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Lowell History: Patent Medicine Collections

The Story of Moxie

Image 1: Old Fashion Moxie [image of label from 1 liter bottle]. Center for Lowell History, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Moxie Nerve Food

In 1876 Dr. Augustin Thompson of Lowell, Massachusetts, invented a new patent medicine which he called Moxie Nerve Food.  Originally produced as a syrup, Moxie Nerve Food was purported to be beneficial for a variety of maladies including "exhaustion caused by nervousness or heat of summer." Early advertising claimed it could make you "eat, sleep, and feel better" and even cure alcoholism and paralysis.  Both advertisements and "news stories"  were run in papers regularly, touting miraculous stories of how Moxie Nerve Food cured various ailments.

Image 2: "Moxie Makes a Big Excitement in Malden, Mass." Lowell Sun, May 12, 1888. Newspaper Archive. 


Image 3: "Will Astonish You." Lowell Sun, May 2, 1893. Newspaper Archive.


Moxie had a unique taste that is described as both sweet and bitter. The key ingredient in Moxie is gentian root.  Other ingredients in the original formula include herbs and roots such as wintergreen and sassafras.  Intentionally left out, but typical in competing patent medicines of the time, were alcohol and stimulants such as cocaine. Dr. Thompson believed these ingredients were harmful to patients, which is why he left them out of his syrup.

It is believed in the early years Dr. Thompson primarily provided Moxie Nerve Food syrups directly to his patients, as there is no record of it being sold at this time.  In 1884, Moxie was first bottled and sold commercially.  In 1885, Dr. Thompson applied for US patent protection for Moxie Nerve Food. Also, that year, carbonation was added, turning it into a soda which was distributed in bottles and at soda fountains.  Dr. Thompson left his medical practice in 1886 to work on his Moxie Nerve Food business full-time. 

Image 4: "Moxie Nerve Food in Demand [advertisement]." Lowell Sun, August 23, 1898, page 3. Microfilm collection, Pollard Memorial Library.


In 1906 the company dropped “nerve food” from the name and rebranded as Moxie after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed by the United States Congress.  Among the many reforms enacted with the passage of this bill, it made marketing products using unfounded health claims illegal. 

The popularity of Moxie has waxed and waned in the years since its creation in Lowell, but there have always been devoted fans, particularly in New England.  In 2005, the state of Maine made Moxie its official state soda.  The business has relocated and been sold several times over the years, most recently being sold to the Coca-Cola Company which bottles it in Bedford, New Hampshire.  

Fun Facts!

  • Moxie is the oldest continually produced soft drink in the United States.
  • The word Moxie has entered the cultural lexicon as a word to describe people with courage, guts, nerve, and savvy.
  • Moxie was the favorite drink of President Calvin Coolidge.
  • Moxie outsold Coca-Cola in the United States in the 1910's.

Image 5: "Moxie Song" [sheet music].  Lowell Files Collection, Vertical Files, Box 50.  Center for Lowell History, University of Massachusetts Lowell.




Moxie. Lowell Files Collection, Vertical FilesBox 50.  Center for Lowell History, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA.
Offices of History, Art, and Archives.  "Historical Highlights: The Pure Food and Drug Act."  United States House of Representatives.  Accessed February 3, 2023.
Sasseville, Dennis, and Merrill Lewis. Moxie. Images of America. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2019.
Tucker, Aimee. "Ode to Moxie Soda: Maine's Favorite Drink."  New England Today.  August 29, 2022.