There’s no dispute that a trademark application for a soda named Mountain Dew was filed on November 12, 1948 with the U.S. Patent Office by Hartman Beverage Co. of Knoxville, TN. After that the path of Mountain Dew to its current worldwide popularity breaks into a number of offshoots that parallel, intertwine, and circle back.
Brothers Barney and Ally Hartman, who had moved their business from Augusta, GA, to Knoxville in 1932, initially bottled a lemon-lime mixer they jokingly called Mountain Dew, a 19th century nickname for moonshine, for their own after-hours consumption. Ally Hartman claimed the recipe was his brother’s.
The Hartmans took an early prototype of their drink to a 1946 beverage convention in Gatlinburg, TN where they were assured by friends that their product, to them nothing more than a goof, could turn them a tidy profit. At the convention the brothers met Charlie Gordon, of Tri-City Beverage.
John Brichetto drew the first sketches of the original Mountain Dew bottle labels in 1948, depicting a character known as Willy the Hillbilly shooting at a revenuer fleeing an outhouse with a pig sitting in the corner. Below the illustration is the phrase “by Barney and Ollie”—as in FILLED by Barney and Ollie, a nod to the way a homemade jug of moonshine might be hand filled by the moonshiner. This labeling quirk was carried on until Pepsi Cola entered the picture many years later.
Charlie Gordon’s Tri-City Beverage first commercially bottled Mountain Dew in 1954. The Hartmans began selling Mountain Dew the next year, marketing it as a lemon-lime drink to be used as a whiskey mixer. Although they felt the Dew would be a big seller, it didn’t catch on as they had hoped. In fact, it sat on retailers’ shelves, and generated little revenue.
Herman Minges, co-owner of a North Carolina Pepsi franchiser that became a Mountain Dew licensee in 1955, was over time able to greatly expand the regional reach and appeal of the product. He had met the Hartmans through Bill Jones.
In 1958, Jones – a well known soft drink supply salesman – acquired a company by the name of Tip Corporation, located in Marion, VA. Jones was not a wealthy man, and was forced to take on investors to further promote his venture. The first investors were Allie Hartman, Herman Minges and Pepsi Cola bottlers Richard Minges of Fayetteville, NC, and Wythe Hull of Marion, VA. Some of these first investors were long time friends of Jones, from the days he had spent as a supply salesman.
In 1959 Bill Bridgforth, manager of Tri-City Beverage, formulated Tri-City Lemonade to compete with SunDrop Cola. The following year he transferred the company’s moderately successful Tri-City Lemonade flavor into the green Mountain Dew bottles.
This “New Mountain Dew” was a hit in the East Tennessee area (except for Knoxville, where the Hartmans stuck with their lemon-lime Mountain Dew for a few more years). Its base flavor is still used in Mountain Dew today.
It was rumored that Bill Jones acquired the name for Mountain Dew at a 1960 dinner with Ally Hartman. Hartman was said to want to donate the recipe and name, on behalf of his deceased brother, to the newly formed Tip Corporation. Apparently Jones would not accept the gesture, and offered to purchase the dinner that evening for the rights to the name and recipe of Mountain Dew.
If this is to be believed, the trademark for Mountain Dew, one of today’s most valuable brands, along with the recipe for the soft drink, sold for a mere $6.95 dinner check.
At the same time as Mountain Dew was making its way into the soft drink market, Pepsi Cola Company was launching its new lemon lime soda, Teem. The majority of Tip Corporation customers were Pepsi bottlers, and remained faithful to their parent company. They sold the new Teem, instead of Mountain Dew.
Jones decided to tweak the Mountain Dew recipe to give it a more orange flavor, so that the drink would not compete with Pepsi’s Teem. Jones added a bit of orange flavor, which seemed to make the drink a stand-out among the other lemon lime sodas then on the market.
Meantime, in 1962 Pepsi Cola Bottling of Lumberton NC [Herman Minges’ company] introduced New Mountain Dew in the Columbus County, NC market.
On May 29 of that year Tip Corp. sold its first wholly-owned franchise as well as its first new flavor franchise to Pepsi Cola Bottling of Kinston, NC.
Soon other bottlers were demanding Mountain Dew concentrate. Within three years of its introduction, Tip Corp. was supplying 40 bottlers, and they were selling over 10 million cases of Mountain Dew a year. The large consumer beverage corporations started taking notice.
Richard Minges brokered the sale of Mountain Dew to the Pepsi-Cola Co. on August 27, 1964 from the Tip Corporation, for what remains a rumored $6 million dollar plus sale price.
Tri-City Beverages continued as an independent franchisee of Mountain Dew until 1966, when Pepsi purchased that company as well.
Mountain Dew quickly became Pepsi’s 2nd best selling brand, bested only by the flagship drink itself.