Saturday, August 16, 2014

Soda Pop Paperweights: A Personal Story

Yes, this blog is devoted in a significant way to alcoholic beverages, but there were times in my life, and perhaps the lives of others, when a soft drink was “close to heaven” and its taste could become indelibly etched in memory.   Those exquisite moments can be captured at times in the glass paperweights that advertised those delightful thirst quenchers and they seemed an appropriate subject during the August “dog days” of Summer 2014.
As a teenager in the late 1940s and early 1950s I was constantly at work during the heat and humidity of Ohio during the summer months, mowing lawns, delivering newspapers and carrying groceries.   Close by was a service station with a machine that dispensed a variety of soft drinks.  Among my favorites was orange soda, represented here by two of paperweights issued to advertise Orange Crush.

This “soda pop,” as we called it, had been around since 1911 when invented by Neil C. Ward.  The beverage premiered as “Ward’s Orange Crush” and originally had orange pulp in the bottles to give it a “fresh squeezed” look even though the pulp was added later.  By my time, the pulp was long gone.  The Orange Crush folks have traditionally issued paperweights as advertising, including one shown here from 1924 that features three “Crush” products.
The ginger ale in my part of the world in those days was Vernors', made in Detroit and truly the best ever.  But sadly Vernors' has not left any paperweights, so we will make due with Donald Duck Ginger Ale.  Donald Duck soft drinks were the first sodas to be produced by General Beverages, Inc. of Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were licensed by the Double Cola Company to produce the Donald Duck line. These fruit flavored sodas were introduced in the 1940s and included flavors such as Lemon Lime, Grape, Orange, Strawberry, Black Cherry, Root Beer, Cola and, as seen here, Ginger Ale. The brand was discontinued in the late 1950s. 
The paperweight that follows conjures up a musical jingle of the World War II era:  “Pepsi- Cola hits the spot;  Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot; Twice as much for a nickel too; Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.  Nickel, nickel, nickel….”  Yes, in those days 12 ounces of a major soft drink could be had for just five cents.  Coca Cola only cost a nickel but offered just six ounces.  On a hot day guess which cola a boy with five pennies and a big thirst would choose.

Despite the fetching figure of the lady in the skimpy outfit and baton, Major Cola does not register on the Internet as a soft drink brand.  Given the image on the paperweight the company issued, perhaps it should have been called “Majorette Cola.”  Nonetheless this item conjures up a memory of a boyhood search of parks, playgrounds and golf courses for empty soda bottles that could be redeemed for two cents each. (Three bottles would buy a Pepsi and leave a penny for candy.)  Frequently we scavengers would come across bottles of sodas not sold in our area and we regarded them as if they were alien objects come from some other planet.
Among them were bottles of a previously unknown (to us) soft drink called “Moxie,”  a favorite of bottle collectors.   One of the earliest American carbonated beverages, like Coca Cola it originated as a patent remedy. Still available in New England and the official soft drink of Maine, Moxie is flavored with gentian root extract, a bitter substance that was claimed to have medicinal benefits.  Despite its unusual flavor, it was said to be a favorite of Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams who endorsed it on radio and in print. 

Fast forward a few years to 1958 and basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.  Confined to barracks for the first few days, we finally were allowed to explore our immediate quadrangle and use the soft drink machine.  Among the offerings was a carbonated beverage I had never seen before called “Dr. Pepper.”  Urged by buddies to try it, I did and fell in love.  Drank little else before heading North again and still count it among my favorites.

Jump in time once more to 1968.  As a self-funded researcher I was on an extended visit to Southeast Asia and for most of the trip treated to local brands of carbonated drinks, most of them found to be substandard.  Near the end of my overseas activities I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a hot and steamy day, roaming about on foot looking for the American Embassy.  Emerging through a jungle-like park, I stumbled upon a Hires Root Beer stand.  It was like a finding an oasis in the desert and I spent my lunch budget on a root beer float.  The Hires paperweight shown here dates from 1915 when, as it says, Hires root beer was “still a nickel a trickle.” 
A final “walk down memory lane” takes us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 1970s.  My wife’s folks lived about a block and a half from an establishment that dispensed Frostie Root Beer.  Summer nights would find my young boys, their grandpa, and me after dinner heading down to this free-standing dispensary of liquid refreshment.   Although we did not know it then, Frostie was a brand originally produced in 1939 by the Frostie Beverage Co. of Catonsville, Maryland.  In 1979 the brand was sold to an Atlanta company which is said to have “under promoted” it.  Early in the 1980s the Frostie stand was torn down, I think, to build a gas station.  We all but cried.

This is not a blog generally devoted to author reminisces but the idea of doing a post on a grouping of soft drink paperweights got me thinking about an appropriate story line.  It soon came clear that a personal history was the answer.  Perhaps some who read this post will add comments on their own special memories of soft drinks.


  1. Great historical and personal blogs. As a mild collector of Major Cola curios, I've not seen the paperweight. Great to have you post it up. How large is that? Are they made to emulate the bottle cap , I presume? Read through many of your articles and greatly educated. Thank you.

    1. Hello: Sorry to be so long in replying but I missed your message until now. The Major Cola PW is, I believe 2 3/4 to 3 inches. I know nothing about the drink so do not know if it emulates the bottle cap. Glad you like the articles; sorry to be so tardy on a reply. Jack