Why Is Pink Lemonade Pink?

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Reader Michael Lefebvre asked us on Twitter: "What is the origin of Pink Lemonade?"

The pink drink first appeared in the United States around the mid-1800s, primarily at circuses and carnivals and then at street stands in New York City. The drink's origins and inventor are heavily disputed though, and a handful of men have been credited with its creation. Of those, here are the best origin stories we could dig up from circus history:

• Henry E. “Bunk Allen” Allott ran away from home to join the circus at the age of 15 and worked a concession stand. He claims his creation was a total accident and that, while he was preparing a batch of regular lemonade, he bumped a table and knocked several pounds of red cinnamon candies into the mix. He had customers waiting and didn't want to take the time to make a new batch, so he gave out the pink stuff, and it became a hit. Allot died at the age of 40 and reportedly refused a visit from a priest on his deathbed, declaring that, “When I’m planted I want everybody to have a drink on me.”

• W.H.A. Tobey also claims to have made the first batch of pink lemonade by accident.

In the 1860s, he was working with Forepaugh’s circus. When they toured in the Southwest one summer, water was so scarce they couldn't even sell lemonade. One afternoon, Tobey went to check on the horses and found that a red blanket had fallen into their drinking water barrel. The colors ran and the water turned a dark pink color. The horses refused to drink it, so Tobey brought it to the lemonade man and suggested they sell a colored beverage. That night they started selling it and people loved it so much they made it at every stop from then on.

• William Henry Griffith makes a very similar claim, though it happened a decade later: He had a batch of lemonade ready for sale, when a performer's red tights blew off a clothesline and gave the drink a tint.

• An accident with red clothing also figures into Pete Conklin's story. Conklin was running a concession stand at Jere Mabie’s Big Show in the late 1850s when his lemonade ran out in the middle of a rush of customers. He didn't have any more water on hand, so he ran to the performers' dressing tent. He grabbed a tub that someone was wringing out a pair of red tights in and rushed back to the stand. He didn't notice until he started on another batch that the water was pink. There wasn't much else he could do, so he poured it into cups and started selling it as "strawberry lemonade,” making double his usual sales that day.

Another Answer

Red #40.

January 5, 2012 - 12:40pm
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