Chances are that if you grew up in the United States in the 20th century (or many other places in the world), at one time or another you drank Kool-Aid. Not only was it one of the first flavoured drink mix sever invented, but it also remains one of the most popular.
Kool-Aid largely owed its existence to another powdered product, the powdered gelatin product Jell-O, marketed since 1845. It was while growing up that Edwin Perkins first discovered Jell-O. The product interested him so much that he convinced his father to carry it in his general store in Hendley, Nebraska. As an adult Perkins began selling a concentrated drink mix called Fruit Smack. Fruit Smack came in six different flavours and was sold in four ounce bottles. Although popular, Fruit Smack would prove troublesome. The bottles cost quite a bit to ship and they would sometimes break. It was in 1927 that Perkins developed a means of removing the liquid from Fruit Smack to leave a powder that, when remixed, would make a fruit drink. This powder could then be sold in small packages. Perkins initially sold this new powdered drink mix under the name Kool-Ade, later changed to Kool-Aid. Like Fruit Smack, it came in six flavours: cherry, grape, lemon-lime, orange, raspberry, and strawberry.
In the beginning Kool-Aid was sold by mail order to grocery stores and other outlets. By 1929 Kool-Aid achieved nation wide distribution. Kool-Aid proved so popular that by 1931 Perkins dropped all of the other products he sold in order to concentrate on it. He also moved his base of operations from Hastings, Nebraska to Chicago.Originally sold for 10 cents a package, Perkins cut the price to five cents during the Depression. In 1953 that Kool-Aid was sold to General Foods.
It would be in 1954 that the famous Smiling Face Pitcher featured in ads and on packages of Kool-Aid was introduced. The image was created by ad man Marvin Plotts, who was charged with finding a way of visualising the slogan "A five cent package makes two quarts." Reportedly Plotts was inspired to create the Smiling Face Pitcher on a cold day when he watched his son trace smiley faces on a frosted window pane. General Foods also introduced new flavours to Kool-Aid, introducing root beer and lemonade in 1955. In 1964 they developed a pre-sweetened version of the drink mix, re-developing it in 1970.
Over the years Kool-Aid would feature various commercial spokesmen. In the Sixties animated children called "the Kool-Aid Kids" were featured in commercials. By the mid to late Sixties, Bugs Bunny served as the product's spokesman in commercials. He also appeared on packages of the pre-sweetened version of Kool-Aid from the Sixties into the Seventies. After CBS began rerunning The Monkees on Saturday morning in 1969, the band appeared in commercials alongside the wascally wabbit. Of course, the character now most strongly associated with the product is probably Kool-Aid Man.
It was in 1975 that the Smiling Pitcher was given arms and legs to become "Kool-Aid Man." In the original commercials the character was played by a man in a costume. He was generally summoned by children yelling "Hey, Kool-Aid!" and would arrive by bursting through a wall or some other usual means. His only words were generally, "Oh, yeah!" By the late Eighties he was given dialogue. For the most part the character has been computer generated since the late Nineties, with a few exceptions.
In 1985 General Foods was acquired by Philip Morris Companies. Three years later Philip Morris Companies acquired Kraft, Inc. Philip Morris merged the two companies, so that Kool-Aid is now owned by Kraft Foods. Kraft had introduced such new products as Kool-Pumps (Kool-Aid flavoured sherbet contained in cylinders) and Kool-Burst (essentially Kool-Aid in squeezable bottles).
The success of Kool-Aid would inspire imitators almost immediately. Jel Sert, whose original product had been a gelatin desert mix, introduced its own powdered drink mix, Flavor Aid, in 1929. In 1964 Pilbursy introduced its own powdered drink mix to the market. It was named "Funny Face" for the cartoon characters featured on its packages (Goofy Grape, Rootin'-Tootin' Raspberry, and so on). Unlike Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid, Funny Face drink mix was pre-sweetened. Originally cyclamate was used as the sweetener, but after cyclamate was suspected of being a carcinogen it was replaced with saccharine in 1969. Funny Face always lagged behind both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid in sales, so that Pilsbury sold the line to Brady Enterprises, who continued to make it on a limited basis until it was finally discontinued. Of course, Kool-Aid was arguably the ancestor of all powdered drink mixes, from Tang to Country Time Lemonade to Crystal Light.
Kool-Aid has existed for over eighty years now and continues to be as popular as ever. It may well be the best selling powdered drink mix worldwide. It certainly forms the memories of many people born in the 20th century, in the United States and elsewhere.