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The History of Moxie Soda

Invented in the late 1800s, Moxie was the first mass-produced soft drink in the United States. It has an herbal, slightly bitter flavor, which makes sense because the drink started out as “Moxie Nerve Food,” a cure-all medicinal tonic invented by Dr. Augustin Thompson in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1876. The tonic quickly gained popularity, in part due to Thompson’s stellar reputation as a Civil War veteran and in part due to claims that it didn’t contain either of the substances typically used in nerve tonics of the day — alcohol and cocaine. In 1884, Moxie underwent a transformation and hit store shelves in a new form — as a carbonated soft drink. It was the first bottled, carbonated soda made in the United States. It was first marketed as “Moxie Nerve Food,” but the name was changed to “Moxie” after the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, which regulated the language that could be used to promote products. The origins of the name are contested, but many sources believe that the term “Moxie” was inspired by a Native American word that means “dark water.” To promote the drink’s new image as a soda, Moxie was part of several promotions. One of these involved a 32 ft. tall Moxie bottle that was constructed for the New England Food Fair in 1906. (Today, the bottle can be found at the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage.) Not only did Moxie predate Coca-Cola, but at one point, it surpassed the famous beverage in sales. During the Great Depression, the company scaled back advertising and Moxie’s popularity declined while Coca-Cola’s soared. Still, Moxie endured and was helped along by several celebrity endorsements, including several magazine ads featuring Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams in the 1950s. The recipe has undergone several changes over the years — for example, it's thought that the drink once contained sassafras, which would have been removed in the 1960s due to changing regulations — but the overall taste of the soda has remained the same. Today, Moxie is the official soft drink of Maine and is still popular in New England, but is no longer widely enjoyed in other parts of America. Interestingly, Coca-Cola acquired Moxie in 2018 and reportedly plans to introduce the drink to a larger audience.

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