Any American knows that there are only a couple of things that are as American as apple pie. One of them is baseball. The other is Kool-Aid. With the explosion of beverage products in today’s market, and perhaps the anti-sugar leanings of today’s more health-conscious consumer, Kool-Aid isn’t as big a thing as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean the Kool-Aid man doesn’t still have legs.
The product had its true hey-day in the 1950’s, although it was still a quintessential part of childhood in the ’60’s and into the 80’s. Many, though, will be surprised to learn that the product has been around since 1927. Read on to learn more about Kook-Aid history.
Who Invented Kook-Aid?
Kool-Aid was developed by Edwin Perkins, a chemist who was the head of the Perkins Products company, in Hastings, Nebraska. In fact, there is a permanent exhibition of Kool-Aid history in the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History. In the 1920’s, though, the Perkins company made many different products, which were sold through mail order. They had over 125 household products, including face creams, lotions, and soaps. Perkins also sold spices and other flavors.
Kool-Aid was not the first drink product the company marketed, however. Inspired by JELL-O, in 1920, Perkins came out with a product called Fruit Smack, which was a flavored syrup concentrate in six flavors. The consumer could mix the syrup with water to make a sweet fruit flavored drink. Although the product was popular, the syrup had to be shipped to customers in corked glass bottles. The bottles were prone to cracking and leaking during shipping, causing customers to return them for a refund. As well, the bottles were heavy and costly to ship.
When Was Kool-Aid Invented?
Inspired once again by JELL-O, and their powdered gelatin, Perkins decided to come up with a concentrated powder version of his fruit drink, which could be shipped in paper packets, solving all the shipping problems. It took him until 1927 to devise such a product, and Kool-Aid was born, but he initially called it Kool-Ade. It came, again, in six flavors: cherry, grape, lemon-lime, orange, and raspberry. T
here were some hiccups in coming up with the perfect packaging for the powder, but he eventually went with something similar to JELL-O, a colored paper envelope with a waxed lining. He sold the packets through the mail for 10 cents a piece, and all the customer had to do was mix the powder with sugar and water. Perkins then became determined to see the product sold in grocery stores, rather than only by mail, which he accomplished, and Kool-Aid was sold throughout the U.S. by 1929.
After the success of Kool-Aid, Perkins tried out some other products like pie fillings and ice cream mixes, and even Kool-Aid bubblegum, but none of them took off like Kool-Aid. By 1931, the company had discontinued all its other products and concentrated on Kool-Aid. The price of a Kool-Aid packet was lowered to a nickel during the depression, and then, during World War II, sales dropped due to the rationing of sugar. But, after the war, KooL-Aid hit it’s stride, and by 1950, 323 million packets a year were being sold.
Perkins sold the company to General Foods in 1953, which added more flavors, like root beer and lemonade, in 1955. The first pre-sweetened Kool-Aid was marketed in 1964, and, in 1988, General Foods merged with Kraft Foods, and new products were introduced, like Kool-Aid Slushies and ready-to-drink Kool-Aid Splash.
The advertising icon that so many of us remember from our youth, that giant pitcher of fruity goodness, the Kool-Aid Man, who, if you shouted “Hey, Kool-Aid,” would come crashing through walls to deliver ice cold glasses of Kool-Aid, was on the television air-waves in the 1970’s (and we still see him sometimes today). But he was actually invented in 1953 by an advertising agency artist named Marvin Potts, who actually got the inspiration from a design his son drew on a frosty glass window. The original design was just a crude smiley-face on a pitcher of Kool-Aid, but later, the smiling visage of the Kool-Aid man adorned the packages. You can read more about Edwin Perkins’ history on the Hastings Museum website: The History of Kool-Aid
If you’re into making your own sodas but using a product such as the Soda-Stream, did you know that you can use Kool-Aid powder to make concentrated fruit flavored soda syrups for your kids? Yep, it works a charm. Of course you can make real fruit soda syrups too, but Kool-Aid is great for a quick fix. Add one standard package of Kool-Aid to two cups of simple syrup. Cool, bottle, and use as needed.
This article contains one or more Amazon affiliate links. See full disclosure.