Originally created 08/19/01

The hillbilly roots of Mountain Dew

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- A soft drink with down-home roots, Mountain Dew lays claim to a heritage of moonshine and hillbillies.

And though it never came to feudin', more than a half dozen folks take some credit for its birth.

Today the citrus-flavored, carbonated beverage chock full of caffeine and sugar seems far removed from its Appalachian beginnings.

But a new exhibit at East Tennessee State University in the same city as the first bottler recalls the soft drink's old days with a display of signs, advertisements and memorabilia. The time period covered ranges from the days of hillbilly-decorated bottles to the sunshine logo to the X-Games.

The explanation of the drink's history in Tennessee, southwest Virginia and North Carolina reveals something most people in the region didn't know.

"I didn't know it was first bottled here until a year ago when I met Dick Bridgforth," said Blair White, curator of the Carroll Reece Museum at the university.

Most of the over 400 items were given to the museum by Mr. Bridgforth, whose father, Bill, was in on the first bottling franchise in Johnson City.

The elder Bridgforth, who is now deceased, was one of four parties with claims on Mountain Dew's origin. But exactly who came up with the formula Pepsi bought in 1964 and took national is still unclear - except to the families involved.

The museum is displaying just a portion of the 450 bottles Dick Bridgforth donated, making it the second-largest Mountain Dew bottle collection in the world.

"If the museum had held out three minutes, I would have paid them money to take the bottles because my wife was like, 'You have to get this garbage out of the attic,"' said Mr. Bridgforth, 51, who lives in Houston. He estimates he had about a thousand Mountain Dew bottles.

Other collectors also donated some of their Mountain Dew mementos, including watches, jackets, clocks, toy trucks and signs. There is even a picture of a Mountain Dew tattoo on one collector's arm.

Mr. Blair was surprised to find so many people who collect the stuff.

He received phone calls and e-mails from across the country when the exhibit opening was announced last month. "And then when you're told that someone was offered $3,000 for a bottle, that puts it in a different perspective," he said.

The highlight of the one-room exhibit emphasizes the drink's mountain roots.

Two narrow rows of about 70 green, 10-ounce Mountain Dew bottles are displayed in the center of the room. They are examples of the approximate 1,000 different bottles dating from the 1940s that have been catalogued by collectors.

All the red-and-white labels play up the Appalachian stereotype: a hillbilly shooting at a revenuer fleeing an outhouse with a pig sitting in the corner.

Under the Mountain Dew lettering on the bottle, there are names of individual bottlers, sellers and towns. Quirky phrases like "Capped by Charlotte's Young-uns," "Filled by Tom and Jerry" and "Bomer and Jethro" distinguish the now collectible bottles.

The names on the bottles made Mountain Dew - slang for moonshine - sound like the illegally made liquor cooked up in mountain stills.

"That was kind of a unique thing that was done that adds to the interest of Mountain Dew," said Bob Stoddard, an author who researched the history for a book that commemorated Pepsi's centennial.

Each of the Mountain Dew founders' names were once printed on the bottles, too.

After Pepsi took control, Mountain Dew's image changed a little to appeal to more people. Pepsi didn't allow the individual names on bottles and redrew the hillbilly on the label. By 1973, the hillbilly picture was gone.

Mountain Dew was born in the Tennessee hills in the 1940s.

The origin of Mountain Dew that no one disputes is that the name was first trademarked by two brothers - Barney and Ally Hartman - who ran a bottling plant in Knoxville.

They first used it commercially on labels in 1948, and the government approved the trademark in 1953.

Their Mountain Dew, however, was a lemon-lime drink similar to 7 Up that was used as a mixer with whiskey. The Hartmans' plant foreman, Servais Schneider, supposedly called it Mountain Dew in the early '40s and it became an inside joke, according to Mr. Bridgforth's 85-page book that explains the history from the four different perspectives.

The Hartmans got a cartoonist to draw a hillbilly for the label and that design evolved into the one on the green bottles.

But the Hartmans' Mountain Dew didn't sell well.

That's where the Johnson City connection comes in. Tri-City Beverage, which bottled other drinks, became the first Mountain Dew franchise in 1954. By 1958, the Minges family, "the undisputed first family of Pepsi-Cola bottlers" and still in business today, also sold Mountain Dew.

Tip Corp. in Marion, Va., where there's a "Home of Mountain Dew" sign, also got into the act. The Hartmans started to slip out of the picture when Tip bought the Mountain Dew registration in 1957.

"I had a chance to buy (the registration) when I was 19 years old for $1,500, and I didn't have $1,500 so my father sold it to Bill Jones," said Ally's son, Bernard Hartman, 66. He has a jewelry business in Knoxville and drinks Mountain Dew occasionally.

Bill Jones was at Tip, which dealt with all the founders and bottlers at one time.

Several people say they were the first to add orange flavor to the drink sold today. It's always had a large amount of sugar and caffeine.

The Minges' Pepsi bottling company in Kinston, N.C., then got the first franchise of the new flavor. "I don't know why they sold it but we got our hands on it," said Jeff Minges, CEO of the Minges Bottling Group in Greenville, N.C.

Everyone tells a different story about Mountain Dew.

"I referred to it as the Hatfield-McCoy feuding over Mountain Dew," Mr. Bridgforth said.

The museum, however, doesn't get into the feud.

"I don't think you can eliminate any of the people and have Mountain Dew as we know it today," Mr. White said.


Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.    | Contact Us