Nebraska at 150: Kool-Aid invented in Hastings

Editor’s Note: Nebraska celebrates its 150th birthday as a state March 1. As the state observes its sesquicentennial during 2017, we wanted to take a look at Cornhusker state attractions leading up to the celebrations. Today, we take a look back at Hastings, where Kool-Aid was invented…

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Kool-Aid flavors run the gamut with fancy names. My favorite has always been strawberry

Remember when you finally got the chance to make your own Kool-Aid as a kid? Did you have a Kool-Aid stand to make millions of dollars (that really turned out to be more like a dollar or two)? Maybe you licked the dry mix from a packet?

If you did any of these things or something else with Kool-Aid, you can thank a Nebraskan. Edward Perkins (born in Iowa) created the drink flavors in Hastings, Nebraska.

Perkins created the soft drink mix to improve a concept by another company that offered a liquid mix. He sold the mix at his general store, but the bottles would often break during shipment. Creating the powdered mix solved that problem.

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Storefront exhibit of the old Perkins’ family business

Perkins seemed destined to invent something fantastic. His father traded their farm for a general store in Hendley, Nebraska, while Edwin was a youth. It was while working at the general store that the younger Perkins developed an entrepreneurial style.

He worked on creating various products as a teen-ager. He started his own weekly newspaper.

In 1918, he created his first successful product – Nix-O-Tine Tobacco Remedy It was designed to help overcome tobacco addiction. He sold it through the mail. The product enjoyed success as veterans returned home from World War I. Veterans lined up to get the product as they tried to beat a habit they picked up during the war. It included herbs, mouth wash and a laxative. It sounded like it punished people for smoking.

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One of Perkins’ inventions

Perkins and his bride Kitty moved to Hastings in 1920. They bought their own store. They lived in the back of the building. Eventually, they moved to another building in town.

As Perkins created new products, his company – Perkins Products Inc. – grew. One product he enjoyed selling was “Fruit Smack.” The liquid came in 4-ounce bottles. The drink concentrate was apparently a challenger to Coca Cola, as the soft drink was finding it footing.

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This liquid drink led to the invention of Kool-Aid

A fan of Jell-O since his family sold the product in their Hendley store, he thought “Fruit Smack” should be manufactured as a powdered mix. Perkins worked with his staff to create a dry mix version.

Success came in 1927, when Perkins Products created “Kool-Ade.” The powdered mix offered six flavors: cherry, grape, lemon, orange and root beer. Strawberry was added later. The product was trademarked a year later.

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The mix was originally called “Kool-Ade”

As the years passed, the name was changed to “Kool-Aid.” A package cost 10 cents. It remains reasonably priced.

We wanted to know if Hastings is crazy about its Kool-Aid. The answer is “Of course!” Hastings is so proud of being the “home of Kool-Aid” that it celebrates the fact with a weekend celebration every August. A parade, games, concerts and other events take place during the weekend. They even name a “Kool-Aid Days” Queen.

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The Kool-Aid Man is the final participant in the annual parade

The three-day celebration offers more than 15 Kool-Aid flavors at the world’s “largest” Kool-Aid stand. People line up dozens deep to sample the flavors.

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Hastings is home to the World’s Largest Kool-Aid stand. 2015 had 16 drink stations.

Beyond a three-day holiday for the soft drink mix, Hastings recognizes its esteemed neighbor and his creation with a large exhibit at the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The museum offers a look at Perkins’ life, from being born and raised in a sod house to his business acumen.

The exhibit starts with visitors entering through a general store display. You can imagine young Edwin working beside his father, while tinkering with his inventions.

The museum offers a glance into Perkins’ other products – “Nix-O-Tine, Onor-Maid and Jel-Aid, among them. Not everything he created was successful, but really once he created “Kool-Aid,” did anything else really matter?

As “Kool-Aid” took off in the marketplace, you can witness the growth with different flavors and packaging.

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Kool-Aid flavors

“Kool-Aid” has seen its popularity solidified through merchandising. Hats, shirts, Frisbees, games, mugs, lunch pails and more have included the logo or the “Kool-Aid” name.

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Toys, games and other memorabilia for Kool-Aid

It even has a mascot that almost everyone recognizes – “Kool-Aid Man.” He made his first appearance in a commercial in 1978. His catch phrase is often repeated (at least in our family), “Oh, yeah!”

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“Oh Yeah!”

“Kool-Aid Man” has been parodied on FOX TV’s “Family Guy” animated series. On at least two occasions, his “Oh, yeah!” was spoken. The first was during a court room scene, where someone says “Oh, no.” He comes crashing through the wall (like during his ads) and says “Oh, yeah!”

The second time comes when someone crashes through his wall while he is at home watching TV. He mentions how crashing through the wall can be a little annoying. If you’re a fan of the show, you know what I’m talking about.

We had a fun time learning the history of “Kool-Aid” and the pride Hastings has in being the birthplace of the drink mix.

We recommend checking out the museum exhibit. The museum offers a lot more cool exhibits, as well.

For more information on “Kool-Aid” history, visit www.hastingsmuseum.org or www.kool-aiddays.com.