Mountain Dew. Today it’s the soft drink of gamers and programmers. It “fuels” skateboarders, snowboarders, and racecar drivers. And for some, it’s the perfect pairing for Doritos or Taco Bell fare.
High in sugar and caffeine, Mountain Dew ranks as the third most popular “liquid refreshment brand,” behind only Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. How did Mountain Dew become so popular, at a time when many Americans are looking for healthier beverage options?
In a new feature exhibition “It’ll Tickle Yore Innards!”: A (Hillbilly) History of Mountain Dew at the Museum of East Tennessee History, you can explore the drink’s storied history, which began here in the hills of Appalachia.
Mountain Dew was invented in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1946 when Barney and Ally Hartman, of the Hartman Beverage Corporation, first debuted their new soft drink at a Gatlinburg convention. The drink’s trademark became official in 1953. Originally, Mountain Dew’s flavor was lemon-lime similar to 7-Up or Sprite and it was created by the Hartman brothers primarily as a mixer for hard liquor. In fact, the name “Mountain Dew” came about because the brothers joked that when mixed with liquor, the drink resembled a fine Tennessee moonshine. To continue the hillbilly aura, the old Mountain Dew bottles depicted a Tennessee moonshiner shooting at a revenuer as he exits an outhouse.
Although Mountain Dew was born in Knoxville, it grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee. Sales of the lemon-lime flavored Mountain Dew were modest around Knoxville, so the Hartmans decided to expand their reach by issuing their first franchise to Charlie Gordon of Tri-City Beverage in Johnson City in 1954. Charlie Gordon used unique and aggressive advertising techniques to promote Mountain Dew and to dramatically increase the drinks hillbilly desirability. However, it was not until 1960 when Tri-City’s manager, Bill Bridgforth, changed the flavor to the citrus-lemonade flavor we know today, that the drink began to soar. As Bridgforth put it, “it took off like a cat hit on the tail with a hammer.”
About “It’ll Tickle Yore Innards!”: A Hillbilly History of Mountain Dew
The Museum of East Tennessee History will feature “It’ll Tickle Yore Innards!”: A (Hillbilly) History of Mountain Dew, on view from June 29, 2019 through January 20, 2020. The exhibition highlights the drink’s history, from the origins of the term “mountain dew” and the development of the marketable hillbilly image that influenced media and culture, to becoming the third most popular soft drink brand.
The exhibition includes more than 200 artifacts highlighting the drinks history, moonshining, and the hillbilly image. The exhibition begins with video footage of early moonshine busts and a visit to a moonshine still in Cocke County in 1938. A variety of liquor jugs, dating from as early as the 1890s are on display with other moonshine paraphernalia. There is an assortment of artifact reflecting the early color writers and their effects on the hillbilly image, as well as artifacts from Knoxville’s 1910 Appalachian Exposition. One case contains a variety of “hillbilly” memorabilia, including Beverly Hillbillies dolls, comic books, Lil’ Abner items, and a pair of Hee Haw overalls.
The exhibition features a 1900 carbonation machine from the Roddy Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Knoxville and a sizeable display of rare and highly collectable bottles, including a few dating to Knoxville in 1927, a progression of Mountain Dew bottles over the years, and a variety of other vintage soft drinks from around the region. Of special interest are the “Barney and Ally” bottles, which were the first Mountain Dew bottles ever produced. In 1951 and 1952, the Hartman Beverage Company produced 7 oz. green and clear bottles. The applied color label’s bare the name of the creators of Mountain Dew. In the early 1950s, green bottles were reserved for “colorless” flavors, while clear bottles were used for drinks where the color would reflect the actual flavor. Mountain Dew was originally bottled as a set of flavored drinks and not as a specific flavor like today. Also displayed are a variety of items relating to the Hartmann family.
The exhibition by the East Tennessee Historical Society is made possible through a partnership with PepsiCo Knoxville. The exhibit is on view at the Museum of East Tennessee History through January 20, 2020.