History of Moxie Soda


© History Oasis

The bottles clinked merrily as Will hoisted the crate out of the truck bed, the glass slick with condensation despite the summer heat.

He wrinkled his nose at Moxie’s strange medicinal scent before the molasses sweetness hit.

"Mr. Abbott—your usual case of Moxie Nerve Food,” Will called, shouldering through the back door.

“There’s my reliable delivery boy!” the aging druggist replied warmly. “Can’t keep my fountain stocked long enough before it runs dry!"

Will noticed a browsing family eyeing Moxie posters.

As he slid bottles onto the counter, the girls eagerly rushed over, parents behind.

Abbott winked conspiratorially. “A first taste of Moxie?”

The carbonated tonic from Maine’s Union town crossed their lips.

Will knew then another family had been claimed by the growing fever of Moxie mania, ready to become part of the long, curious history of Moxie soda.


Moxie official logo
Source: Moxie

In the late 1800s, the patent medicine industry was thriving.

Enterprising entrepreneurs peddled tonics and elixirs that promised to cure all manner of ailments, from insomnia and "women's troubles" to lack of vim and vigor.

It was against this backdrop in 1876 that Dr. Augustin Thompson first formulated a drink that he marketed as none other than "Moxie Nerve Food."

Thompson claimed his concoction restored "nerve force" and mental acuity while also providing an invigorating boost of energy. His principal ingredient? An extract derived from a plant called gentian that lent Moxie a notoriously bitter taste.

Undeterred by naysayers, Thompson vigorously promoted Moxie across New England. Though medical experts questioned the grandiose health assertions behind such patent medicines, the soda nonetheless amassed legions of devoted drinkers.

Indeed, Moxie's alluring backstory and flavor profile perhaps mattered more than the authenticity of its medicinal properties.

By ingeniously leveraging storytelling and word-of-mouth, the Moxie brand transcended its humble beginnings as just another patent medicine to become a groundbreaking early mass-produced soft drink—not to mention a beverage still beloved today as a uniquely American original.


Moxie, a real thirst quencher ad
Source: Moxie

When Dr. Augustin Thompson first concocted Moxie in 1876, he utilized an extract from the gentian root as the critical ingredient and source of the drink’s notoriously bitter taste.

The gentian plant, readily available in New England, contains bitter glycosides that likely sparked Thompson’s idea to market his soda as a “nerve food” with health-giving properties.

In an era when sugary sweet sodas dominated the market, Moxie’s bold bitterness stood out.

Some believe it acquired a niche following specifically because it was such an acquired taste—setting it apart as a definitely different beverage option. The polarizing flavor also lent itself to the tradition of playing tricks on unsuspecting first-time drinkers.

Remarkably, despite consecutive sales declines in the early to mid-1900s, Moxie Beverage Company never once attempted to remove gentian root to make the soda more palatable to modern preferences.

Even when bought by Coca-Cola in 2018, the iconic bitter flavor profile remained sacrosanct.

Indeed, the very taste that originally sprang from Thompson’s medicinal recipe endures as the fundamental trait binding generations of Moxie drinkers across more than a century.


He's Got Moxie five cents ad
Source: Moxie

Though created in 1876 by Dr. Augustin Thompson as a patent medicine, Moxie quickly evolved into one of America’s inaugural mass-produced soft drinks within its first couple decades.

Thompson first contracted with a small bottler to meet local demand in Maine. But Moxie’s popularity surged rapidly.

Major commercial bottling works of the era took notice, streamlining was produced via motorized conveyor belts and mechanized capping techniques. Promotional giveaways of branded items like calendars and signs further drove visibility.

Buoying sales was Moxie’s unique, polarizing taste that lent itself to word-of-mouth marketing. By the early 1900s as liquefied carbon dioxide became more available, Moxie established extensive carbonation capacity. With rail transport also expanding, mass distribution became viable across northeastern America.

Though still a New England favorite today, Moxie’s early ambition to scale up production using era-appropriate technological innovations was visionary.

Their commercialization presaged the future rise of national brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In showcasing what was possible, Moxie holds an intriguing legacy as one of America’s first mass-market soft drinks.


Portrait of Calvin Coolidge
© History Oasis

As the leader of the free world in the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge was known to enjoy simple pleasures amidst the pomp and pressures of the Oval Office. Among them was drinking Moxie soda.

Hailing from Vermont originally, Coolidge was no stranger to the beloved regional beverage. In fact, historical accounts suggest his penchant for the drink dated back to his childhood.

This fondness endured even during his tenure in Washington D.C.—a preference anecdotally shared by the President with various journalists and guests.  

It seems likely Coolidge appreciated Moxie as a nostalgic taste of New England familiar amidst the formality of political life.

The soda’s popularity was also at its peak during Prohibition, perhaps making it an agreeable alternative to alcohol among D.C.’s social elite. Or maybe Coolidge just liked how it paired with his favorite midnight snack: cold pizza topped with black olive slices.

Regardless, the President's vocal admiration served as a prominent endorsement, further elevating Moxie’s cachet as a beloved all-American drink.

All these decades later, Coolidge’s presidential fandom remains a proud part of beverage lore— cementing Moxie’s cultural status alongside more widely known sodas of the day.


Moxie cream soda ad
Source: Moxie

The Great Depression dealt a staggering blow to the American economy, shuttering countless businesses as people tightly rationed spending to afford bare necessities.

Moxie Beverage Company stood as one of many companies buffeted by the squall of the financial crisis.  

As disposable income evaporated in the 1930s, sales of five-cent sodas unsurprisingly took a nosedive.

Moxie struggled greatly during this lean period, production plummeting along with revenue. Their very survival seemed under threat.  

However, with gritty perseverance rooted in their New England heritage, Moxie weathered the storm. By running promotions that provided useful items like nylon stockings rather than just branded merch, they stimulated interest economically.

Their signature soda also continued slaking thirsts at local ballgames, keeping the name alive.  

Emerging from the Depression bruised but unbroken, Moxie Beverage Co endured as a steadfast regional icon.

Their eventual postwar revival proved that even in the bitterest of times—rather fitting for a bitter soda—the right combination of determination and ingenuity could still provide the recipe for success.


Ted Williams Moxie ad
Source: Moxie

In the early 1960s, Moxie Beverage Co. scored a marketing home run by signing Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams to endorse their signature soda. Williams appeared in a series of radio and print ads praising New England’s beloved beverage.  

Still basking on his record-setting .406 batting average in 1941, the charismatic slugger brought instant star power and credibility to promoting the regional drink. Playful spots positioned Moxie as the slugger’s drink of choice to recharge between games. Williams also lent his voice to singing refrains like:

“Pop a Moxie, you’re back in the game!
Take tiredness out of your name!”

The future Hall-of-Famers infectious endorsements combined nostalgia for the golden era of baseball with pride for a local product that had fueled New Englanders for decades. Sales indeed got a noticeable bump from the popular campaign.

Over sixty years later, Williams remains a Red Sox icon.

His smiling visage in vintage ads still serves as a cherished emblem of the rich heritage and loyal following behind the Moxie brand.


Original Moxie ad
Source: Moxie

On May 10, 2005, Maine’s governor signed a bill crowning Moxie soda with a distinguished new title: the official state soft drink.

More than pride or publicity, this designation meaningfully codified a special bond between one beloved beverage and the local identity of a state.

With origins tracing back to 1876 in Union, Maine, Moxie long reigned supreme across its New England regional stronghold.

Even as mass-produced national brands like Coca-Cola eventually dominated wider American markets, Moxiers remained loyal to the singular bitter-sweet taste they considered indigenous.

Recognizing this deep cultural connection, state legislators rallied behind distinguishing an historic local product that had come to feel akin to Maine’s lobsters or lighthouses in significance.

Moxie’s new legal status sparked commemorations at stores and town fairs alike across the state.

The act not only gave Moxies an advantage on tap lines.

It preserved a rich legacy: how one homegrown soda could capture a community’s traditions and tastes for over a century...one peppy, peculiar-tasting sip at a time.


Coca-Cola Ad
© History Oasis

For over 130 years, Moxie soda was successfully passed down and operated regionally through a series of owners committed to preserving the brand’s beloved uniqueness as New England’s legacy soft drink.

However, in a move that marked a dramatic departure from this long-standing tradition, the Coca-Cola Company acquired Moxie in 2018.

The acquisition brought an era to an end. No longer was Moxie led by leaders linked to its local heritage—those who inherently understood the importance of the drink’s one-of-a-kind bitter flavor and rich history that engendered fierce customer loyalty across generations.

Understandably, the news stoked fears that Coca Cola would tinker with tradition to capture profits, potentially homogenizing Moxie into just another mass-produced soda without regional relevance.

However, the parent company pledged to uphold the brand’s time-honored identity.

Only time will tell if Coca-Cola stays true by keeping this American original’s nostalgic essence intact.

But the corporate takeover undeniably concludes an iconic run of over a century where steadfast independence and proud eccentricities allowed Moxie to flourish as a category defining cult favorite soda on its own terms.