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We’ve all filled our gullets with the ubiquitous elixir known as Mountain Dew at some point. But does anyone really know anything about the trademark drink of our generation? Why it tastes the way it does, why it’s so damned addictive, where it came from? The answers are actually pretty surprising; as it turns out, Dew isn’t just our generation’s drink; its origin dates all the way back to the 1940s, and it didn’t start out as anything close to the Dew we all know and love today. It took 20 years to evolve into the carbonated joy that is the modern Dew, and it took 30 more years to truly break into the mainstream and become the energy supply of choice for sleep-deprived teens everywhere.
Mountain Dew actually surfaced in Virginia in the early ‘40s as a lithiated-lemon mixer used with hard liquor in bars; similar to 7-Up. The concoction was originally created by two brothers, Ally and Barney Hartman, who jokingly named the drink “Mountain Dew” after “Tennessee Mountain Moonshine”, a popular product in the hills of Virginia at the time- the mixer was at one time even billed as “zero proof hillbilly moonshine”. The moonshine theme didn’t stick, but the hillbilly did, and when Mountain Dew was trademarked and labeled, it included a cartoon hillbilly taken from the creators’ original label design, who would eventually grow to become the drink’s official mascot for years to come. Later named ‘Gran’Pappy’, he soon became a popular icon in bars, and appeared on several Mountain Dew products and merchandise, lasting for several more decades.
In the 1950’s the Tip Corporation, the owners of the Mountain Dew brand, distributed the drink all over the Eastern Seaboard. Several bottlers manufactured and distributed Dew, in two different sizes costing 5 and 15 cents respectively, complete with the then-famous label featuring Gran’Pappy the Hillbilly shooting at a man running out of an outhouse.
Drowning despite Dew’s strong sales, Tip approached Pepsi-Cola in the early 1960’s to sell the Mountain Dew brand. However, the product was in direct competition with Pepsi’s own lemon-flavored drink- Teem. So, the owners went back to the drawing board- they reduced the amount of carbonation and added more sugar and caffeine, as well as mixing in enough orange juice to remove it from the “lemon-lime soda” category. Thus, Mountain Dew as we know it was born, and Pepsi bought Dew’s new brew on September 2nd, 1964.
Mountain Dew quickly became Pepsi’s second best-selling drink (next to Pepsi itself), and a new advertising campaign featured ‘Willy “Gran’Pappy” Hillbilly’, along with all his yokel kin, encouraging Dew drinkers to “Yahooooo- Drink Mountain Dew! It’ll tickle yer innards!” By the early 70’s, however, it was clear that Willy the Hillbilly had run out of steam, so Mountain Dew’s image was again redesigned, this time appealing to the young outdoors-type. The bottles were changed yet again to reflect this new attitude; and the public got their first glimpse at the now-famous “wavy” logo, which would grace bottles of Mountain Dew to decades to come.
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s Mountain Dew enjoyed moderate success, as one of Pepsi’s top-grossing sodas. A Diet Dew was released in 1988; but that was nothing compared to the Dew Revolution of 1990s. It started in 1993, when Pepsi first unveiled its new tagline for Mountain Dew: “Do the Dew”. Commercials were produced featuring the ‘Dew Dudes’, including the award-winning “Been There, Done That”. Soon after, Mountain Dew was poised to take its place in a new generation by sponsoring the first-ever X-Games in 1995. A new breed of Dew lovers was born, and the rest of the 90’s is Mountain Dew history, as the youth culture embraced the addictive yellow-green potion.
In 2001, the first-ever Mountain Dew spin-off burst onto the scene- Mountain Dew Code: Red. Combining classic Dew with ‘a rush of cherry flavor’, it quickly became a hot-seller in cold cases across America, alongside its older brother. Amp, a Dew-based energy drink, soon followed, and a year later Diet Code: Red was released. The summer of 2003 saw the arrival of the legendary Mountain Dew LiveWire- an orange-twisted Dew variant. It was a hit in its first limited summer release, and returned the next year- along with Mountain Dew: Baja Blast, a lime-flavored Dew available only at Taco Bell; and Pitch Black, a Halloween-themed Dew, dark purple and grape-flavored, which also saw a short lifespan.
Today, Mountain Dew is at the height of its popularity, enjoying its status as the ultimate liquid of choice for teens and the #1 source of caffeine for college students the world over. As a staple of today’s youth culture and a mainstay in the stomachs of people across the globe, Mountain Dew remains the king of the carbonated soft-drinks.
And just for the record: no, it WON’T make you sterile.