The use of lemons to make a refreshing drink dates back to 14th century Egypt. But how did it become the thirst-quenching beverage that we all want on a hot summer day? The first published American recipe for an iced lemonade dates back to 1838 and was made with lemons and egg whites. While the recipe is not familiar, events of the 19th century gave lemonade its popularity. 

The temperance movement brought it to the forefront in the United States. The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement pushed abstinence from alcohol and advocated lemonade as a replacement beverage. One Sunkist slogan from the era summed it up: “Good-bye to liquor, here’s to lemonade.”

At the end of the 19th century, circuses played a huge part in making lemonade the national beverage. A growing number of people attended the circuses that traveled around the country. The concession stands that served lemonade were as popular as the acts under the Big Top.

It was the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that popularized lemonade as a hot, soothing, remedy against the deadly virus thanks to brilliant marketing by Sunkist. Even though hot lemonade had long been a folk remedy for influenza, newspapers began promising results from this “flu foe.” Doctors knew the beverage would not cure the Spanish flu, but at least it kept patients hydrated and it was good news for California’s lemon growers.

So, how did they grow the appeal for the lowly lemon? Well, Sunkist’s “wunderkind” of an advertising manager, 27-year-old Don Francisco stepped up to the challenge. Already a legend in the industry for having invented orange juice, Francisco went for a very “we care” approach. 

The ads in October of 1918 sounded in part like what we hear nowadays during Covid-19:

“Avoid crowds, take adequate exercise, get plenty of sleep, and drink one or two glasses of hot lemonade daily.” The public service announcement, that never once mentioned the Sunkist brand, reached over 22 million people and sales rose 80 percent.

By December of 1918, the danger of the disease had seemingly passed, and the buying frenzy subsided. But the panic of the pandemic and Sunkist’s marketing genius gave lemons a permanent place in the American pantry.

While we do not advocate hot lemonade as a cure-all, we do hope you will all stay hydrated with a glass of cool lemonade this summer! For more images, visit the original post on Facebook at the link below.

Continue the conversation by using the links below.