Maine’s Got Moxie

It’s no longer regarded as a cure-all, but the curious-tasting soft drink does seem to be a prescription for happiness.

Moxie bottle
From our March 2012 issue

Making of a Moxie Legend

On July 16, 1885, Dr. Augustin Thompson, a native of Union, filed trademark number 12,565 for a product he called Moxie Nerve Food. His application stated that Moxie was “a liquid preparation charged with soda for the cure of paralysis, softening of the brain, and mental imbecility.”

After filing his patent, Thompson began thinking of ways to market his drink/elixir, which led to the legend of Lieutenant Moxie.

According to the legend, Lieutenant Moxie was a friend of Dr. Thompson. After acquiring tubercular consumption from his mother, Moxie traveled to various regions of the world in search of a cure. In the mountains of South America, he discovered a medicinal plant, later known to be gentian root, being used by natives, to cure various ailments. Thompson, claiming the lieutenant sent him this mystery cure-all, applied this root as a key ingredient to his product.

Secret Ingredient, Extraordinary Results

The gentian root became Moxie’s draw thanks to the extraordinary assertions Thompson made regarding its health benefits. According to Thompson, “It restored nervous people who were tired out mentally or physically; stopped the appetite for intoxicants in old drunkards, insanity, blindness from overtaxing the sight, paralysis . . . loss of manhood from excesses, made people able to stand twice their usual amount of labor, mentally or physically, with less fatigue . . . I found it to be neither medicine nor stimulant, but a nerve food, and harmless as milk.”

News spread quickly of claims of Moxie’s medicinal qualities, and demand for Thompson’s product saw him ramp up production, bottling 27,000 bottles per week.

Marketing Moxie

While Dr. Thompson was the drink’s originator, no one was more directly responsible for its amazing popularity during the first two decades of the twentieth century than Frank Archer, Moxie’s marketing genius. It was Archer who came up with the Moxie Man. This image, which became synonymous with Moxie, showed up on much of the advertising material, often pointing a finger and admonishing the reader to “Drink Moxie.”

Archer orchestrated several clever campaigns, including the “Moxie Horsemobiles.” He mounted a dummy horse onto a car’s chassis and the driver operated the particular vehicle while seated on the horse. The side of the cars were plastered with the slogan “We’ve got Moxie” and driven around to parades and fairs.

It is thanks to Archer’s tireless efforts that the word “moxie” is even known today. When someone exhibits an uncommon degree of spirit or nerve, they are said to be full of moxie. Without Archer, such a term or phrase may never have become prevalent.

Bipartisan Beverage

On May 21, 2005, Maine became the first and only state to name an official soft drink. Moxie’s popularity may have waned considerably since its heyday in the early twentieth century, but Governor Baldacci signed into law the beverage’s special relationship with Maine.

Maine humorist and lifetime member of the New England Moxie Congress, Gary Crocker, spoke before the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government in March 2005, delivering a manifesto of sorts in support of Moxie being granted special status by the state.

“Since 1884 the term “moxie” has come to be part of our lexicon and representative of the spirit of our great state and, some say, our nation,” Crocker said. “It has been used by statesmen, actors, business leaders, and even Maine humorists to make a simple but important point: we’ve got what it takes to get the job done — we’ve got nerve!”

Excerpted from Moxie: Maine in a Bottle, by Jim Baumer. Down East Books, $14.95.

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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