Mountain Dew has long been a slang term for moonshine. Is it possible, then, that one of the leading soda brands in the world, Mountain Dew, now owned by Pepsi, was invoking moonshine when the name was coined? Or, was “mountain dew” meant to call up images of, well, mountains, dew, the great outdoors, and an active lifestyle like the advertising campaigns more often focus on now?
The terms moonshine and mountain deware quite likely of Irish origin, and both have long been associated with the illicit liquor of “bootleggers.” Why would anyone, though, name a soda after moonshine? Well, in fact, Mountain Dew, didn’t start out as a soda pop. The first bottles of Mountain Dew featured the image of “Willy the Hillbilly,” along with his pet pig. And guess what Willy was doing in the picture? He was shooting at a revenuer! Even the bottle’s design was meant to invoke jars of illegal moonshine.
The history of Mountain Dew seems more to be based on legend than fact. It starts in the 1940’s. One version (which itself has several alternate versions) is that two brothers in Knoxville, Tennessee, Barney and Ally Hartman, began selling a moonshine mixer, not a soda. They trademarked the name Mountain Dew. This was a different formula than the high-caffeine citrusy concoction we get today.
Barney and Ally had been Orange Crush bottlers in Georgia, staring in 1926. Then, when the great depression hit, their business tanked. However, they were still able to get the rights bottle Orange Crush in Knoxville. When they got to Knoxville and began setting up their bottling plant, the good old boys were dismayed to find that Natural Set-Up a lemon-lime soda that they always used to drink with Old Taylor Bourbon, wasn’t to be found in Knoxville. Mountain Dew, was their own version of this mixer, and it is said they made it for their own personal use, calling it Mountain Dew as a joke.
It didn’t remain a joke as the brothers met Charlie Gordon, who owned a bottling plan, Tri-City Beverage, which bottled Hires Root Beer and a grape soda. Gordon was interested in bottling their soda and, in 1951, the Hartman brothers put Mountain Dew on the market, complete with Willy the Hillbilly, who had been drawn by their friend John Brichetto. They advertised the drink with the slogan “It’ll tickle yore innards.”
The result was basically no result. The soda did not sell. Gordon subsequently bought bottling rights, in 1954, but had no better luck. The Hartman’s finally, in 1957, sold off the brand to the Tip Corporation, the makers of the grape soda that Gordon bottled in his plant.
Here is where things start to get, as I said, complicated. While all this was going on, there had been an orange-juice and lemon flavored soda, with a whole lot of caffeine, that had sold well to working men in the Carolinas and Tennessee. It was advertised as the “Golden Cola — Refreshing as a Cup of Coffee.
As the Hartman’s were ridding themselves of Mountain Dew, Tri-City Beverage was taken over by Bill Bridgforth. He decided to get out of branded soft-drinks and instead have Tri-City market their own brands. One of those brands he dumped was Sun Drop. Bridgforth came up with his own version of Sun Drop, and people liked the taste, but the brand didn’t do so well. In a stroke of genius, it would seem, he realized that Mountain Dew has a good brand presence, but a lousy taste that customers didn’t like. So, he began marketing his new beverage under the Mountain Dew name. Tip Corporation soon saw the wisdom in this, as well, and before long, the soda was a hit. Then Pepsi bought the brand in 1964.
Then there is the Minges family of North Carolina, and their claims as to having been the creators of (the final version?) of Mountain Dew, as well as other competing claims. The details in the version I have given here, in fact, are highly questionable! What can we be sure of, as far as this piece is concerned? Mountain Dew was indeed named after Moonshine.
See an article by Joseph T. Lee III at Tazewell-Orange.com], who does a good job in calling into doubt many of the details of these stories. Among the details he brings up, is that the original Mountain dew was more like 7-Up.
However the final version of Mountain Dew took off, it is said that PepsiCo. originally stuck with the “hillbilly appeal” but when that failed, they began to try to market to a wider audience, and that failed as well. It was, apparently, word of mouth that caused Mountain Dew to begin selling. Between 1966 and 1974, Pepsi used such slogans as ‘Ya-Hoo, Mountain Dew!’ and ‘Put a Little Ya-Hoo in Your Life,’ as well as, ‘Hello Sunshine, Hello Mountain Dew.’ Since it seemed to be catching on with “young active white males,” Pepsi began speaking directly to these consumers, and has been ever since.
As Mountain Dew sales increased, a couple of competitors entered the market. One was Rhondofrom Schweppes, which went nowhere. The other was Mellow Yello by the Coca-Cola company, which is still around. Personally, I always favored Mello Yello over Mountain Dew, but I was in the minority.
See also Mountain Dew and Birth Control.
Mountain Dew Introduces DewShine, Limited Edition
Mountain Dew, embracing its origins as explained here, has recently introduced a new clear Mountain Dew flavor called DewShine.
DewShine is described as “a clear citrus-flavored Dew that’ll “tickle yore innards” and a “soft drink inspired by Dew’s homebrewed mountain roots. It is doubtful that the flavor has anything to do with the original Mountain Dew, but the reviews thus far have been generally favorable, but Mountain Dew fans tend to love any Mountain Dew release!
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