Southwestern Pennsylvanians drink pop or soda pop. In New England, they order tonic.
Either way, the beverage is carbonated, sugary tasting, and usually a well-known brand.
That is, unless it’s Moxie, which is neither sweet nor well-known.
Moxie is reputed to be the original and first mass-produced soft drink. Uniquely New England, it’s celebrated annually at a festival that explodes the Lisbon Falls, Maine, population from 9,000 to about 25,000. Fans, groupies and collectors know it’s always scheduled the second weekend in July. It includes an hour-long parade, trader and swap tables, a town barbecue, a recipe contest—and lots of Moxie.
People attend whether they love Moxie or they hate Moxie, according to Frank Anicetti, owner of Kennebec Fruit Store/House of Moxie in Lisbon Falls. The turn of the century store at the corner of Maine Street and Route 196 includes an informal Moxie museum.
Anicetti, known around Lisbon Falls as Mr. Moxie, is the “guru” of the Moxie fan club. He signs his letters “A Moxie Drinker” and drinks both regular and sugar-free Moxie, although he prefers the sugar free beverage.
“I think it’s more the taste of the original,” he said.
Anisetti recommends novice drinkers have patience in adapting to Moxie, allowing time for the uninitiated to realize it’s the “beverage of gourmets.”
Faye Brown, chairperson of the festival’s the 2004 canoe races, described Moxie’s taste as “vile, gross and disgusting. But we celebrate it. I like the word.”
The “word” means energy, pep, life, courage, nerve, stamina, backbone and guts, according to Webster’s dictionary. It comes from “Moxie,” a soft drink trademark.
Dr. Augustin Thompson, a Union, Maine, created Moxie and sold as a “snake oil” in 1876. It was toted as a cure-all medicine, guaranteed to cure multiple ills including loss of manhood, paralysis and softening of the brain. Marketed as a patent medicine, it was dispensed a spoonful at a time.
It tasted very bitter and medicinal.
In 1884 Moxie was carbonated and labeled, by Augustin, as the beverage Moxie Nerve Food. Its primary ingredient was and still is extract of gentian root. Other ingredients were oats, wintergreen and sassafras.
The recipe was changed several times. In the late 1900s the recipe was carbonated and claimed to endow the drinker with spunk.
The Food and Drug Act demanded ingredient changes for Moxie twice. In 1906, cocaine was outlawed and in the early 1960s sassafras was banned. Gentian root and wintergreen remain as ingredients, maintaining the original taste.
According to Anicetti, people “blame” him for the annual Moxie festival. “I’m the one that started the whole mess in 1982,” he said.
That was when he set up an autograph festival Frank N. Potter, author of The Moxie Mystique. The book signing was repeated in 1983. In 1984 the Lisbon Area Chamber of Commerce provided leadership and fundraising capability. A chicken barbeque and fireman’s muster were added to the book signing. The parade started in 1985 “and since then all heck has broken loose,” said the man who’s been involved in the festival every year.
He’s “very surprised” at its growth.
“I expected it to go for four to five years and then to start slipping,” he said, “but it’s been growing every year. It’s a merging of the seniors and youth, a chance to share in the nostalgia and the present.”
He credits its growth to Moxie’s mystique, history, collectors, and especially, its advertising. Initially an aggressive advertising campaign kept the Moxie name in the public eye, using movie and sports stars and other then-available medium—including a Moxie logo on merchandise, roadside billboards, and signs.
When cars began replacing horses Frank Archer, creating advertising for Moxie, ingeniously touted it as a substitute for whiskey. Campaigns promoted it as the New England cure for alcoholism. The theme “alcohol and gasoline don’t mix” was complete when Moxie was offered as a substitute for alcoholic beverages.
Horse-drawn wagons and cars were found at fairs and in parks where they served Moxie. In 1915 or 1916 the Moxiemobile appeared. The driver drove a car from a fake white horse mounted on the vehicle. An original Moxiemobile, owned privately in New Hampshire, still exists, according to Anicetti. Two reproductions are driven in the Moxie Day parade, he said.
Numerous hit songs were inspired by Moxie. In 1904, there was Just Make it Moxie for Mine in 1904 and in the 1920s the Moxie One-Step Song and the Moxie Fox Trot Song.
There were advertising jingles too, such as Just Make It Moxie for Mine.
President Calvin Coolidge was known for favoring Moxie. Following Warren G. Harding’s death, Coolidge’s family and others went with him to a store neighboring his family home. They drank Moxie to toast the occasion.
THE MOXIE CONGRESS
The New England Moxie Congress, a group of enthusiastic Moxie Memorabilia collectors, includes historians dedicated to preserving Moxie for its part in American history. Collectors seek Moxie advertising, company related documents, photos and post cards.
Their annual meeting at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine, follows the festival.
The Moxie Congress purchased and stabilized the last remaining Moxie Bottle kiosk, a two-story structure built as a giant replica of Moxie Bottle that once served Moxie at long gone New Hampshire amusement park. It was disassembled, and will be restored to its former Glory at the museum in Union. The Matthews Museum ( a 501-C-3 non profit Corp) is seeking donations, large and small, and Corporate Sponsors to build a structure around the bottle house to preserve and display it.
Multiple factors caused Moxie’s nationwide decline. By the 1920s Coca Cola sales surpassed Moxie sales, and the company was sold at the end of the 1930s. In 1967 Moxie bought the NuGrape Company in Atlanta, Georgia, and reformed to become Moxie-Monarch-NuGrape Company. Moxie is now owned by the Monarch Bottling Company of Atlanta, Ga. The Catawissa Bottling Company is one of the six bottlers in the United States producing Moxie. It’s located in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, and has produced Moxie soda since 1945.
Stores throughout New England stock Moxie beverage, Moxie ice cream and Moxie lollypops.
Read more in the following books:
The Book of Moxie by Frank Potter
The Moxie Encyclopedia by Q. David Bowers
Frank N. Potter wrote “The Moxie Mystique”. Unknown number of copies.
Printing in 1981. (The Donning Company Publishers. ISBN: 0-89865-164-6)
Frank N. Potter second book, wrote “The Book Of Moxie”. Unknown number of copies. Printing in 1987. (Collector Books, A Division of Schroeder Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 0-89145-348-2)
Further information on the Moxie Festival is available on Moxie website.
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