A Brief History of Kool-Aid

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Though the fruity juice powder is now best known for the “Oh yeah!” of its Kool-Aid Man mascot, the recognizable anthropomorphic pitcher came along much later, after Kool-Aid was already a popular product.

Kool-Aid got its start in the 1920s as Fruit Smack, a liquid drink mix developed by Edwin Perkins of Hastings, Nebraska (which later went on to make Kool-Aid its state soft drink in 1998). Considering the competition Kool-Aid faces now with liquid drink mixes, it’s interesting that Fruit Smack was initially a liquid mix. The costs of packaging and risk of breaking bottles prompted Perkins to develop a way to remove the liquid, packaging it in personally-designed packages and renaming it Kool-Ade.

Eventually, the spelling was changed to Kool-Aid, and Perkins sold it as an affordable luxury for children at five cents per packet. The Smiling Face Pitcher was introduced in print ads in the 1950s, when Perkins sold Kool-Aid to General Foods. General Foods introduced lemonade and root beer to Kool-Aid’s standard six flavors, and in the mid-1970s, the Kool-Aid Man made his debut. 

The Kool-Aid Man hasn’t changed much through the years, as Milwaukee Mag's article shows. The cheerful pitcher of red drink bursting through walls with his signature “Oh yeah!” is widely recognizable, even featured in the Museum of Modern Art and appearing several times in Fox’s television series Family Guy.

However, the signature Kool-Aid Man has recently been given a makeover. While he does still prefer walking through walls, this new Kool-Aid Man is entirely computer-generated and presented as a “celebrity trying to show he’s just a normal guy.” Instead of crashing through a wall mid-commercial, he’s now shown stepping out of the shower as a clear pitcher and choosing his “pants” (Kool-Aid flavors) for the day as a voiceover makes him a relatable character.

While the Kool-Aid Man is advancing into the technological future of computer-generated images, the products themselves are shaking hands with the past: Kraft has introduced into the lineup of Kool-Aid products Bursts and Jammers, which are liquid drinks more like the Fruit Smack that Edwin Perkins first invented.