Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Moxie Minute Men

Cocaine used to be pretty popular. I know it was the hip narcotic in the 1980s, but it used to be a pretty common ingredient even in soft drinks. In 1885 Dr. Augustin Thompson quit medicine to sell Moxie a carbonated beverage which contained sassafras, wintergreen, gentian root, sugar and cocaine. If you've ever had Moxie you know it tastes like cough syrup with a hint of mint. But cocaine pretty much guarantees repeat customers. Like many early soft drinks it was supposedly medicinal.  He claimed it was effective against paralysis, imbecility, nervousness, and insomnia. In 1906 the Food and Drug Act outlawed the use of cocaine and it was removed from the recipe. More here.

Despite tasting like crap, Moxie became popular. If you've ever actually tasted Moxie this is almost unbelievable. Cocaine or not it's just nasty tasting. Like many bad products, it rose to prominence through prolific advertising.  Dr. Thompson died in 1903 and the new owner Frank Archer cranked up the ad machine. He advertised in newspapers,  and magazines. He paid for odes to be written to Moxie, and then for song pluggers to sing them. They even paid baseball player Ted Williams to drink it. So when radio came along they adopted the new media like any other.

In 1922 they began driving around a car with a sphinx mounted on the front. People could seek advice from the sphinx who would respond via radio. A radio operator sitting in the car would receive and interpret the message. Re-ly-on bottler described it's responses as "words of wisdom." It was a publicity stunt. Moxie was big on that. I've read reports of a "Moxie Radio Program? but information is scant. But there was also a band. In his book American popular music and its business: From 1900 to 1984, author Russell Sanjek even wrote of a singing group: the Moxie Minute Men.

There isn't a lot of information on this group.  Unlike other sponsored groups like the Clicquot Club Eskimos or the A&P Gypsies they had no recording career that we know of. We know the the Moxie Minute Men were active in 1929 on WEAF-AM. They were mentioned by name in the Indiana Evening Gazette in April and July of that year. They took another stab at radio in the late 1930s. They sponsored the Moxie Hostess Hour carried on NBC. The program aired in 1930, running on at 3:00 PM, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It was actually only 15 minutes long.  It was bumped up to 4:00 PM in July. It is often the case that the use of  "hour" in program names is farcical. But for this discrepancy it was sometimes listed as the Moxie Hostess Program. The program appears in NBC schedules from march through July of that year. It is possible that it stretches back into 1929 and that it's where the Moxie Minute Men originate, or they are separate, unrelated stabs at radio land during their worst sales decline.