Remember When: Moxie Soda
The History of Moxie Soda
Moxie started out as a medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food”, rather than as a soft drink, but eventually became the first nationally marketed soft drink in the US. Its creator was Dr. Augustin Thompson, a Civil War veteran from Union, Maine that was creating patent medicines to complement his earnings from his medical practice in Lowell, Massachusetts. He patented a nostrum, called Moxie Nerve Food, in 1876. A nostrum was a medicine that was like a tonic, only stronger, and was taken by the spoonful (and very often did not actually have any benefit to the patient at all).
Dr. Thompson took note of the recent popularity of soft drinks sold at local soda fountains, and decided to reformulate his medicine. In 1884 Moxie was first sold as a carbonated drink called “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food” and came with slogans like “Delicious, feeds the nerves”. It was very successful despite its strong, medicinal taste and made claims of being able to cure things like imbecility, loss of manhood, and fatigue. These claims had to be modified in 1906 with the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act. The name was eventually changed simply to “Moxie” and was so well marketed that it became a household word, even making it into the dictionary to mean “spunk”, which is what people felt Moxie gave them when they drank it. Moxie became one of the first mass-produced soft drinks manufactured in the U.S., alongside other drinks like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper.
Sales were aided by the testimonials of people who believed they got a “lift” from drinking Moxie. In addition, very clever and aggressive advertising boosted Moxie sales. The public began to associate Moxie with places like amusement parks, dance halls, fairs and resorts due to a constant bombardment of advertising. First there were horse-drawn Moxie Bottle Wagons at these locations to make Moxie available to the people attending these events. It made Moxie part of the popular culture of the time and helped people to associate the drink with the fun they were having. In 1916, Dr. Thompson’s partner, Frank Morton Archer came up with the idea of Moxie Horsemobiles. They were cars with a papier mache horse statue built within it on which the driver sat. Later the horse was made of aluminum. Like the wagons, the Horsemobile was intended to keep Moxie soda in the forefront of people’s minds. A few of these cars have survived and still appear in parades.
Frank M. Archer promoted the soft drink by all methods of advertising that were available to him at the time. The name ‘Moxie’ appeared on toys, sheet music, fans and teacups in addition to national print advertising. Film stars and athletes were used to promote Moxie. During the Depression, the company reduced its advertising, even in New England. This caused a reduction in sales that the company never recovered from. In an attempt to revive the company, in 1959 Moxie introduced a new product, called Ted’s Root Beer. It was named after the new company spokesperson, Red Sox star, Ted Williams. Unfortunately, this did not have the resulting sales that they hoped for. In 1967 Moxie was sold to the NuGrape Company of Atlanta and moved to Georgia in 1968. They reformulated Moxie, resulting in the loss of half of their New England customers. So, they went back to the old formula. Moxie was declared Maine’s official state soft drink in 2005. They have a festival every summer in Lisbon, Maine to celebrate Moxie. Today the Moxie trademark and rights are owned by a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New England (CCNNE), Cornucopia Beverages of Bedford, NH. Moxie is made primarily for New England but there are bottlers all over the country and many of them will ship the beverage. CCNNE lists many chain stores that carry Moxie, such as 7-11, Cumberland Farms, and Shaws. So if you crave a Moxie, it may not be that difficult to find one!