Sweet or tart, pink or yellow, a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade is the perfect accompaniment to a sunny afternoon. An idyllic symbol of summertime and childhood, the simple drink has a surprisingly rich cultural history. Thirsty folks all over the world have been enjoying lemonade for at least 1000 years, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon—just ask Beyoncé. Kick up your feet and enjoy these refreshing lemonade facts—hammock optional.
1. LEMONADE PROBABLY BEGAN IN ASIA, BUT WAS FIRST RECORDED IN ANCIENT EGYPT.
Lemons originated in China, India, and Myanmar, and it’s safe to assume that some form of sweetened lemon water was first enjoyed in the ancient Far East. But the earliest written record of the beverage comes from Persian poet Nasir-I-Khusraw, who wrote detailed accounts of daily life in Egypt around 1050 CE. The medieval Egyptians’s version of lemon juice and sugar, called qatarzimat, was a valued trade item and was frequently exported to other cultures.
2. PRE-REVOLUTION FRANCE HAD WANDERING LEMONADE PEDDLERS.
As global trade continued to expand, lemons and lemonade became increasingly popular across Europe. The drink took particular hold in Paris, where the Compagnie de Limonadiers was formed in the 1670s. This roving group of street vendors would sell glasses of lemonade to passersby, directly from tanks strapped to their backs. Convenient!
3. “LEMONADE” MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS IN DIFFERENT PLACES.
Across North America as well as in India, “lemonade” refers to that familiar blend of water, sugar, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. But order a lemonade in England, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, and you’ll get some bubbles as well; in those countries, “lemonade” refers to carbonated lemon-flavored (or lemon-lime) soft drinks, similar to Sprite. (Pro tip: If you want something more resembling the American version in the UK, ask for a “cloudy lemonade,” but even that can be fizzy.)
4. THE MIDDLE EAST TAKES THEIRS WITH MINT (AS OF LATE).
On a hot day in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, or Jordan, you might reach for a Limonana, a local variation that includes crushed mint leaves. The combination is a classic one, but its status as a regional favorite (and that name) are surprisingly recent. In 1990, as a way of proving the efficacy of their marketing campaigns, the Israeli agency Fogel Levin began advertising the drink on public buses. Although the product didn’t exist, the campaign generated enough buzz that restaurants and soft-drink companies began making their own lemon-mint blends.
5. IT'S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT THERE IS SOME SCIENCE BEHIND LEMONADE.
Just about any iced drink is pleasant on a sweltering day, but food researchers have discovered why lemonade really hits the spot. Sour or tart drinks stimulate our salivary glands, which provides relief to the “dry mouth” feeling we associate with being tired and dehydrated. This effect even continues after you’ve polished off the glass, making lemonade “thirst quenching” in a literal sense.
6. ONE OF OUR MOST POPULAR PROVERBS BECAME WIDESPREAD THANKS TO AN ACTOR’S OBITUARY.
Marshall Pinckney Wilder, second from right. Wikimedia Commons
When life gives you lemons … you know what to do, right? The classic advice to “make lemonade” out of our problems became famous probably thanks to the 1915 obituary for Marshall Pinckney Wilder, who achieved success as an actor, writer, and humorist despite battling dwarfism and related health problems throughout his life. The original version of the phrase, penned by writer Elbert Hubbard, read "He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.”
But despite what is often said, this was not the first use of the phrase. In 1909, the "Retailers Newspaper" Men's Wear said: "In business turn obstacles into conveniences. When handed a lemon—make lemonade of it." But perhaps the most literal telling of this advice is from the Chicago School of Sanitary Instruction in 1911: "If anyone hands you a lemon, make lemonade of it. It is both healthful and pleasant to take."
7. THE HUMBLE LEMONADE STAND IS MORE THAN 135 YEARS OLD.
It’s an image straight from Norman Rockwell: a few enterprising tykes selling fresh lemonade in the front yard. But lemonade wasn’t always kid stuff. The New York Times first referenced a Wisconsin shopkeeper hawking the drink outside his store in 1879, and by the following summer, stands popped up all around New York City, selling cups for a nickel each. "Before, if a thirsty soul wanted a glass of lemonade on a hot day, he had to go into some bar-room and pay 15 cents for it," the Times reported in July 1880. "Now, at any one of these lemonade-stands—and scores of them have been established—a customer can have a glass of ice-cold lemonade, made before his eyes, for 5 cents.”
8. WE’RE STILL CHARMED BY LEMONADE-STAND ECONOMICS.
Lemonade has proven to be a surprisingly robust subject for business-simulation games. The earliest such example, Lemonade Stand, was included for free on Apple II computers beginning in 1979; players determined their success through manipulating simple variables such as selling price and advertising budget. The game’s accessible formula led to a more complex simulator, Lemonade Tycoon, in 2002, as well as countless board games, educational tools, and apps. You can still play that original version online at Archive.org!
9. ALEX SCOTT TURNED LEMONADE INTO MAJOR MEDICAL AID.
As a 4-year-old battling neuroblastoma (a form of pediatric cancer), Alexandra Scott began selling lemonade outside her family’s Connecticut home to raise money for cancer research. Her first venture raised more than $2000 and inspired other children and adults across the U.S. to join her cause. Alex’s efforts were later featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show, and were the subject of the 2006 documentary Alex Scott: A Stand for Hope. Although Alex passed away at age 8, her vision lives on as Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which to date has raised over $100 million for cancer research.
10. PINK LEMONADE ORIGINATED IN A WASHTUB.
What gives pink lemonade its distinctive hue? These days, it’s made with a few drops of red food dye, or a splash of strawberry juice. But according to Joe Nickell, author of Secrets of the Sideshows, the invention was a rather unappetizing accident. As the legend goes, circus vendor Pete Conklin had sold his entire stock of regular lemonade, and needed to make more on the spot. Without access to running water or a well, Conklin resorted to using a tub of water that had been tinted pink after being used to wash the red tights of circus performers. Another, slightly more appetizing tale is that circus man Henry Allott was making lemonade when some red cinnamon candies fell in, discoloring his beverages. Bottoms up?
11. ONE OF AMERICA’S GREATEST GOLFERS MIXED HIS WITH TEA.
Bellying up to the bar at the 1960 U.S. Open, golf superstar Arnold Palmer ordered a blend of lemonade and sweet tea, and his name’s been attached to that popular variation ever since. Add vodka to an Arnold Palmer and it becomes a John Daly (a bit of dark humor referencing fellow golfer Daly’s struggle with alcoholism), or for a real kick, swap out the vodka for Everclear—that’s now known as a Happy Gilmore.
12. NO VODKA FOR FIRST LADY "LEMONADE LUCY" THOUGH!
In 1877, in an attempt to curry favor from the Prohibition Party, the White House banned alcohol from all parties and state dinners. Although the decision was made by President Rutherford B. Hayes, his wife, First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes, was a known teetotaler and received the brunt of criticism—as well as the enduring nickname "Lemonade Lucy," which was coined 11 years after her death—from detractors.
13. LEMONADE STANDS HAVE BECOME A HOT-BUTTON ISSUE.
If your kids are thinking of spending the afternoon hawking lemonade from the front lawn, beware—the “industry” has gotten thornier than you might remember from your youth. Unsuspecting sellers can be slapped with heavy fines for failure to comply with health and safety regulations or local permitting laws. Naturally, the issue has become a flashpoint for critics of government regulation and has led to protests, most notably Lemonade Freedom Day.
14. THE SWEET DRINK HAS INSPIRED SOME SWEET MELODIES.
These days, Google “lemonade” and you’ll get more Beyoncé than beverage. The superstar singer’s “visual album” Lemonade was an instant hit when it was released in April, and it proved that, 100 years after Marshall Pinckney Wilder, the advice to “make lemonade” out of our hardships still resonates. But Bey is hardly the first artist to draw inspiration from the drink—singer G. Love used Lemonade as an album title in 2006, and musicians as diverse as Gucci Mane, Danity Kane, and Blind Melon all have songs of the same title in their repertoire. There's also Lemonade, the dance band from San Francisco, and Lemonade, the Eve Ensler play. One thing’s for sure: Whether you’re drinking lemonade, making it, selling it, or singing about it, no one can get enough of it.