Ever since 1978 when the “Reverend” Jim Jones convinced 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking a cyanide laced – powdered soft drink mix, the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” has come to mean the act of becoming “a firm believer in something; to accept an argument or philosophy wholeheartedly or blindly.” It is a bit of an historical oddity that “Kool-Aid” took the rap for the Jonestown deaths, when the powdered drink mix that was whipped up and consumed at “Reverend” Jones’s afternoon party was actually an imitation of Kool-Aid called “Flavor-Aid.”
The current derogatory usage of the term “Kool-Aid,” which we surely will hear tossed back and forth, ad nauseam, between now and November 2nd, got me to thinking about the real Kool-Aid.
It turns out that the stuff that originally started out in approximately 1920 as a liquid fruit-flavored concentrate called “Fruit Smack” (a name that would not work very well today, methinks) was turned into a powder in 1927 and called “Kool-Ade” by Edwin Perkins in Nebraska. (He later changed the name to “Kool-Aid.”) The drink mix became so successful that Perkins moved the business in Chicago in 1931. See the History of Kool-Aid.
In 1953, Perkins sold the company to General Foods, and Kool-Aid became the product that I knew as a boy. Back then it was unsweetened, and making it required a “healthy” helping of sugar and lots of stirring, unless your mother was slick and made it with warm water to dissolve the sugar and then chilled it.
My friends and I would take turns pestering our respective mothers to buy the stuff and make it so that we could flex our entrepreneurial muscles by setting up Kool-Aid stands during the long, hot summer months. As I recall, we sold a small glass for a penny, a medium glass for three cents, and a large one was a whole nickel. I believe that we actually used three real glasses – no paper cups, and I hate to admit that I do not recall how (or even if) we washed the glasses between customers. However, more often than not, we would become bored with the whole thing and drink up our entire inventory, split our meager “profits,” and head off to the playground.
I got to wondering whether one can still buy Kool-Aid, and I quickly discovered that Kool-Aid is very much alive and well. (I guess you can tell that I don’t watch kids’ tv these days.) There are at least fifteen kinds of Kool-Aid drink mixes in all sorts of flavors, and they come pre-sweetened and unsweetened.
In addition, Kool-Aid is not just limited to drink mixes. There are a host of other Kool-Aid products such as: Bursts, Gel Snacks, Jammers, Twists, Magic Twists, and Mad Scientwists. You may also be interested to know that Kool-Aid is now available in the U.K. (I’m sure that Tony Blair has heard the term, even if he has not tried the drink.)
People dye fibers with the Kool-Aid (protein fibers only, please) and use it in recipes. Finally and nor surprisingly, there are people who collect Kool-Aid Packages and other Kool-Aid Stuff. Here is an interesting site that contains a photo archive of Kool-Aid packages, along with a display of Kool-Aid “Klones” and trader information.
I wonder if it still tastes the same as it did during those hot, New Jersey summers when we would drink up the inventory one three cent glass at a time.**
**We used to get served a powdered fruit mix in the Army that we called “Bug Juice,” but I doubt that it was really Kool-Aid. It was probably the kind of stuff that the Jonestown folks drank, only without the cyanide.