New York City asked Hal Carpenter, who worked for the George N. Pierce Company, to see what he could accomplish. Mr. Carpenter took a Dort Speedster automobile chassis and mounted a reinforced papier mache horse to the back (the horse was purchased from a tack and harness dealer who was being put out of business by the new automobiles). Well, the combination of superior technical skills and the lighter horse was the trick, because this car drove perfectly. As a side note, Hal Carpenter would go on to purchase the Phianna Motor Car Company and under his leadership, and for its time, this company was known the world over for producing America's finest automobiles.
In any event these Moxiemobiles were once again grabbing the publics attention. They could be seen driving in, and leading, many a towns parade (some say even when they weren't invited). The papier mache horse would be replaced with horses made from special molds and made from aluminum instead of paper. The horses were always white (at least in later years), but the automobiles varied quite a bit. In 1932 Moxie had Moxiemobiles made out of a couple of Buicks, several LaSalles, and even a Grand Silver Rolls Royce. Out of all of the Moxiemobiles ever produced only one LaSalle still survives.
The drivers of these horsemobiles weren't much different from the daredevils that piloted the first automobiles that were produced. To drive a Moxiemobile one had to be an extroverted adventurer that was half cowboy and half clown. The interview of Mark "Moxo" Barker is excellent in Moxie Mystique by Frank N. Potter -- last published in 1981, and now long out of print. (I'll have to write the author for permission to reprint the interview. It provides much more detail and insight into the drivers of those Moxiemobiles than I could ever provide).
The Moxiemobile wasn't Moxie's only advertising medium -- not by far! Moxie handed out lollipops made out of their syrup. They produced tons of items such as posters, signs, thermometers, bottle openers, murals on walls, and pretty much every other type of advertising medium that their competitors were producing. They also produced several songs that became fairly popular with the teenage dance crowd. (Pepsi gets the honors for the first jingle). In 1904, Moxie hit it big with "Just make it Moxie for Mine," and in 1921 they had a best seller with the "Moxie One-Step Song" and then with the "Moxie Fox Trot Song."
One of Moxie's other advertising ventures was a huge bottle that they erected in Pine Island Amusement Park near Manchester, New Hampshire. It was built around the turn of the century and including its concrete foundation it reached a height of about 60' feet. The bottle contained a slide on the inside and was a popular attraction for many years. However, the amusement park would eventually be closed, and the bottle would be taken down from its foundation and moved to a new location about a mile away. The bottle was then converted into a house and was purchased by James A. Todd in 1922. Mr. Todd And his wife would eventually buy another more traditional home, but they kept the bottle house as a summer home, and even raised four children in that house. (Within the last year I was told that this house was for sale, but don't know if anyone has purchased the home).
Up until 1920 Moxie was outselling Coca-Cola, but Moxie made the same decision that a lot of soft drink producers made when sugar prices skyrocketed. They bought large quantities to protect themselves from future price increases. Unfortunately, prices collapsed and they were forced to sell their product at a loss. This also meant that they didn't have the money for advertising so they cut back dramatically. They should have borrowed the money, because without advertising sales also declined dramatically and they never recovered. You would have thought they learned their lesson, but a couple years later, when hit by the Great Depression, they cut back on advertising again.
A few years
after the great depression Moxie was split into two companies with F.E.
Thompson (the inventors son) as president of The Moxie Company, and with
the Frank Archer serving as Vice President. The Moxie Company retained the
bottling rights to New England. The other half of the company was Moxie
Company of America with Frank Archer serving as president and this
organization he had the right to distribute Moxie over the entire nation
with the exception of New England. Mr. Archer, the great advertiser, was
never able to get the rest of the nation to drink Moxie in great numbers.
However, Moxie wasn't completely dead, because in 1967 they bought the
National Nugrape Company and the two companies formed the Moxie-Monarch-Nugrape
Company of Doraville, GA in 1968. It was shortly thereafter the taste of
Moxie was changed to be sweeter and more contemporary, which went over
like a lead balloon. At the time the new company was formed, Moxie was its
best selling brand, but every year fewer and fewer bottles of Moxie were
sold. Monarch went on to became a huge success, and they soon had over
1,000 bottlers with such brands as NuGrape, Grapette, Suncrest, Kist,
Nesbitts, and many other brands. Moxie can only be purchased in New
England, and even there it is often hard to find.