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kottke.org posts about Grace Elizabeth Hale

The Racial History of Soda in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

In 2013, University of Virginia historian Grace Elizabeth Hale wrote about “the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race” for the NY Times.

Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.

Meanwhile Pepsi, the country’s second largest soft drink company, had tried to fight Coke by selling its sweeter product in a larger bottle for the same price. Still behind in 1940, Pepsi’s liberal chief executive, Walter S. Mack, tried a new approach: he hired a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department.

More here at The Atlantic:

Elsewhere in the soft drink industry, though, the oversimplification of target consumers has had its questionable if not altogether offensive moments, too. Mountain Dew, for instance, originally based its entire brand around making fun of poor Appalachians, also known as hillbillies. In the late 40s and early 50s, its label featured the official Mountain Dew mascot “Willy the Hillbilly” and the slogan: “Ya-Hoo! Mountain Dew. It’ll tickle yore innards.” (The name of the soft drink, of course, refers to the Southern slang for moonshine.)

In a not-very-convincing rebuttal to Hale’s article, Coke’s “Chief Historian” argues that the company has always been America’s “most inclusive drink” and more oddly, that Coke has never contained cocaine, which Snopes handily debunked. (thx, caroline)