Backstories of PepsiCo Brands: The Surprisingly Fascinating History Behind Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, and Gatorade

Love fun history facts? So do we – and here at Fitzgerald Brothers Beverages, that means the backgrounds of popular PepsiCo brands.

Uncover Mountain Dew’s hillbilly roots, the rumors behind Dr Pepper’s name and unique formula, and Gatorade’s ties to Gators (not the animal – the University of Florida football team!). Read on to learn something new today, and have riveting conversation pieces at the ready for your next get-together.

Mountain Dew: The Moonshine Mixer Turned Electric Green & Full of Caffeine

bottled Mountain Dew

The Hillbilly Background

The term “mountain dew” was once a nickname for mountain-brewed moonshine during Prohibition times, and although there was never any alcohol in the Mountain Dew recipe, its ties to alcohol – and whiskey in particular – cannot be denied.

In the 1930s, brothers Barney and Ally Harman of Georgia moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and found they were unable to buy their favorite alcohol mixer, a lemon-lime soda called Natural Set Up, in their new location. So they made their own.

The original Mountain Dew was designed to be mixed with whiskey, and it was a lemon-lime mixture not unlike Sprite. And, there was no caffeine (today it has more than any other soda!). Although the Harman brothers initially made their creation to enjoy themselves, they decided to try to sell the beverage starting in 1932. They were not immediately successful.

In 1946, Mountain Dew labels on the bottles were given a distinct hillbilly slant. In 1949, Barney passed away, leaving Ally the sole owner of the Mountain Dew name. Fast forward to 1957 and Ally Hartman became co-owner of the Tip Corporation along with four other men, and he then sold the Mountain Dew brand to this company.

Just Add Lemonade

Enter the Tri-City Beverage Company of Johnson City, Tennessee in 1959. Bill Bridforth of this beverage company teamed up with Bill Jones, one of the Tip Corp owners, to develop Tri-City Lemonade. One year later, this new lemonade formula was merged with Mountain Dew’s, and the incredible soda as we know it today started to really take shape. In fact, today Johnson City has a historical marker declaring it the “Home of Mountain Dew.”

In 1964, PepsiCo, named the Pepsi-Cola Company at the time, acquired the Tip Corporation, and with it, the magnificent Mountain Dew. (This is also the year Diet Pepsi was released – Pepsi was on a roll!) PepsiCo kept the hillbilly branding for a while, in part to capitalize on the popularity of the show The Beverly Hillbillies.

Old advertisements depicted phrases like, “It’ll tickle your innards,” and “Mountain Dew’ll do it fer yew!” Some ads show a barefooted man in a cowboy hat known as Willy the Hillbilly drinking the beverage. It wasn’t until 1973 that the hillbilly look was dropped, as PepsiCo pivoted to appealing to a younger and more outdoorsy demographic.

In 1974, orange flavoring was added to the Mountain Dew mix, along with that eye-popping green color we all know and love today; it’s clear PepsiCo significantly helped elevate Mountain Dew into one of the most popular soda brands of all time.

The brand has only continued to grow since then, coming out with Code Red in 2001, teaming up with Taco Bell to introduce the Baja Blast in 2004, and many other varieties have been added to the roster, with energy drinks being the latest to hit the scene in 2021.

Dr Pepper: America’s Oldest & Possibly Most Unique Major Soft Drink

bottles of Dr. Pepper

It All Started in a Waco Pharmacy

Waco, Texas is to Dr Pepper what Johnson City, Tennessee is to Mountain Dew. Indeed, decades before Joanna and Chip Gaines put Waco “on the map” with their Fixer Upper television show, the oldest major soft brand drink in the country was taking its roots in this central Texan city.

Pharmacist Charles Alderton worked at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco back in 1885. He liked the way the store smelled. Alderton decided to create a drink that tasted like that aroma and began experimenting with various fruit syrups.

He taste tested his concoction on drug store owner Wade Morrison, who approved, and then began selling it at the soda fountain in the store. Customers enjoyed the beverage as well, asking for the “Waco.” Other soda fountain operators in the area started selling the popular drink too.

Enter Robert S. Lazenby, owner of the Circle “A” Ginger Ale Company, also of Waco. This chemist took an interest in the Waco drink, which he thought could be developed even further. In 1891, Lazenby and Morrison teamed up to form the Artesian Mfg. & Bottling Company, which later became the Dr. Pepper Company. The company moved from Waco to Dallas.

Dr Pepper, as it later became known (the period after “Dr” was dropped in the 1950s), made a significant splash at the 1904 World’s Fair Exposition in St. Louis; this is the same fair where hamburgers and frankfurters were first served on buns, and the ice cream cone debuted. Wow!

During the 1920s and 30s, research came out showing that sugar can provide energy, particularly during those prime times of the day when energy levels tend to drop (10:30am, 2:30pm, and 4:30pm). Dr Pepper capitalized on this information, held a contest to see who could come up with an ad based off of the research, and “Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4,” won.

Other slogans over the next several decades included “the friendly Pepper-Upper,” “Be a Pepper,” “I’m a Pepper, He’s a Pepper, We’re a Pepper,” “Be You,” “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” and many more. Diet Dr Pepper was released in 1962, and it is still considered today to be one of the most “undiety” diet sodas on the planet, thanks to the unique formula of the beverage.

What About the Name & 23 Flavors?

So how did it go from being a Waco to a Dr Pepper? It’s a bit of a mystery! The Dr Pepper Museum has collected over a dozen stories on the origin of the classic name. Some say it was named after a Dr. Charles Pepper, a friend of Morrison’s. Others say it was named after a Dr. Pepper Alderton used to work for.

Another idea is that the “pep” refers to the lift you get when you drink the beverage. Yet another claim is that Morrison was in love with a girl whose father was named Dr. Pepper, and he named the drink after this man, in hopes to get in his good graces.

As for the ingredients and recipe of Dr Pepper, the formula is reportedly held in two separate bank vaults in Dallas, with each taking ownership of half of the recipe. The company does hold true to the fact that the concoction includes 23 flavors, although contrary to popular belief, prunes/prune juice is not one of the ingredients.

Gatorade: The Hydrating & Invigorating Sports Drink That Was Created in a Lab

bottled Gatorade

Yes, Gators Are Behind Gatorade

Unlike Dr Pepper, which was created by a pharmacist, Gatorade was actually designed by doctors in a lab. Back in 1965, the University of Florida Gators struggled and sweated on the field in the humidity and hot sun, with some succumbing to heat-related illnesses – but not for long.

The University of Florida’s School of Medicine’s Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Dana Shires, Dr. H. James Free, and Dr. Alejandro de Quesada teamed up with Gators Coach Ray Graves to study the 1965 freshman football team to find out how much they were sweating out.

Their study determined that for a 2-hour practice, a football player sweat 8.14 quarts – wow! The fluids and electrolytes the players were losing through sweat were not being replaced, and the carbs the players burned up for energy were also not being refilled.

The four doctors tinkered around with an electrolyte-carbohydrate balanced solution to replicate sweat and were successful, except for the taste of the concoction, which was terrible. They added lemon, orange, and a non-nutritive sweetener. Not great, but better, and it did the trick for the athletes.

The Gators finished the season at 7-2, and went on to win 9-2 the following 1966 season. They also won the Orange Bowl for the first time in the school’s history, beating Georgia Tech 27-12. Not surprisingly, coaches beyond Florida started to get curious about this near-magic drink.

 A Canned Food Company Gave Gatorade Its Flavor

Enter Dr. Kent Bradley, who was recruited from Florida to the Indiana University School of Medicine, which was developing an artificial kidney and kidney transplant program in 1966. Bradley met Alfred J. Stokely of Stokely-Van Camp (a canned food company) at a holiday party.

After Bradley told Stokely about Gatorade, Stokely became interested in the beverage, got samples, and created lemon-lime, orange, and grape flavors. The seed for the commercialization of Gatorade was planted, and the drink now tasted delicious and refreshing.

Details for the new product were solidified in 1967, including the name, which, as it turns out, had pretty much written itself. Those who knew about the drink already referred to it as Gatorade.

Stokley-Van Camp began selling Gatorade out of the same cans that they sold pork and beans out of, which did not last long, because the Gatorade caused the can to rust on the inside while sitting on grocery store shelves. The drink was moved to glass quart jars. In 1983, Stokley-Van Camp was sold to Quaker Oats for $230 million; this is also when the fruit punch flavor debuted. In 2001, PepsiCo purchased Quaker, and therefore the Gatorade brand.

What About the Famous Gatorade Dunk?

Since boosting the Florida Gators morale and record, Gatorade has been linked to nearly every sport, even race car driving. But there might be something else you’re picturing when you hear the word “Gatorade:” the beverage being poured all over a football coach after his team has just won.

The first Gatorade “dunk” ever was reportedly in 1984, when Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka got showered in the beverage after his team took home a win against the Minnesota Vikings. However, it was the following year when New York Giants defensive tackle Jim Burt gave the “dunk” to coach Bill Parcells that the quintessential football tradition was popularized.

Now you know the fascinating backgrounds of three of the most popular PepsiCo products we carry at Fitzgerald Brothers Beverages. The next time you need a conversation starter at a party, you can be ready to captivate your audience with the history of Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, or Gatorade.


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