CHARLOTTE, NC: Before there was Coca Cola, Dr. Augustin Thompson filed trademark number 12,565 for a product he called Moxie Nerve Food. The product was registered on September 8, 1885, and, in the process, the soft drink industry as we know it today was born. “Moxie”, as it is commonly known today, proudly boasts that it is “The oldest continuously-bottled carbonated soft drink in the world!”
Soda Pop – Medicinal Sweetness
Late in the 19th century, the development of patent medicines was a popular pursuit of fledgling inventors and backroom chemists. One such product was Thompson’s elixir which the good doctor, a teetotaler, and non-smoker himself, claiming his elixer “has not a drop of medicine, poison, stimulant, or alcohol in its composition.”
As part of his trademark submission, Thompson’s application stated that Moxie was,
“…a liquid preparation charged with soda for the cure of paralysis, softening of the brain, and mental imbecility and called ‘Moxie Nerve Food.’ It is comprised in the class of medical compounds.”
Though Thompson stated that “Moxie” was nothing more than an arbitrary choice for a name, once he filed for the patent, he immediately began dreaming up ways to market his new product. In the process, Thompson established the legend of someone known as Lieutenant Moxie who was said to be a friend of the doctor.
The Legend of Lieutenant Moxie
Lieutenant Moxie had amassed considerable wealth in the oil industry and was in the process of traveling to remote corners of the world seeking a cure for tuberculosis. Moxie, the story goes, had acquired the disease from his mother when he discovered a medicinal plant known as gentian root in the mountains of South America.
According to the legend, the lieutenant had a positive reaction to his own ailments and shipped a large supply of the plant along with the history of its curative powers to Dr. Thompson in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Following extensive experimentation with the plants Thompson came to the following conclusion:
“I found it cured anything caused by nervous exhaustion. It restored nervous people who were tired out mentally or physically; stopped the appetite for intoxicants in old drunkards, insanity, blindness from overtaxing the sight, paralysis, all but hereditary sick-headache, loss of manhood from excesses, made people able to stand twice their usual amount of labor, mentally, or physically, with less fatique (sic). It cured two cases of softening of the brain, and recovered helpless limbs. I found it to be neither medicine nor stimulant, but a nerve food, and harmless as milk.”
Thompson was a workaholic who frequently toiled 18 hours a day.
Though a vigorous man, Thompson “broke down and was obliged to build himself to vigor again.” It was this need to restore his own health and vitality that was the impetus to invent Moxie.
News spread quickly of claims of Moxie’s medicinal qualities and demand for Thompson’s product saw him begin production, bottling 27,000 bottles per week.
In 1896, the Moxie Nerve Food Company of New England, hired Frank Archer, the genius behind the nation’s first mass-marketed soft drink.
Moxie was ahead of its time.
Starting out as a soda clerk, Archer’s Moxie career began inauspiciously, much like many other American success stories of the era. Before long, however, Archer was heading up all of Moxie’s advertising while overseeing two agencies with an annual salary of $4,000, a considerable sum of money at that time.
By 1901, Archer’s visionary skills began utilizing billboards in large New England cities such as Boston, Providence, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill, and south to New York City, and even Philadelphia.
In addition to the billboards, Archer began using cardboard signs attached to wagons, streetcars, and trains that read, “Don’t Forget to Order Moxie.”
An even more effective catalyst of publicity for the burgeoning soft drink was that of a series of Moxie cars. Developed by Thompson’s son, Francis, now president of the company, some of the cars were white Stanley Steamers and Locomobiles.
Others were manufactured by Stevens-Duryea. Thompson even took regular Buicks and had them modified to be delivery trucks with coolers mounted on the back.
Moxie from Maine
Though Moxie is closely associated with the state of Maine. Largely because both Dr. Thompson and Frank Archer were born in Maine. Moxie, first created in Lowell, Massachusettes, was designated the official soft drink of Maine on May 10, 2005.
Today, Moxie is little known outside of New England. For those who have never sampled it, Moxie is definitely an acquired taste that should be drunk ice cold. It is a drink that people love to hate…there is simply no in-between.
Moxie ice cream is seasonally available in Maine in limited quantities and is mild in flavor as compared to the soft drink.
Moxie has also been a favorite of chefs for its herbaceous, savory-sweet flavor profile. It is mostly found in reductions as a glaze for meats such as lamb, as well as in baked beans. (Why Chefs Love Moxie, New England’s Cult-Favorite Soda)
- 2 cups dried kidney beans
- Canola oil, for the dish
- 2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 to 3 cups Moxie soda (substitute Dr. Pepper if necessary)
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 thick-cut bacon slices, quartered crosswise
Make the beans:
Put the beans in a bowl and add enough cold water to cover by a few inches. Soak at room temperature overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly oil an 8-inch square baking dish.
Drain the beans and transfer to a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add enough fresh water to cover. Add 2 teaspoons of the salt, then bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the beans are just tender about 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
Add 2 cups of the soda, the tomato paste, vinegar, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper and stir to combine.
Transfer the beans to the prepared baking dish and top with the bacon. The beans can be made up to this point, covered, and refrigerated overnight. They can also be baked, cooled, and refrigerated, then reheated before serving.
Bake until the bacon is crisp and the beans are hot and bubbling – about 1 hour. Adding more soda to the dish if the beans are beginning to look dry. If, after an hour, the beans are still not tender, cover with aluminum foil and cook further. Older beans take longer to soften. When the beans are tender, remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 275°F to keep warm until serving.
Over the years the word “moxie” has become synonymous in American English, as a noun meaning courage, daring, or determination.
The phrase “He’s got a lot of moxie!” means that one has nerve, vigor, and grit.
Unless you were born in New England, most Americans are unaware that the root of this expression is a bittersweet patent medicine turned soda pop originally called Moxie Nerve Food. Guaranteed to cure nervous exhaustion and a host of associated ailments.
Unless you have acquired that unique taste, for most folks Moxie remains an elixer. For all of Mary Poppin’s magic, when it comes to Moxie, even a spoonful of sugar won’t help the medicine go down!
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up