Back in the 1880s, Dr. Augustin Thompson patented a nostrum called Moxie, which he produced at a small plant in Lowell, Massachusetts. He said the carbonated drink was “food for the nerves which has been proven to cure imbecility and loss of manhood.” When Congress passed the Pure Food and Drugs Act in 1906, unsubstantiated medical claims were outlawed, so Moxie became “a healthful and refreshing beverage ... to counteract the ill effect of summer heat.” Even though it had a bitter, slightly medicinal taste, Moxie became a best-seller, more popular than Coca-Cola.
To promote the beverage at trade shows, a mockup of a bottle was built — 32 feet high, complete with label and bottle cap. After being displayed at various venues, in 1910 it arrived for permanent display at Pine Island Park in Manchester. It was an end-of-the-trolley-line park, set up by the Manchester Traction, Light and Power Company for fun and recreation. For the next 10 years, Moxie was sold there for a nickel a glass, and patrons could climb an internal ladder and gaze out on Mount Uncanoonuc from an upper window.
After the Moxie Company decided to abandon the Moxie bottle as an advertising gimmick, the bottle house served as a summer home for the Messier family (who had moved it across a frozen Pine Island Pond to a cottage building lot) and, later, the Todd family. The bottle house became the social center center of the cottage community and, during WWII, it became a landmark. Pilots flying into Grenier Army Airbase, now Manchester Airport, were said to have used the bottle as a navigational aid. Finally, it fell into disrepair, was sold, dismantled and trucked to a storage facility in Maine.
If you think that’s the end of the story, you don’t know the zealous fans of Moxie — and they are legion. They even have an official organization called the New England Moxie Congress; 100 of the members are from New Hampshire. Merrill Lewis of Manchester is one of them.
Lewis, who drinks a six-pack of Moxie a week (“The taste is intriguing; you either like it or you don’t.”), was introduced to the drink as a boy. Back then, he says, it was just another soda, but over the years it became “a thing” for him. The relationship was cemented a few years back, when he bought a house in Manchester a half block from where the Moxie bottle house was being dismantled. “That’s when I got into it with all four feet,” he says.
He and other Moxie Congress members started a drive to raise $75,000 for a building to house a resurrected bottle house at the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage in Union, Maine. That’s the birthplace of Moxie’s creator, Dr. Thompson. It’s believed Moxie was named after an area in Maine called Moxie Falls.
So far, $20,000 has been raised for the project. The Moxie Congress has bought the pieces of the bottle house and given them a coat of paint and epoxy. They are still in storage, though, waiting for additional funds. As Lewis says in his fundraising pitch: “If by now there is a lump in your throat, a tear in your eye, some fire in your belly, and your nerves are being fed by the thought of a sip of Moxie passing through your lips, join the crusade!” For more information contact Lewis at (603) 668-4002, or visit www.matthewsmuseum.org/moxie.htm. NH
This article appears in the February 2004 issue of New Hampshire Magazine