Kool-Aid has become a standard of childhood. Whether a person was a devotee of cherry, grape, lemon-lime or some other flavor, virtually anyone can agree that the drink mix played an important role in summer fun.
What not all Kool-Aid enthusiasts may realize is that the soft drink originated in Hastings.
"Kool-Aid was invented in 1927 by Edwin Perkins. He had moved here from Henley, Nebraska, to be closer to transportation and shipping facilities," said Drew Ceperley, marketing director of the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
"It's the crossroads for two railroads and two highways, so it was easier to ship from."
The Hastings Museum opened its Kool-Aid exhibit in 2002 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of both the drink and the museum.
Half of the exhibit is devoted to Perkins' inventions and business in Hastings. The other half is devoted to the history of Kool-Aid as its popularity grew, moved headquarters and changed hands.
Perkins' creative genius was not limited to soft drinks.
"He was kind of an inventor. He was tinkering with all kinds of things. He had a line called Onar-Maid," Hastings Museum curator Teresa Hodson said. "He had other products he was selling. There were cleaning products and beauty aids."
Kool-Aid was not even his first foray into drink mix making.
"He had invented a product called Fruit Smack, a fruit concentrate that was shipped in small glass jars," Ceperley said. "Due to the weight and also the glass jars' tendency to break in shipping, he started to look for a different way in which he could distribute this drink flavoring."
"He came up with the idea of making it into a powder. The rest is history."
Kool-Aid is a big draw for Hastings and the museum. On average, 35,000 visitors a year walk through, enjoying memorabilia and Kool-Aid premiums.
"We have the original Kool-Aid Man costume. It appeared in the first commercials with the Kool-Aid Man," Ceperley said. "From experience, after about ten minutes, it starts digging into the shoulders."
"It has a steel frame and is made of fiberglass, so it's quite heavy."
Kraft Foods Inc. is the current owner of the Kool-Aid brand. Museum staff was able to work with Kraft to obtain much of the memorabilia in the exhibit. The Perkins family was also essential in putting the display together.
Some members of the family still live in the area. Others are scattered across the country.
"When the exhibit opened, we had a family reunion. We have met or at least corresponded with most of them," Hodson said. "When we were doing the exhibit stuff, we talked to them about any memories they had or artifacts or memorabilia.
"We wanted the family's support. That's a huge part of the exhibit."
Kool-Aid's history involves not only the brand changing hands, but also changing names. When Perkins began selling the product in 1927, it was called Kool-Ade.
"The FDA actually has a definition that if you use the word ending '-ade,' it has to have the juice of whatever fruit it is," Hodson said. "If it's lemonade, it has to have the juice of the lemon. There are a bunch of family stories of why they changed the name, but I believe it's probably the juice.
"In 1934, it changed to '-Aid'."
Worldwide, people recognize and drink Kool-Aid. Visitors and scholarly inquiries come from all over the world, too.
"People see different memorabilia that says Kool-Aid on it. Edwin actually sold a lot of franchises to bottling companies to make liquid Kool-Aid," Hodson said. "The timing was wrong. It was a convenience people didn't want to pay for, so it didn't sell well."
Researchers call asking when Perkins began selling these bottling rights and when different premiums were introduced.
"We have researchers that call about that," said Hodson. "We had an archeologist that called from California who had found a bottle at his dig site and wanted dates so that he could date the site."
BREAKOUT BOX TEXT Fun Kool-Aid Facts
Kool-Aid was invented in Hastings in 1927
There were originally six flavors: strawberry, cherry, lemon-lime, grape, orange and raspberry
An inventor with a knack for success, EdwinPerkins had to stop making other products to devote all his time to Kool-Aid in 1931 because it was so popular.
On the second full weekend in August, the museum and the town celebrate "Kool-Aid Days"
Perkins left Hastings but did not forget where he got his start. A foundation created after his death has continued to contribute to Hastings and other towns important to the Perkins family, helping to fund a library, a retirement home, a music hall and a hospital.
In 1953, Perkins sold the Kool-Aid brand.
Perkins' inspiration for powdered drink mixes came from his admiration for Jell-O.
Perkins was one of the first to market his product using premiums. Aimed at children, packages could be turned in for point values in return for prizes. Premiums are still used in Kool-Aid's marketing today.
Source: Drew Ceperley, Teresa Hodson and www.hastingsmusueum.org