Drink Up! The Stories Behind 11 Regional Soft Drinks

Soft drinks, which originated as flavored and carbonated elixirs in the late 1800s and became especially popular during the Prohibition era, have long been associated with the region in which they were first developed. While some brands have branched out from their humble beginnings—Coca-Cola is sold in more than 200 countries and territories throughout the world—others have maintained a more localized appeal. Here are 11 lesser-known soft drinks and the stories behind their regional ties.

1. Cheerwine

When a sugar shortage at the start of World War I made it difficult for L.D. Peeler to sweeten his Salisbury, N.C.-based bottling company's popular Mint Cola, Peeler began looking for a less sweet, but equally tasty, alternative. The local businessman purchased a wild cherry flavor from a St. Louis salesman and developed the formula for Cheerwine in the basement of his grocery store in 1917. Cheerwine was an instant success and was outselling Mint Cola by the early 1920s. Shortly thereafter, Peeler changed the name of his business to the Cheerwine Bottling Co. The red-colored Carolina staple was distributed locally until 1981, when it expanded into Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. While Cheerwine's reach continues to grow, it remains most popular in the Carolinas and parts of Virginia. In 2010, Cheerwine partnered with a fellow Tar Heel State company, Krispy Kreme, to offer Cheerwine-infused doughnuts in stores throughout the Carolinas.

2. Moxie

It's no wonder Moxie tastes medicinal. The soft drink, which remains popular in New England, was invented by Dr. Augustin Thompson in 1884. Thompson, a Maine native and Civil War veteran who worked in Lowell, Mass., patented a nostrum called Moxie Nerve Food in 1876. Hoping to capitalize on the carbonated beverage craze at the time, Thompson reformulated his nostrum into Beverage Moxie Nerve Food, which was eventually shortened to Moxie, in 1884.

An aggressive marketing campaign helped the brand grow into one of the first mass-produced soft drinks in the United States. One early advertisement for the drink, which has an acquired, bitter taste, read: "It nourishes the nervous system, cools the blood, tones up the stomach, and causes healthful, restful sleep. The family who orders a case from their grocer feels better and happier; the man who buys it in town at the druggists by the glass can accomplish more work."

Maine declared Moxie its state soft drink in 2005 and the beverage is celebrated with a festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine, every year. The word moxie, meaning the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage, was derived from the soft drink.

3. Dr. Brown's

Celery was a popular ingredient in herbal remedies in the 19th century and eventually found its way into a handful of competing soft drinks. Dr. Brown's Celery Tonic, one of the only such beverages still around today, was first produced in Brooklyn in 1868. The name was changed to Cel-Ray soda in the early 1900s and, at the height of its popularity in New York around 1930, was often referred to as "Jewish Champagne."

Today, Dr. Brown's is owned by Pepsi and available at various delis throughout the country. The brand's most loyal customers, many of whom find Cel-Ray the perfect foil to a pastrami sandwich, are in New York and South Florida.

4. Big Red

In 1937, Grover Thomsen and R.H. Roark developed Sun Tang Red Cream Soda while working as chemists at a barber and beauty supply company in Waco, Texas. According to Big Red, Inc., the Big Red nickname was coined by a couple of San Antonio golf caddies and officially adopted as the name of the drink in 1969. Big Red's line of beverages, which also include Big Blue, Big Peach, and Big Pineapple, has established itself as a big brand throughout the country, it remains especially popular in the southwest.

5. Green River

Chicago's Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Co. introduced Green River soda in 1919, just before the start of Prohibition. The lime-flavored and electric green-colored soft drink was initially bottled in the brewery's beer bottles and was an instant success. Al Jolson recorded a song about Green River in the 1920s, and by the end of Prohibition it trailed only Coke in fountain sales throughout the Midwest. The brewery made Green River a second priority when alcohol became legal again and sales of the soft drink dropped. While the brewery closed in 1950, Green River lived on. Today, Green River is bottled by Chicago's Clover Bottling Co., and while it remains most popular in the Windy City, it is now sold nationwide. Green River was part of the inspiration for Creedence Clearwater Revival's album and song by the same name and enjoys a major increase in sales in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day.

6. Belfast Sparkling Cider

Belfast Sparkling Cider, which can be found in many Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area, dates back to the Gold Rush of 1849. According to soda expert John Nese, who owns and operates Galco's Old World Grocery in Los Angeles, gold prospectors, many of whom were sailors, would frequent San Francisco's bar scene in search of a good time. The sailors treated the bar girls to what they thought was imported French champagne, but which was actually Belfast Sparkling Cider, a lightly sweetened drink introduced to the region by Irish refugees who immigrated to the United States during the potato famine. It was a ploy by the ship captains, who apparently paid the bar girls to play along and watched their sailors become intoxicated to the point that it wasn't a struggle to get them back to sea.

According to a 2006 article in the San Jose Mercury News, Belfast is distributed to almost every large Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and to retailers throughout the city's Chinatown. Belfast is especially popular in the month of the Chinese New Year.

7. Ale-8-One

Kentucky-based soft drink bottler G.L. Wainscott developed the formula for his ginger-flavored Ale-8-One in the early 1920s after experimenting with different recipes while traveling in Northern Europe. The beverage's interesting logo is a pun on the winning entry in Wainscott's name-the-product contest, "A Late One." The drink has been bottled in Winchester, Ky., since 1926 and distribution remains limited outside of the Bluegrass State. The Ale-8-One Bottling Co. introduced Diet Ale 8 in 2003. Since then, the company, which remains family-owned and operated, has introduced Ale-8-One salsa, BBQ sauce, and apple butter.

8. Blenheim

Blenheim Ginger Ale traces its roots to the Blenheim Artesian Mineral Springs in South Carolina. It was there, in 1903, that Dr. C.R. May, a co-founder of the Blenheim Bottling Co., happened upon his recipe after adding Jamaican ginger to the foul-tasting mineral water he had advised his patients to drink. Today, Blenheim Ginger Ale, which is spicier than most soft drinks, comes in three flavors: Hot, Not as Hot, and Diet. The drink, which was sold for a time at Restoration Hardware stores throughout the country, boasts a bit of a cult following. The brand earned some rare publicity in 1994 when Penn Jillette wore a Blenheim T-shirt on a cover of Wired.

9. Vernors

In 1862, Detroit pharmacist James Vernor developed a mixture of 19 ingredients that included ginger, vanilla, and natural flavors. Before leaving to fight in the Civil War, Vernor stored his experimental mixture in an oak cask. When he returned four years later, he opened the cask to find it had transformed his blend of flavors into a delicious ginger ale. Vernor sold his concoction at his drugstore's soda fountain for the next 30 years. In 1896, with the help of his son, he began distributing his specially aged ginger ale in bottles. The Vernor family maintained ownership of the business until 1966. Vernors is distributed today as part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, with Michigan accounting for most of its sales.

10. Hires

Like several of the soft drinks on this list, Hires Root Beer was developed by a pharmacist. According to one of the many stories behind the origin of America's oldest root beer, Philadelphia's Charles E. Hires discovered an herbal tea made of roots, berries, and herbs while on his honeymoon. Hires introduced a root beer mix that consumers could use to make their own root beer at the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia—the same exposition where Alexander Graham Bell showcased his telephone. Hires developed a soda fountain syrup version of his root beer in 1884 and began bottling the drink in 1893. His decision to market the beverage as a beer rather than a tea, as he had originally considered doing, appealed to the Pennsylvania miners and added to Hires' popularity during Prohibition.

11. Sun Drop

Before there was Sprite, there was Sun Drop. Charles Lazier developed the citrus-flavored drink in St. Louis in 1928. The beverage was later marketed under several different names, including Sun Drop Golden Cola, Golden Girl Cola, and Golden Sun Drop Cola. The beverage became popular in the South, with bottling plants in Tennessee and North Carolina, and carried the slogan, "Refreshing as a cup of coffee." Today, Sun Drop is owned by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list. Share some of your favorite regional sodas in the comments. This post originally appeared in 2010.

9 Curses for Book Thieves From the Middle Ages and Beyond

It may seem extreme to threaten the gallows for the theft of a book, but that's just one example in the long, respected tradition of book curses. Before the invention of moveable type in the West, the cost of a single book could be tremendous. As medievalist Eric Kwakkel explains, stealing a book then was more like stealing someone’s car today. Now, we have car alarms; then, they had chains, chests … and curses. And since the heyday of the book curse occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe, it was often spiced with Dante-quality torments of hell.

The earliest such curses go back to the 7th century BCE. They appear in Latin, vernacular European languages, Arabic, Greek, and more. And they continued, in some cases, into the era of print, gradually fading as books became less expensive. Here are nine that capture the flavor of this bizarre custom.


A book curse from the Arnstein Bible, circa 1172
A curse in the Arnstein Bible
British Library // Public Domain

The Arnstein Bible at the British Library, written in Germany circa 1172, has a particularly vivid torture in mind for the book thief: “If anyone steals it: may he die, may he be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness [i.e. epilepsy] and fever attack him, and may he be rotated [on the breaking wheel] and hanged. Amen.”


A 15th-century French curse featured by Marc Drogin in his book Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses has a familiar "House That Jack Built"-type structure:

“Whoever steals this book
Will hang on a gallows in Paris,
And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,
And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,
And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.”


A book curse excerpted from the 13th-century Historia scholastica
A book curse from the Historia scholastica
Yale Beinecke Library // Public Domain

In The Medieval Book, Barbara A. Shailor records a curse from Northeastern France found in the 12th-century Historia scholastica: “Peter, of all the monks the least significant, gave this book to the most blessed martyr, Saint Quentin. If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Drogin also records this 13th-century curse from a manuscript at the Vatican Library, as notes. It escalates rapidly.

"The finished book before you lies;
This humble scribe don’t criticize.
Whoever takes away this book
May he never on Christ look.
Whoever to steal this volume durst
May he be killed as one accursed.
Whoever to steal this volume tries
Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!"


A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
Beinecke Library // Public Domain

An 11th-century book curse from a church in Italy, spotted by Kwakkel, offers potential thieves the chance to make good: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act.”


This book curse was written in a combination of Latin and German, as Drogin records:

"To steal this book, if you should try,
It’s by the throat you’ll hang high.
And ravens then will gather ’bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you’re screaming 'oh, oh, oh!'
Remember, you deserved this woe."


This 18th-century curse from a manuscript found in Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, is written in Arabic: “Property of the monastery of the Syrians in honorable Jerusalem. Anyone who steals or removes [it] from its place of donation will be cursed from the mouth of God! God (may he be exalted) will be angry with him! Amen.”


A book curse in a 17th century manuscript cookbook
A book curse in a 17th century cookbook

A 17th-century manuscript cookbook now at the New York Academy of Medicine contains this inscription: "Jean Gembel her book I wish she may be drouned yt steals it from her."


An ownership inscription on a 1632 book printed in London, via the Rochester Institute of Technology, contains a familiar motif:

“Steal not this Book my honest friend
For fear the gallows be yr end
For when you die the Lord will say
Where is the book you stole away.”


One of the most elaborate book curses found on the internet runs as follows: "For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change to a Serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution. Let Book-worms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment let the Flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”

Alas, this curse—still often bandied about as real—was in fact part of a 1909 hoax by the librarian and mystery writer Edmund Pearson, who published it in his "rediscovered" Old Librarian's Almanack. The Almanack was supposed to be the creation of a notably curmudgeonly 18th-century librarian; in fact, it was a product of Pearson's fevered imagination.

Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
John W. Jones: The Runaway Slave Who Buried Nearly 3000 Confederate Soldiers
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

John W. Jones was as close to a sinless man as you could find—with the exception of the time he lied to his mother.

It was a late June evening in 1844 and the 26-year-old enslaved man, who lived on a plantation near Leesburg, Virginia, told his mother that he was leaving to attend a party. His real plans were much riskier. Jones slipped outside, grabbed a pistol, and rendezvoused with four other enslaved men. With starlight as their guide, they crept through the Virginia woods. Their destination: North.

The men hiked approximately 20 miles every day, dodging slave catchers in Maryland and crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into the free state of Pennsylvania. Following a major route along the Underground Railroad, they needled through Harrisburg and Williamsport and traced a path along what is now State Route 14. When the exhausted men snuck into a barn near the New York border to sleep, Jones kept guard as the others rested: He sat down, laid a shotgun on his lap, and kept his eyes peeled.

“He was serious about getting his freedom,” says Talima Aaron, President of the John W. Jones Museum Board of Trustees. “He understood the danger, and he constantly took responsibility for others. You’ll notice that was a thread for him—responsibility for others.”

Jones never had to use the gun. When the barn’s owner, Nathaniel Smith, discovered the five men on his property, he invited them into his home. His wife Sarah served the group hot biscuits and butter and cared for them until their strength returned. It was the first time many of them had ever been inside a white person’s home. According to an 1885 profile in The Elmira Telegram, the gesture brought the men to tears.

On July 5, 1844, Jones crossed a toll bridge into Elmira, New York, with less than $2 in his pocket. Unlike most runaways bound for Canada, Jones decided to stay in Elmira. It’s here that Jones would become one of the country's most successful Underground Railroad conductors, one of the richest black men in the state of New York, and the last earthly link for nearly 3000 dead Confederate soldiers.


Living in the north did not mean Jones had it easy. He could not vote. He still shared sidewalks with former slave-owners. When he asked to receive an education at the local schools, he was denied.

But Jones had a knack for cracking ceilings. After earning the admiration of a local judge, he was allowed to study at an all-women’s seminary, exchanging janitorial work for reading and writing lessons. He joined a church with abolitionist leanings and become its sexton, maintaining its cemetery. Then he became the sexton of a second cemetery, and then a third. The community quickly grew to respect his work ethic and, eventually, Jones had earned enough money to buy a small house—a house that he transformed into a vital hub for the Underground Railroad.

At the time, the Underground Railroad—an informal network of trails, hiding places, and guides that helped slaves escape northward—was under intense scrutiny. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act had created financial incentives to report runaways living in free states. “Slave catchers from the south could come up to a place like Elmira and claim that a person of color was a runaway slave, and they could haul them back into slavery—even if that person had been born free,” says Bruce Whitmarsh, Director of the Chemung County Historical Society. There were steep penalties for aiding a person’s escape.

Jones didn’t care. Not only did he join the Underground Railroad, he was openly vocal about it, loudly pledging his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in a message that was published in abolitionist newspapers across the region: “Resolved, that we, the colored citizens of Elmira, do hereby form ourselves into a society for the purpose of protecting ourselves against those persons, (slave-catchers) prowling through different parts of this and other States.” Jones committed to resisting the law, even at the risk that “everyone of us be assassinated.”

The Underground Railroad in Elmira was unique: Since the town included the only train stop between Philadelphia and Ontario, it actually involved locomotives. Jones communicated regularly with William Still, the chief "conductor" of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, and built a cozy network of abolitionists who worked on trains passing through town. He provided runaways with housing, food, and even part-time jobs. “Runaways usually came in groups of four, six, or 10,” Aaron says. “But he had up to 30 at once in his little house.” Jones arranged hiding space for all of the escapees on the 4 a.m. “Freedom Baggage Car” to Canada, as it was unofficially known.

Over the course of nine years, Jones aided the escape of around 800 runaway slaves. Not one was captured.

During the last years of the Civil War, the same railroad tracks that had delivered hundreds of runaways to freedom began to carry thousands of captive Confederate soldiers to Elmira’s new prisoner of war camp. Once again, Jones would be there.


Of the 620,000 Civil War deaths, approximately 10 percent occurred at prison camps. The most notorious P.O.W. camp—in Andersonville, Georgia—saw 13,000 Union troops, or approximately 29 percent of the prison population, perish. After the war, Andersonville's commander was tried for war crimes. The camp is now a National Historic Site.

Meanwhile, the prison camp in Elmira has been largely forgotten. Today, the riverside site is little more than an unremarkable patch of dandelion-speckled grass; a small, easy-to-miss monument is the only marker. It belies the fact that while Elmira's camp was noticeably smaller than Andersonville's—only one-quarter its size—it was just as deadly: If you were a prisoner at “Hellmira,” there was a one-in-four chance you would die.

Elmira Prison Camp
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

Elmira was never supposed to have a prison camp; it was a training depot for Union soldiers. But when the Confederacy began refusing to exchange African-American soldiers—who it considered captive slaves, not prisoners of war—the Union stopped participating in prisoner exchanges. “Both sides started scrambling for places to expand, and that’s how Elmira got caught up in the web,” says Terri Olszowy, a Board Member for the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp.

The rollout was ill-planned, Olszowy explains. When it opened in July 1864, the camp had no hospital or medical staff. The first prisoners were already in rough shape and deteriorated quickly. Latrines were placed uphill from a small body of water called Foster’s Pond, which quickly became a cesspool. A shelter shortage meant that hundreds of soldiers were still living in tents by Christmas. During spring, the Chemung River flooded the grounds. Rats crawled everywhere. When authorities released a dog to catch them, the prisoners ate the dog.

The camp grew overcrowded. Designed to hold only 5000 prisoners, it saw approximately 7000 to 10,000 men confined there at its peak. Across the street, an observation tower allowed locals the opportunity to gawk at these prisoners through a pair of binoculars. It cost 10 cents.

It must have been a depressing sight, a scene of men stricken with dysentery, scurvy, typhoid, pneumonia, and smallpox. Many prisoners attempted to escape. One group successfully dug a 66-foot tunnel with spoons and knives. One man fled by hiding in a barrel of swill. Another hid inside a coffin, leaping out as he was being hauled to Woodlawn Cemetery.

It’s said that 2973 Confederate prisoners left the Elmira prison camp in coffins for real. The job to bury them belonged to the town’s sexton: John W. Jones.


The P.O.W. cemetery in Elmira is unique. The dead at many prison camps were buried in mass graves; Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, for example, contains a plot filled with the remains of prisoners detained at Camp Douglas that is believed to be largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. All 2973 of the dead at Elmira, however, received an individual, marked grave in a special section of Woodlawn cemetery. Only seven are unknown. Jones's effort to give each soldier an individual grave, as well as his meticulous record-keeping, were a big part of why the federal government designated the P.O.W. portion of Woodlawn a "National Cemetery" in 1877—a status awarded to veterans' cemeteries deemed to be of national importance, and which has only been awarded to 135 cemeteries nationwide.

Jones treated each dead soldier with superhuman levels of grace. Overseeing a crew of 12, he managed the burial of about six soldiers every day, treating each body as if that person had been a member of his own church. He kept detailed records of each soldier’s identity by creating improvised dog tags: Around each person's neck or under their arm, Jones tucked a jar containing a paper detailing their name, rank, and regiment. That same information was neatly scrawled on each coffin. When the dirt settled, Jones marked each plot with a wooden headstone.

“No one told him how to do that job, he did it in the way that he thought was right—even though the people he buried were fighting a war to keep people like him enslaved,” Aaron says. “He even knew one of the young men who had died, and he reached back to the South and told the parents so they knew where their child was buried. That speaks to his compassion.”

According to Clayton W. Holmes’s 1912 book Elmira Prison Camp, “History does not record anything to challenge the assertion that at no prison, North or South, were the dead so reverently cared for, or a more perfect record kept.” In fact, when representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy came to Elmira at the turn of the century to consider repatriating the remains, Jones’s handiwork convinced them to touch not a blade of grass. Instead, a monument in the cemetery commemorates the “honorable way in which they were laid to rest by a caring man.”

Aaron sees a second moral in the story. “People always talk about the tension between him being an escaped slave and burying with respect and dignity these Confederate soldiers fighting to keep people like him as slaves,” she says. “But to me there’s a subtext: Here is a grown man who escaped slavery, and the first thing he wanted to do when he reached freedom was get an education. Because of that, he was able to keep these meticulous records that later led to this national designation: It became a historical moment because this man, who was denied an education, got one.”

John W. Jones
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

It also made a mark on Jones’s bank account. Jones earned $2.50 for each soldier he buried. It wasn’t much, but by the time he had finished burying nearly 3000 Confederate dead, he had become one of the 10 richest African-Americans in the state of New York. With that money, he bought a handsome farm of at least 12 acres.

It was a bittersweet purchase. Not only is it believed that parts of his home were built from wooden scraps of the disassembled Elmira prison camp, Jones had purchased the home when New York state law stipulated that black men must own $250 worth of property in order to vote. His home—today listed on the National Register of Historic Places [PDF]—earned Jones that right to vote.

For the remainder of his life, Jones continued working as a sexton and church usher. In 1900, he died and was buried in one of the cemeteries that had become his life’s work.

Incidentally, his death also marked the end of a local mystery: For nearly two decades, fresh flowers kept appearing on the freshly manicured grave of a woman named Sarah Smith. Nobody knew why the flowers appeared there or where they originated—until the decorations stopped appearing immediately after Jones’s death. Residents later realized that the grave belonged to the same Sarah Smith who, 56 years earlier, had invited John W. Jones and his friends into her home for butter, biscuits, and a good night’s rest.


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