Maybe you love it for the sentient sugar water pitcher mascot. Maybe you experienced a few Kool-Aid and Everclear escapades in your younger days. Either way, before it was "Kool-Aid," the beloved fruity drink was "Fruit Smack." Inventor Edward Perkins put it out in the 1920s. The official website of the Hastings Museum (the city in Nebraska where Perkins grew up) lauds Kool-Aid as "the most successful powdered drink mix sold today." (Step aside, Gatorade.) But, before that, Kool-Aid wasn't a powdered mix at all; the ancestral Fruit Smack originally came in bottles, which were sold door-to-door by Perkins' employees.
Per the lore, Fruit Smack evolved from its liquid form into individual envelopes of the powder fans know and love today due to the high cost of shipping and the frequency of broken bottles. (Plastic packaging didn't replace glass in the mainstream until the mid 1930s.) These paper envelopes were sold for ten cents each, then lowered to five cents during the Depression. This price cut might be partially responsible for the drink's enduring popularity because even though the price of other discretionary goods remained high during this era, most households could still shell out five cents for a fun and flavorful drink. Consumers quickly gained a taste for the six available dehydrated varieties: grape, lemon-lime, cherry, orange, raspberry, and strawberry. Perkins finally changed the name from Fruit Smack to Kool-Aid in 1934, and today the packets come in 21 different flavors.
Kool-Aid Remains Cool Throughout A Century
Indeed, Kool-Aid's mascot has endured as many changes as the product he represents. Before 1975, the Kool-Aid Man used to be called Pitcher Man. He was first added to branding after Perkins sold his powdered drink to General Foods in 1953. Pitcher Man was given arms, legs, a smiley face, and (for some reason) a penchant for smashing through walls and exclaiming, "Oh, yeah!" Like Kool-Aid itself, over time the Kool-Aid Man took on a life of his own. The mascot has gotten his own comic book, video game, museum display in Hastings, and at least one physical adult-sized mascot costume.
The evolution of Kool-Aid itself has come full circle from juice to powder back to juice once more. For today's kids, Kool-Aid "Bursts" and "Jammers" are sold in liquid form in flexible juice pouch packaging. (FYI adult fans: Kool-Aid can even get rid of your dishwasher stains.) Artist David Hammons used Kool-Aid to create an exhibition titled "Basketball & Kool-Aid" that hung at Nahmad Contemporary in 2021. Kool-Aid even became the official state soft drink of Nebraska in 1998. (Technically, Perkins was born in Iowa in 1889, but moved to Nebraska in 1893.)
Read the original article on Tasting Table.