There's Coke, there's Pepsi, and there's 7 Up … but in the state of Maine, the soft drink they celebrate is Moxie. It's a drink that actually outsold Coca-Cola nationally in the 1920s – and it even gave us a new word, meaning "pluck and verve and strength," said Moxie fan Merrill Lewis. "Few people know that that word came from the drink."
Lewis enjoys spreading the word about his favorite drink at the Moxie Museum in Union, Maine, birthplace of Dr. Augustin Thompson, who began selling his Moxie Nerve Food in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1885.
Correspondent Nancy Giles asked, "What were some of the claims of things that it could cure?"
"It could cure nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, imbecility," said Lewis. "I like to say everything from halitosis to hangnail!"
Jim Baumer, who wrote the book on Moxie, said, "Moxie was actually the Viagra of its day."
The drink's heyday was in the early 1900s. "Every major city in America had a large billboard about Moxie, [as well as] sides of buildings with the Moxie logo with these advertisements that were painted on," Baumer said. "You had Moxie in magazines. Wherever there was a marketing sort of presence, Moxie jumped in and was part of that."
It was a marketing blitz unheard of at the time, with Moxie songs, celebrity endorsements, a Moxie game, and Moxie candy.
Hear the "Moxie (One Step)" from 1921 (music by Norman Leigh, lyric by Dennis J. Shea), performed by Arthur Fields:
And something called a Moxie horsemobile – a horse mounted on a car chassis that was driven around the country.
And a Moxie boy, with eyes like Rudolph Valentino's. "Yeah, the guy that points, and he's got dark eyes, and he's pointing at you saying, 'Drink my Moxie or I'll kill ya'!" laughed Lewis.
And if the Moxie boy looks familiar, according to Moxie lore, he inspired the iconic World War I recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam.
Every summer (with a two-year break for COVID), folks from all over have gathered in Lisbon Falls, Maine to celebrate Moxie, with parades; bake-offs, with such entries as Moxie Barbecue Baked Beans ("You need to have as much Moxie as possible," said the chef); Moxie memorabilia; and Moxie ice cream.
Back in 2000, when "Sunday Morning" last visited Lisbon Falls, Frank Anicetti (who helped create the Moxie Festival) declared, "If you drink Moxie, you have moxie – and you have moxie if you drink Moxie. Simple as that!"
By now, you're probably wondering what Moxie tastes like. Well, it's kind of hard to describe, but that doesn't stop anyone from trying. One man said, "It's sorta like root beer and Coca-Cola and coffee all together, and you mix it up, and it's good warm [or] cold."
Aaron Sheridan offered, "It tastes like a rugged root beer."
Brittany Payne, adorned with her "Ms. Moxie" sash, said, "I personally think it tastes like a little bit of flat root bear, a little bit of flat Pepsi, mixed with a little drop of cough syrup."
So, there you have it – a soft drink that inspired a word, and, according to Moxie enthusiasts, might be just what we need today. As Merrill Lewis said, "What this country needs is plenty of moxie!"
For more info:
- The Moxie Festival, Lisbon, Maine
- "Moxie: Maine in a Bottle" by Jim Baumer (Down East Books), in Trade Paperback and eBook formats, available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
Story produced by Mary Lou Teel. Editor: George Pozderec.
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