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Why Is Pink Lemonade Pink?

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Reader Michael Lefebvre asked us on Twitter: "What is the origin of Pink Lemonade?"

The pink drink first appeared in the United States around the mid-1800s, primarily at circuses and carnivals and then at street stands in New York City. The drink's origins and inventor are heavily disputed though, and a handful of men have been credited with its creation. Of those, here are the best origin stories we could dig up from circus history:

• Henry E. “Bunk Allen” Allott ran away from home to join the circus at the age of 15 and worked a concession stand. He claims his creation was a total accident and that, while he was preparing a batch of regular lemonade, he bumped a table and knocked several pounds of red cinnamon candies into the mix. He had customers waiting and didn't want to take the time to make a new batch, so he gave out the pink stuff, and it became a hit. Allot died at the age of 40 and reportedly refused a visit from a priest on his deathbed, declaring that, “When I’m planted I want everybody to have a drink on me.”

• W.H.A. Tobey also claims to have made the first batch of pink lemonade by accident.

In the 1860s, he was working with Forepaugh’s circus. When they toured in the Southwest one summer, water was so scarce they couldn't even sell lemonade. One afternoon, Tobey went to check on the horses and found that a red blanket had fallen into their drinking water barrel. The colors ran and the water turned a dark pink color. The horses refused to drink it, so Tobey brought it to the lemonade man and suggested they sell a colored beverage. That night they started selling it and people loved it so much they made it at every stop from then on.

• William Henry Griffith makes a very similar claim, though it happened a decade later: He had a batch of lemonade ready for sale, when a performer's red tights blew off a clothesline and gave the drink a tint.

• An accident with red clothing also figures into Pete Conklin's story. Conklin was running a concession stand at Jere Mabie’s Big Show in the late 1850s when his lemonade ran out in the middle of a rush of customers. He didn't have any more water on hand, so he ran to the performers' dressing tent. He grabbed a tub that someone was wringing out a pair of red tights in and rushed back to the stand. He didn't notice until he started on another batch that the water was pink. There wasn't much else he could do, so he poured it into cups and started selling it as "strawberry lemonade,” making double his usual sales that day.

Another Answer

Red #40.

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Food
Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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iStock

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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