Moxie: “It’s a drink for those who are at all particular”

It’s the official soft drink of Maine, but Moxie has Arlington connections. Moxie’s originator, Dr. Augustin Thompson (1835-1903), came from Union, Maine and set up his medical practice in Lowell, MA. He wanted to create a “cure-all” medicinal tonic. Using a “secret ingredient”, later known to be gentian root extract, he created a syrup called “Moxie Nerve Food” in 1876. However, the market for patent medicines began a slow decline, so in 1884 he added soda water to his concoction and it became a soft drink. Consequently, Moxie is among the first bottled — and continuously marketed — soft drinks made in the US. Besides bottles, it was also sold in bulk as a soda fountain syrup. In the years around the turn of the last century, Moxie Bottle Wagons dispensed Moxie at fairs and amusement parks, promoting it for “health and vigor.” Moxie was also distributed in other areas of the country, but it really took off in the Northeast.

Illustration 1: Francis Thompson’s home. The building was Menotomy’s original meetinghouse (officially the Second Parish of Cambridge), had been moved twice and was located at 208 Pleasant Street when this photograph was made in 1944. At that time it housed Tufts College Vacation School of French. Sadly, this Colonial treasure was razed in 1954. Thompson was profoundly civic-minded towards Arlington, where he lived for over 45 years, and to whose institutions he bequeathed 45% of his fortune. His generosity resulted in the Thompson Wing at Symmes Hospital, the Thompson Scholarship (still awarded annually at Arlington High School), and the town conferring the honor of naming for him the Francis E. Thompson Elementary School. (Photo credit: Robbins Library, text courtesy of Richard A. Duffy)

The company moved its operations from Lowell to Boston by 1909. During this time, Moxie’s medicinal claims diminished (particularly after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906). “Moxie” became a term used for vim, vigor, and courage. Logos and ads, along with the Moxie Horsemobile, driven by “Moxie Men” promoted the drink.

As for Arlington, Augustin’s son Francis Thompson lived on Pleasant St. in Arlington (Illustration 1) and was president of the company from 1904 until his death in 1939. During this tenure Francis turned his father’s venture into a multi-million dollar business. He and his wife left a rich legacy to the town, financing scholarships for Arlington High School graduates each year. The Thompson School is named in honor of his generosity.

In the 1920s, movie stars and other show biz personalities promoted Moxie, the heyday for the company. Calvin Coolidge is said to have celebrated his inauguration with a cold Moxie and in its best year, Moxie outsold Coca Cola. Also during this time, Moxieland opened in Jamaica Plain (74 Heath St.) as a manufacturing and distribution plant.

The Depression of the 1930s, plus decisions to raise the price from a nickel to a dime, and substitute cheaper ingredients cause a decline later in the decade. In addition, a key employee, Frank Archer died in 1939. The company adopted the slogan “What this Country Needs is Plenty of Moxie” during World War 2, but after the war Moxie suffered financially. They tried to market a sweeter “New Moxie” which didn’t take off. Afterwards, the company downsized.

Illustration 2: Ted Williams says “Drink

In the 1950s a “Moxie Laboratory” opened in Needham Heights, producing syrup and concentrate. They also added a Diet/Sugarfree Moxie. During this time Red Sox legend Ted Williams became a Moxie spokesman, endorsing the product on radio and in print (Illustration 2).

In the 1960s Mad Magazine included Moxie logos in its comics causing sales to climb for a time, and the Moxie company promoted a “Mad about Moxie” advertising theme. However, Moxie continued to struggle financially and the brand was eventually purchased by the Monarch Beverage Company of Atlanta in 1966. In the 1970s they marketed “Old Fashioned” Moxie without great success. An annual Moxie Festival began in the 1980s. The company was sold again in 2007 to Cornucopia Beverages of NH (owned by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Northern New England, in turn a subsidiary of the Kirin Brewery Co). Nowadays, Moxie is produced by the Moxie Beverage Company of Bedford, NH. and remains available in New England and other portions of the Northeast.

Written by Colleen Cunningham

Illustration 3: This is an image of Freeman Young, the treasurer of Moxie who lived on Mystic Street in Arlington. Notice
the wooden Moxie bottle case on lower right. The photo was made in the wooded hills of what is today’s Morningside
neighborhood. (Photo and text courtesy of Richard A. Duffy)

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