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These days, when you say someone has moxie it’s generally understood to mean chutzpah, spirit, or go-get-‘em. But, Moxie® the trade name of one of the earliest mass-marketed soda pops. While its popularity may not match what it once was, it is actually the official soft drink of Maine as of 2005.
Moxie® has a root beer-ish and ginger-ale-ish taste which is said to take some getting used to. Even some aficionados liken it to motor oil and cough syrup. That said, it is not as light as standard soda. It is, in fact, a bit strong.
The Moxie® logo, which can be found as original and reproduced collectors’ labels, features a furrow browed, well-coiffed young man, leaning over the label, pointing with an accusatory finger while wearing a very official looking white lab coat. The lab coat is unsurprising, since when the soda was initially created, many beverages were pretty much marketed as a pharmaceutical.
It was, in fact, an actual patented medicine by Maine-native, Dr. Augustin Thompson in 1876. Thompson was on staff at the Ayer Drug Company in Lowell, Massachusetts, and that’s where the medicine was patented.
Thompson dubbed his product “Moxie® Nerve Food.” It seems that it was geared for a number of ailments, but most prominently for dementia and penile erectile dysfunction. Of course, back then they called it “softening of the brain” and “loss of manhood,” but it's pretty clear that’s what they meant.
By 1884, the drink was carbonated, and was said to give the drinker “spunk.” It underwent another marketing campaign change with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 eradicating the claims that it cured “dullness of brain” and hair loss. Still, die-hard New Englanders insist that it isn’t just a carbonated beverage, but a “tonic.”
Like the cult-fave Tab® with its dedicated followers, addicted to what many Tab-sters call its “nasty diet aftertaste,” Moxie® had its own distinctively strong after taste. There were rumors, while the soda was being offered throughout the U.S., that bartenders served it to customers who needed to be cut off “the hard stuff,” as a way to disguise the fact that it was a “soft” drink, but with a “bite” that might be mistaken by an intoxicated person as “the real stuff.”
Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White was a fan of the drink and wrote, as an 83-year-old senior that it contains gentian root, which is the path to the good life.” He also waxed rhapsodic on how he was still able to buy it in a tiny supermarket “only six miles away.”
It is the gentian root that perhaps gives the soda its rather indescribable flavoring — there is a spiciness to the drink that’s a little cinnamon-y and nutmeg-y with an overcast of wintergreen. This is likely why one of the most notable campaigns exclaimed, “Learn to Love Moxie®.” If a consumer can learn as an adult to the love the taste of coffee why not a soda?
It’s said that when President Calvin Coolidge was sworn into office in 1923, he toasted the event with Moxie®. Baseball hero Ted Williams has also made no secret of his love of the soda. And he’s in good company. Every July there are “Moxie® Days” in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and die-hard devotees are proud to call themselves “Moxieheads.”