Originally created 06/19/02

How sweet it is... Kool-Aid turns 75



It might seem a bit strange to think that Kool-Aid, the unofficial drink of American kids of all ages, is turning a grandfatherly 75 this year.

But not a hint of gray can be found among its 22 flavors.

In fact, after three quarters of a century, it has never been more popular: 563 million gallons swigged a year, a loyal following of Web-based "Koolectors" and a museum exhibit set to open in its hometown of Hastings, Neb., this week.

How have cheap packets of sweet, flavored powder quenched Americans' thirst for generations?

"It's easy, it's fun, kids identify with it," said Mark Summers, host of Food Network's Unwrapped show, which dissects the makings of junk food, sweets and soft drinks. "And it's nostalgia. I think anything that brings you back to your childhood, whether you had a lemonade stand or a Kool-Aid stand, it was all of our real first jobs in all probability."

Kool-Aid's rotating wheel of flavors has fit perfectly into the pop-culture landscape, whether it was Scary Black Cherry for Halloween, Mandarina-Tangerine (the first bilingual Kool-Aid package) or the new Harry Potter-inspired Magic Twist flavored powder that changes color when mixed with water.

Over those 75 years, American children have donned Kool-Aid mustaches of more than 64 flavors. Some flavors keep coming back with new names. Others are gone for good - and some fans still pine for them.

"I drank Sharkleberry Fin until they discontinued it," said Donovan Baker, 33, from Galesburg, Ill. "I still have four cases in the house. It's like champagne around here."

After Kool-Aid retired Sharkleberry Fin - a kind of banana-strawberry blend - in 1994, Mr. Baker tried to duplicate it by mixing other flavors together.

"But it doesn't come out as good as it should," he said.

So he trades for rare and discontinued packs on a Kool-Aid trading Web site, members.tripod.com/(tilde)NightGarden/katrade.htm. In addition to the coveted Sharkleberry Fin, two of the scarcest flavors come from the early 1940s: Golden Nectar and Pineapple Grapefruit.

It's one of several Internet sites, including the auction site eBay, offering Kool-Aid products and information.

Not bad for some colorful powder with a kamikaze pitcher as its pitchman.

Kool-Aid - which Nebraska dubbed the official state drink in 1998 - will get its own museum exhibit this summer. The fiberglass Kool-Aid Man suit that crashed through walls in the first commercials will be among the paraphernalia on display starting Thursday at the Hastings Museum, which is honoring Kool-Aid and its creator, Edwin Perkins, a former Hastings resident who died in 1961.

"We're the last link that knew him personally," said Sue Uerling, the museum's director of development and marketing. "He's truly an American story. He really was someone who had a vision from such an early age of what his life was going to be like."

As a result, his creation has become a piece of Americana.

"I find it fascinating to go to the fridge every now and then to find a container of that stuff there," Mr. Summers said. "But you know, the cherry really is pretty good. It just doesn't make any sense at this point in our lives, but sure enough, it's still there."