The East Tennessee company that created the drink chose the name “Mountain Dew” specifically for its connection to the region’s more infamous cocktail – moonshine, also known as white lightening, hooch, fire water, and yes, mountain dew.
Two brothers, Barney and Ally Hartman ran the Hartman Beverage Co. at 1921 E. Magnolia Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. In the 1940s the brothers created a lemon-lime soft drink that tasted similar to 7Up. The concoction was primarily a mixer for liquor drinks, and Barney and Ally jokingly referred to it as “Mountain Dew.”
The Hartmans filed a trademark with the U.S. Patent Office in 1948 for “Mountain Dew,” and even printed up a hillbilly label for the bottles. But Barney and Ally used the drink for their own consumption and didn’t sell the soda, which some called “zero-proof moonshine,” until 1954.
Tri-City Beverage Co. in Johnson City, Tenn. bottled the lemon-lime flavored Mountain Dew for commercial sales until about 1960, when Tri-City plant manager Bill Bridgforth changed the formula that is closer to the taste we know today.
If you want to learn more, Bill’s son Dick wrote a book, “Mountain Dew: The History.”
During Mountain Dew’s early history, the drink’s label featured Willy the Hillbilly shooting at a man running from an outhouse. Even the television commercials featured Willy and his band of hillbillies.
But in 1973 Pepsi, which purchased Mountain Dew in 1964, decided the hillbilly image didn’t appeal to the teens and young adults. Evidently it was the right move because today Mountain Dew is the fourth best selling soft drink in the U.S. According to Beverage Digest, the 2008 numbers break down like this:
- Coke – holds 17.3 percent of the market – 1.66 billion cases sold
- Pepsi – holds 10.3 percent of the market – 991 million cases sold
- Diet Coke – holds 10 percent of the market – 960 million cases sold
- Mountain Dew – holds 6.8 percent of the market – 653 million cases sold
- Dr Pepper – holds 6.1 percent of the market – 581 million cases sold
For your enjoyment, here is one of the first Mountain Dew television commercials: