PART ONE: Who first commercially bottled Mountain Dew?
By Joseph T. Lee III

There is a legend back here in the backwoods of Virginia and East Tennessee about the origins of a very popular drink today, Mountain Dew. Many versions of the story are told most of which are written by family members of the people involved or live in the towns involved, with most of them being biased toward their particular ancestor being the creator of Mountain Dew as we know it today, or it happening in their particular location. Being a lifelong lover, and now collector, of the brand I have read nearly every account I can find on the origins of Mountain Dew, and have to question some of the aspects of the legend based upon logic and reason. I have no bias to anyone as I don't have a family member even remotely involved in the story, I also don't live in any of the towns who are fighting for the right to say they are the home of Mountain Dew, I'm just want to voice my questions of what has been accepted as fact, and offer my own interpretation. I am not out to attack anyone's story, but to only question, as I have the greatest respect for people such as Dick Bridgeforth who has done exhaustive work on the legend of Mountain Dew. Someday we may find the records of the Hartman Beverage Company or the Tip Corporation and might be able to get some period in depth evidence of what actually conspired; however, for now we have to speculate based upon scant evidence and anecdotal information.


The official story as accepted by Pepsi-Cola is based upon Dick Bridgforth's research, which I am fine with even though I disagree with him on a couple of points, which helped prompt this article. The man has done some very good research into the history of Mountain Dew, and has published three books dealing with the history behind, and collecting of Mountain Dew. There are others who have offered their stories as well including the grandson of Bill Jones, President of the Tip Corporation, who acquired the Mountain Dew brand in 1957, so he won't come into the story until the next part. Even one of the relatives of the Minges in North Carolina has also written a book about their claim in the story of Mountain Dew; however, yet again they don't come in till later. This part is only dealing with two companies, Hartman Beverage, which has had no one writing anything about their role, and Tri-City Beverage which was run by Charlie Gordon and Bill Bridgeforth, Dick's father.

The Official story goes thus, in the 1940's Hartman Beverage has created a mixer to use for private parties that they have jokingly named Mountain Dew. Someone, Dick Bridgforth claims it was Charlie Gordon, suggested that the Hartmans should market the drink to the public. So they decided to do just that, they had the original hand drawn paper label professionally recreated as an ACL (Applied Color Label), and ordered bottles around 1951. The story goes that they stored the bottles in a warehouse for some reason and didnít use them until around 1955. In 1954 Charlie Gordon of Tri-City Beverage requests and is granted the very first franchise for Mountain Dew. According to Bridgforth Tri-City is the first company to actually bottle Mountain Dew for the public. Hartman Beverage sees the success they are having with the brand and decide to pull their bottles out of storage, and start bottling the brand themselves for the first time.(1)


First off you have to know that during this period Mountain Dew was a lithiated lemon-lime flavor similar to 7-UP.(1) The citrus flavor we know today didn't come along until the Tip Corporation acquired the brand in 1957. The Hartmans created the lithiated lemon-lime flavor around 1947 or so, if Pepsi's recent 60th anniversary celebration of 2007 is to be believed. Bill Jones' Grandson claims that it was indeed Bill Jones who created the lithiated lemon-lime flavor for the Hartmans. Actually in an April 1955 article from The American Bottler which Dick Bridgeforth has reproduced in his book "Mountain Dew Hillbilly Bottles" Charlie Gordon tells the interviewer that the concentrate is being produced by the J. F. Lazier Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, MO.(2)

That fact raises an interesting quandary in my mind. Bridgforth's Mountain Dew history tells us that the Hartmans created Mountain Dew because they couldn't get their favorite mixer, Natural Set Up, in Knoxville.(1) Yet he goes into great detail telling us that they were great friends with Charles Lazier owner of the J. F. Lazier Manufacturing Company at that time, even to the point of inviting their families for trips on the Lazier Yacht. I have done much researching into the "House of Lazier", and their products, and I've discovered that Natural Set Up was a product of the J. F. Lazier Manufacturing Company. Knowing that by 1948 the Hartmans held the franchise for Mil-Kay, and I'd bet Sun Drop Lemonade as well, wouldn't you think that being such great friends with the owners of their favorite Natural Set Up brand that Charles Lazier would make sure they weren't without a Natural Set Up franchise as well?

The Hartmans filed for registered trademark status for Mountain Dew on November 12, 1948.(4) The claimed First Use Date on the trademark paper work is September 24, 1948, and the First Use In Commerce date is listed as October 10, 1948.(4) How can you have a first use in commerce date on a soft drink if you didn't bottle the soft drink until 1955? You can't, furthermore why bother to register a trademark if you have no intent of bottling said soft drink. Granted the actual trademark registration wasn't granted until August 11, 1953,(4) due to the controversial name which was associated with bootleg liquor(1); however, seeing as you don't actually have to have a registered trademark to bottle a drink, I don't think this would stop a company from bottling a certain drink. It certainly didn't bother Sun-Rise Beverages who had been bottling their brand since 1931; however, didn't register a trademark until 1956.(2) Usually a company will register a trademark before franchising a brand or selling a brand, which might explain why even though Charles Gordon of Tri-City Beverage might have had a role in the creation of the brand, he wasn't granted a franchise for the brand until after the registration was actually granted in 1953.(4)

The trademark certificate issued for the Hartman Beverage Company for the Mountain Dew trademark. Take note of the last paragraph where the first use and first use in commerce dates are noted.

The particularly perplexing part of the Hartman Beverage era is the accepted story that Hartman Beverage was buying the bottles for this new brand and storing them in a warehouse until after Tri-City Beverage acquired the first franchise in 1954, only then pulling the bottles to bottle the brand themselves.(1) Let's remember that the players in this story are all business men, who for the most part have fairly successful bottling businesses, they didn't achieve this by being frivolous in their business transactions. So my question is why would a business person be ordering bottles if they weren't using them? The answer is that they wouldn't, no company in their right mind would spend money on overhead that they weren't recouping profits from. The "Barney & Ally" bottles have an example for each year from 1951 through 1958, granted the clear bottles only have 1951 and 1952 dates (which I will be addressing later). This makes no sense from a business perspective. It's far more likely that the dates of the bottles show that Hartman Beverage is replacing lost or damaged bottles with new ones like any bottler would when they are actively bottling a product, this would also lend credit to the assumption that they are bottling Mountain Dew during the period prior to Tri-City Beverage picking up the first franchise. Speaking of which why would Charlie Gordon, another successful bottler, ask for a franchise for a brand that wasn't selling to the point of having to store the bottles in a warehouse for four years?

I had the pleasure to meet and talk with Dick Bridgeforth last year, and was able to ask him some questions, one of which was of course about the 1952-1954 Hartman Mountain Dew bottles which really shouldn't exist if they warehoused them until 1955. His answer was that maybe these other dates were due to the Owens Illinois Company possibly using stocked blank 7-UP bottles to fill the orders for Hartman Beverage once they started actually bottling the brand. Of course being the questioning individual I am I was going to test his hypothesis. In the photo below you will see three bottles the one on the left is a 7-UP 7oz bottle dated 1953, the middle is a Barney & Ally Mountain Dew 7oz bottle dated 1954 (unfortunately I didn't have access to a 1953), and the third is a Sun Drop 7oz bottle dated 1953. All were produced at the Owens Illinois Glass plant in Huntington, WVA denoted by the number "3" on the left side of the symbol on the bottom of the bottles.

As you can see the 7-UP is much squatter and shorter than the Mountain Dew, and the Sun Drop though similar is actually taller than the Mountain Dew. The reason for this is that these three bottles have completely different molds, and mold numbers which can be found embossed on the bottom of the bottles. The 7-UP is a G-94 mold number, the Mountain Dew is a G-52, and finally the Sun Drop is a G-1661. According to Bridgeforth's book all of the Hartman 7oz Mountain Dew bottles share the same mold number G-52.(2) So the company didn't use stocked 7-UP (or Sun Drop bottles) to fill orders for the Hartman Mountain Dews in 1955 thus giving us prior dates. Also I would like to add that having the records for the Marion Bottling Company I have noticed something about the ordering process for ordering bottles from the same Owens Illinois plant that made these bottles. You signed a contract for a certain amount of bottles, and then the company produced them, it appears that no old bottle stock was kept by the Owens Illinois glass company, everything appears to have been a supplied as ordered process. Which makes complete business sense, product collecting dust isn't making you any money.

In the recent book "Mountain Dew: The Bottles" Dick Bridgforth puts forth a theory that the reason that there are both clear and green Mountain Dew bottles may be due to them using the brand as a soda water line, which was indeed a common practice at that time.(1) So you would essentially have Mountain Dew Orange, Mountain Dew Grape, and Mountain Dew Lemon Lime etc.(1) He theorizes that they would drop the other flavors at some point in favor of the original lithiated lemon-lime flavor they started out with. To add some credibility to this is the recent discovery of an earlier origin for the Mountain Dew brand by the M. Licht Company of Knoxville, Tenn., which bottled a flavor line called Dew Beverages in the late 1920's and early 1930's. The company stopped bottling shortly after the Hartmans moved to Knoxville from Georgia, and it is entirely possible they acquired the brand and Dew Beverage line from the M. Licht Company. You can read more about this early incarnation in my article entitled "Max Lichtís Mountain Dew".

Actually if you look at the dates on the bottles the flavor line theory makes sense. The clear ones, which would have held the orange, grape, and other colorful flavors, while the green ones would hold the clear lithiated lemon lime, club sodas, lemonades, and ginger ales etc. This theory when applied to a logical examination of the "Hartman didn't bottle till 1955" story, tends to leave a very big question. If this didn't happen until 1955, then how did Hartman Beverage know to stop buying clear bottles after 1952? If they decided to drop the Mountain Dew flavor line altogether then why keep purchasing the green bottle only to store it? Wouldn't it make more sense that they figured out that the flavor line wasn't working by around 1952, and discontinued the purchasing of the clear bottle in favor of the green which held the more popular lithiated lemon lime flavor which was used as a mixer for liquor? When you think about it this might be the evolution of the "stored in a warehouse" story, when they couldn't use the clear bottles any longer they had to store them, destroy them, or sell them for cull. Maybe they thought that they could resurrect the flavor line idea at a later point, and they stored them. Another interesting tidbit is that Hartman Beverage has a 10oz clear Hartman Beverages bottle dated 1952, could it be possible that they decided to make the flavor line a larger size and more obvious? Granted this bottle is harder to find, but it does exist, and they would continue the Hartman Beverages line during the late 1950's, but using smaller 8 3/4oz bottles. This of course brings into question the theory that the Mountain Dew clear and green bottles were for a flavor line, yet there are green and clear bottles for both 1951 and 1952, why the heck else would you be buying both colors for? It had to have been for a flavor line, or they would have stopped ordering the clears much sooner.

There seems to only be one piece of hard period archival evidence that Dick Bridgeforth has for the claim that Hartman Beverage didn't bottle the brand until 1955, and that is the aforementioned article in the April 1955 edition of The American Bottler which Bridgeforth included in his "Mountain Dew: Hillbilly Bottles" book.(2) This article is called "Hillbilly Moonshine Makes Sales Magic"(2) and appears to be the result of an interview with Charles Gordon. This article tells about Gordon's use of the fairly new medium of television to promote the brand.(2) It notes that Tri-City started producing the brand in December 1954, and that Hartman Beverage of Knoxville had just recently added the brand.(2) In the article the author has been given the feeling that Mountain Dew is Charlie Gordon's own "private label" product and that maybe in the future he would consider a limited franchise move, but at that particular time he "is content to build a leader on his own mountain top."(2) That's an odd attitude for a franchise to be taking, Tri-City Beverage is only a franchise after all.

It's this interesting idea that Charlie considers the brand his that makes me think that this article is a result of an interview with him alone, and Hartman Beverage wasn't included. I asked Dick Bridgeforth about this as well, and was told that if the Hartman's had been bottling the brand before this wouldnít this magazine have known about it? Not necessarily, it appears that this article was more interested in the use of the new medium of television to promote the brand as much as the brand itself, and it's more likely that Hartman Beverage had done very little to draw attention to the drink prior to actually securing the rights to the brand proper. Charlie was the soda bottling equivalent of a side show barker, he was an advertising genius, all you gotta do is check out the introduction ads for Dr. Enuf to see that. He may have even contacted the magazine himself to get more promotion for Mountain Dew.

Hartman Beverages was the franchisor in this relationship, as proven by the letter included in Dick Bridgeforth's "Mountain Dew: Hillbilly Collectibles" book.(3) In this letter from March 18, 1957, A. A. Hartman President of Hartman Beverages sends Charlie Gordon a amendment to his franchise in which he takes back the Kentucky Territory in the expectation that he has another franchise about to start up in Corbin, Kentucky.(3) This other possible franchise brings up even more questions, but that's for another time. Charlie might be on top of his own mountain, but as far as Mountain Dew goes he is clearly sitting on Hartman Beverages' shoulders. So this calls into question the rest of the information in the article as well including the information that Hartman Beverages picked up the brand after Tri-City, Charlie is trying to establish that the brand is his, you can't do that if you have to admit that Hartman Beverages is already bottling. That information would lead to awkward questions, and reveal that the brand isn't his after all, and that he doesn't have a mountain or the authority for future franchise plans. He is a franchise, not the franchisor or in control of the brand. In his favor maybe he didn't know that Hartman Beverage had been bottling all this time, he does have his own nine year old bottling business to keep going. Then there is the question of why would Hartman Beverage start franchising a beverage they themselves aren't bottling, makes no business sense, unless they are just planning to provide concentrates.


To summarize we have a trademark registration where Hartman Beverages claims to have been using the trademark in interstate commerce since October 10, 1948.(4) Granted we don't have what would obviously have been a paper label bottle or a photo of one to prove this so we move onto the next item, which is that they order acl bottles for the brand in 1951 with the full intent of bottling. A businessman doesn't order enough grosses of bottles for a brand he isn't bottling, this makes no sense, and both Hartman's have been in the business for nearly thirty years at this point, and the company continued to bottle for many years after that so we have proof that they weren't stupid when it came to business decisions, as is suggested by the ordering bottles only to warehouse them story. Add to that the physical bottle evidence that shows that the company was ordering replacement bottles for a brand which they were actively bottling at least from 1951. As Dick Bridgeforth is fond of saying in his books, "The bottles tell the story."(1) They do indeed. Then you have to ask why would Hartman Beverage franchise a brand that had been selling so bad for them that they were warehousing bottles, and why would Charles Gordon, a good businessman in his own right take a chance on a franchise for a brand in the same circumstances? I doubt either of them would have taken that chance, it just makes no business sense.

In conclusion Hartman Beverages was bottling Mountain Dew from 1948 according to their own statement to the patent office, and we have physical proof via bottle evidence that they were bottling and buying replacement bottles from 1951 as they ran low for production runs, up to and after Charlie Gordon was granted the first franchise after they were able to safely franchise the brand in after their trademark was granted in August 1953. Charlie Gordon continued to claim he owned the brand at one time in an interview to the Johnson City Press back in the 1990's, even though his name never appears on the trademark, Hartman Beverage was able to take part of their territory in March 1957, and were again able to sign the brand over to Bill Jones president of the Tip Corporation later that year. If he did then I don't see any proof of it, but then again there is still much we don't know about this brand due to lack of any evidence in the form of records. That doesnít mean that Charlie had no impact on the history of Mountain Dew, he most certainly did, including changing the acl from a one color one to a two color,(1) the use of television to promote the brand in his characteristically flamboyant way.(1) All that being said I don't believe that Tri-City Beverage was the first to bottle the brand we know today as Mountain Dew, in reality it was most likely not even Hartman Beverage who first created and bottled the brand in Knoxville Tennessee, that honor would have to go to Max Licht and his M. Licht Bottling Company way back in the 1920's. Yet all that is based upon my interpretation of the evidence before me, and should be taken as such. Iím not trying to rewrite the official Mountain Dew story, Iím just a fan of the brand with questions who isnít getting answers that make any sense to him given the evidence he sees with his own eyes.

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(1) Mountain Dew: The History By Dick Bridgforth, Copyright 2007 by Richlard Bridgforth

(2) Mountain Dew: Hillbilly Bottles By Dick Bridgforth, Copyright 2008 by Richlard Bridgforth

(3) Mountain Dew: Hillbilly Collectibles By Dick Bridgforth, Copyright 2006 by Richlard Bridgforth

(4) United States Patent and Trademark Office Website