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Make Mine a Moxie!

July 6 - 10, 2000

Moxie? What's That?

Moxie is the uniquely New England soft drink, former nostrum and "nerve food". Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine, first marketed Moxie as a patent medicine in 1876 in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was guaranteed to cure multiple ills, including "loss of manhood, paralysis and softening of the brain". As a nostrum, it was dispensed a spoonful at a time.

Dr. Thompson changed Moxie to take advantage of the new and growing soft drink market at the time. He put it on the soft drink market in 1884 as "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food". Later it became known simply as "Moxie". It has a core of dedicated fans in Maine.

The "Moxie Man"

Moxie was America's most popular soft drink until the 1920's, due in large part to a very aggressive and effective advertising program. For many years this advertising program was the brainchild of Frank M. Archer. It is rumoured that Archer was the face for the trademark "Moxie Man". Frank started with the company as a clerk and rose to lead the advertising program which made Moxie synonymous with good times and the "vigorous" life that drinking the product was supposed to sustain. Moxie was the nation's first mass-marketed soft drink.

A combination of factors caused the decline of Moxie as the nation's favorite, and it was eclipsed by Coca Cola in the 1920's. Moxie has never regained its national appeal, and is found primarily in New England and a few other locations around the country.

I Like Moxie!

I happen to like Moxie - it is refreshing and doesn't have a cloyingly sweet taste like a lot of the soft drinks on the market. Not that I've always been a fan. Moxie is definitely an acquired taste, like brown likker. As a kid, it tasted like bad medicine to me. Later, when I came back to it, I discovered that I liked its unique taste.

The taste lines between the "I like Moxie" and the "Yuck, what is this horrible stuff?" camps are clearly drawn. People either love the stuff or they hate it. Families are divided over it. It just so happens, for example, that Dot and I like the stuff. Spouses Ed and Penny think that we're strange.

"It tastes like flat, bad root beer" is Penny's opinion.

Certainly Moxie's taste is unforgettable - to the point that early advertising campaigns informed potential patrons that they would have to "Learn to Drink Moxie". One fan suggested that it takes five drinks to acquire a taste for it. Some compare Moxie to drinking a carbonated Fig Newton. Moxie has been touted as a substitute for whiskey, and "The New England Cure for Alcoholism". Moxie was a favorite of President Calvin Coolidge.

Moxie with a little "m" is a noun synonymous wih having "spunk" or "guts", or more eloquently as the "attribute to bravely face difficulty with spirit and courage", or "aggressive energy to take the initiative". Some detractors feel that drinking Moxie (big "M") requires lots of moxie (little "m").

Although many think that the thought of drinking this stuff out of pleasure is incomprehensible, yet Moxie has a strong following who will drink no other soda. I once brought a bottle into the office and passed out samples to everyone. They had never heard of the stuff, let alone taste it. "Ugh" and "Yuck" were some of the gentler reactions - I made no converts that day.

Well, I figure that's their loss. I like the stuff, and for me that's enough. My only regret is that it can only be found in certain stores in New England, plus a few other places around the country (see "places to buy Moxie" below).

What's In It?

Moxie was originally very bitter and medicinal tasting. The primary ingredient was, and is, extract of gentian root. One of the other ingredients is wintergreen, an herb known as "moxie" when the formula was first concocted. There is speculation that this Algonquin Indian word (literally "maski" or "medicine") was the origin of the brand name Moxie.

Of course there are several other legends about the origin of the name Moxie, including Maine's Moxie Falls, Moxie Cave, Moxie Pond, Moxie Stream, Moxie Lake, East Moxie Township, Moxie Gore, moxie berries and moxie plums. Another story attributes the name to a Civil War-era Lieutenant Moxie who discovered a "starchy plant much like asparagus" in South America known to have great medicinal powers to give a "durable, vigorous feeling".

One recipe book (Dr. Dale Covey, The Secrets of the Specialists, 1903) lists oats, sassafras and wintergreen as Moxie's main ingredients. A later label lists water, sugar, cinchona (a bitter South American bark), alkaloids, caramel, and flavoring.

Many early concoctions had cocaine as a beneficial ingredient (including the original Coca-Cola formula). It is quite possible that Moxie also included cocaine to cure nervous exhaustion and loss of manhood, etc. In 1906 the Food and Drug Act outlawed the use of cocaine, and the formula was changed.

In the 1960's, the FDA ruled that sassafras was a potential carcinogen, and outlawed its use in food products. Moxie and the nation's root beers had to change their formulas once again to remove the sassafras.

Today, Moxie is flavored primarily with extracts of gentian root and wintergreen. Although it lacks sassafras, it tastes pretty similar to the way it did before.

Moxie Day Festival 2000

Moxie blaze orange
was everywhere!

On the second Saturday in July every year, upwards of 30,000 Moxie fans and groupies descend on the little village of Lisbon Falls, Maine. Since 1984, the Moxie Day Festival has drawn crowds from around the country. The sidewalks turn orange with Moxie shirts, and even the dogs are dressed up in orange bandannas!

The Festival is the brain-child of Frank Anicetti, owner of the Kennebec Fruit store on the corner of Main Street and Route 196 in Lisbon Falls. Frank sells Moxie in his store - soda, candy, ice cream, t-shirts, caps, posters and all sorts of merchandise extolling Moxie. He describes himself as "A Moxie Drinker".

"Are we in luck" I said to Penny "The Moxie Festival will be held on our next trip to Maine! We'll be able to go!"

"Oh, great" "Do I have to go too?"

"The Friends of Lisbon Library are having their Moxie Book Sale the same day - we could go to that, and to the festival" I offered

"OK, but I won't have to drink Moxie, will I?" she said.

Or, you could get Moxie shirts
in basic black also

That settled, we drove the 50 miles up to Lisbon Falls on Saturday morning. The last few miles were bumper-bumper with Moxie fans on their annual pilgrimage.

We were able to find a shady parking place only a couple of blocks from the library, and were in line before they opened the doors to the book sale. Three boxes of books later, we were just in time for the parade to start. We found a place on Main Street just down from Frank's Moxie store to watch the parade, as well as the crowd watch the parade.

The streets were lined with Moxie fans, and the parade lasted 1 1/2 hours. There were floats, and four or five bands, including a high school marching band from Wisconsin. Every cub scout pack and youth group in the area, and hordes of Shriners from Lewiston showed up as well. Marchers distributed sample cups of Moxie to the crowds. I tell you, it just doesn't get much more lively than this!

The politically incorrect
Old Crow Indian Band
from Farmington, Maine
showed up in force

After the parade finished up, we found our way through back alleys and side streets to the back door of the library. A Lisbon Falls policeman watched our car while I went into the library to retrieve the boxes of books we'd stashed there before the parade. Penny bought two strawberry shortcakes made by the library ladies from local, freshly picked berries. We found a spot to enjoy them - they were wonderful!

The New England Moxie Congress had a strong contingent at the Festival, and had a fine display of Moxie ephemera. The Annual Meeting of the Congress was held the next day, at the Seashore Trolly Museum in Kennebunkport. I've never been, but perhaps I'll add that to the list of things to do before I grow up.

The New England Moxie Congress
has a devoted following

I wanted to stay around for the 4 pm Chicken Throwing Contest, but chores at the Farmhouse were calling. The Festival crowds had thinned down a bit in Frank's Moxie store. I was able to pick up a Moxie t-shirt for me, a bandana for the dog, and a couple of pints of Moxie ice cream.

When we got home, after church on Sunday I served up a big dish for Dot and I - it was great! Penny tried a little sample, and decided it was a cross between coffee and mocha, and not all that bad, "but you can have it all to yourself, dear". Ed couldn't quite get his way through a teaspoon of it - all the more for Dot.

Moxie and Advertising

Moxie didn't become America's favorite soft drink because of its taste. The company had a very aggressive advertising campaign that put the brand name Moxie before the public in every medium then available. Movie stars and sports figures endorsed the drink. Merchandise with the Moxie logo emblazoned on it was sold and given away. Billboards and signs along the roadside sprang up. Mobile dispensers called Bottle Wagons appeared at fairs and parks - first horsedrawn, and then pulled by cars.

That advertising campaign is partially the drive behind the current interest in Moxie, especially the avid collectors of any Moxie ephemera.

One of two Moxie HorseMobiles
at the Moxie Day Parade

The strangest advertising creation was the Moxiemobile, or the Moxie HorseMobile. Created in 1915 or 1916, it was a fake horse mounted on an autmobile. The driver rode on the horse, and drove the car from that lofty perch.

These were a hit in parades. This year's Moxie Day parade in Lisbon Falls, Maine, had two HorseMobiles replicas in the procession.

Moxie songs were favorites early in this century. In 1904, the hit song was "Just make it Moxie for Mine". The words go something like:

"...but just make it Moxie for mine,
for the strenuous life, it is fine.
It's a drink that they serve,
which will build up your nerves,
So just make it Moxie for Mine!"

Click on this button to hear an audio clip of this toe-tapper. Other best sellers included the "Moxie One-Step Song" and the "Moxie Fox Trot Song" in the 1920's.

Today, Moxie fans can find their favorite drink in stores around New England, and a few other places. There are also Moxie ice cream, Moxie lollypops, and even a diet Moxie soda. For those poor souls who have never learned to like it, it is their loss. All the more Moxie for the rest of us.

More Information on Moxie

The Moxie Collectors Page, the "cyber" edition of the "New England Moxie Congress" Newsletter.

Moxie World - how it all started, Moxie events, the New England Moxie Congress, where to find Moxie sold,...

A History of Moxieincluding information on the formula, advertising campaigns, and the history of the company.

You Need Moxie - places to buy Moxie

Hard and Soft Drinks, from Road Side America

A Cool Fact about Moxie

The Moxie Lovers Place, a chat room for fans.


Moxie, the Moxie logo and the Moxie Man are registered trademarks of the Monarch Company of Atlanta, Georgia.

"Make it Moxie for Mine" audio clip used compliments of The Moxie Collectors Page. Thank you, Ira, for your editorial comments to the Journal Entry as well.

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated July 17, 2000

Copyright © 2000, Allen Crabtree