Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain
There are a lot of things I like about Cracker Barrell. Obviously, the food is good but I really like the classic feel and ambiance. I specifically like all the old signs that harken back to companies of the past, some of which might not even be in existence anymore. One of those signs was for Nehi soft drinks.
Nehi is a flavored soft drink that originated in the United States. It was introduced in 1924 by Chero Cola/Union Bottle Works and founded by Claud A. Hatcher, a Columbus, Georgia grocer who began bottling ginger ale and root beer in 1905.
The “Nehi Corporation” name was adopted in 1928 after the Nehi fruit-flavored sodas became popular. In 1955, the company changed its name to Royal Crown Company after the success of its RC Cola brand. In April 2008, Nehi became a brand of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group(now known as Keurig Dr. Pepper) in the United States.
Business went well until 1930 when a major crisis occurred. Reflecting the Great Depression, which followed the stock market crash of October 1929, the Nehi Corporation’s sales figures dropped by $1 million in 1930 from a high of $3.7 million in the previous year. Sales continued to decline 1932, the only year the company lost money.
By 1933, the low point was past, and business was beginning to stabilize when another tragedy struck. Claud A. Hatcher, company president from its formation, died suddenly December 31, 1933. Hatcher was replaced by H.R. Mott, vice president of the Nehi Corporation for several years beforehand, who had been associated with the company since 1920. As new president, he was greeted with a great amount of debt. His all-consuming ambition, however, was to make the company debt-free as quickly as possible and to keep it that way.
In the early 20th century, the national advertising logo of Nehi was typically a picture of a seated woman legs suggesting the phrase “knee-high” to illustrate the correct pronunciation of the company name. The logo was seen in the film Paper Moon in a diner where Moses Pray buys Addie Loggins a Nehi. A more provocative, Midwestern version of the logo-one showing a single, thigh-high disembodied leg without a skirt-was referenced in Jean Shepherd’s story “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that heralded the birth of pop art” in the book In God We Trust, All Other Pay Cash, as well as A Christmas Story, which was adapted from several short stories in the book. Shepherd’s invention of the now-famous “leg lamp” in his stories of the Depression era was derived from the Midwestern Nehi logo.
I’ll finish with a fictional illustration of the popularity of the drink. Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly , company clerk on the long-running series M*A*S*H, set during the Korean War, had a favorite beverage: Grape Nehi. (www.Wikipedia.com)
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