November 8, 1789: Bourbon Whiskey “First” Distilled

On this day in 1789, the Reverend Elijah Craig began distilling whiskey in Woodford County, Kentucky. According to legend, this was when bourbon was first created.

Elijah CraigOn this day in 1789, the Reverend Elijah Craig began distilling whiskey in Woodford County, Kentucky. According to legend, this was when bourbon was first created.

Before the creation of bourbon, whiskey was distilled from corn and clear, i.e. moonshine. It wasn’t until the whiskey was aged in charred oak barrels that the beloved spirit known as bourbon was discovered.

Whether it was Craig or one of his contemporaries in nearby Bourbon County (the namesake of the drink) that first created bourbon is uncertain. Regardless, he is honored today with a high-end label named in his honor.

Note: Bourbon differs from Tennessee whiskey in the fact that the latter is filtered through a bed of sugar-maple charcoal.

July 21, 1975: Eskimo Joe’s Opens

On this day in 1975, Eskimo Joe’s opened in Stillwater, Oklahoma. This sports bar near the Oklahoma State University (OSU) campus is famous for its merchandise and food.

Eskimo Joe's LogoOn this day in 1975, Eskimo Joe’s opened in Stillwater, Oklahoma. This sports bar near the Oklahoma State University (OSU) campus is famous for its merchandise and food.

Started by OSU graduates Stan Clark and Steve File, Eskimo Joe’s was started as a bar with the name meaning it had the coldest beer in town. A freshman art student designed the famous logo (pictured right) and an institution was born.

Eskimo Joe’s added food to the menu when Oklahoma raised its drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1984 and it moved into its current two-story location on West Elm in 1992. A 2005 Sports Illustrated article listed Eskimo Joe’s as the third-best college sports bar in the United States.

If you are traveling through eastern Oklahoma, it is definitely worth a visit. The cheese fries, which have been endorsed by both President Bushes, are amazing, the beer is ice cold and you can buy a memorable T-shirt. For those who can’t make it that far, you can go to Eskimo Joe’s online store at: http://shop.eskimojoes.com.

June 9, 1869: First Root Beer Sold

On this day in 1869, the first root beer was sold in Charles Hires’ Philadelphia drug store. Hires Root Beer remains the longest selling soft drink in the United States.

1894 Hires Root Beer AdOn this day in 1869, the first root beer was sold in Charles Hires’ Philadelphia drug store. Hires Root Beer remains the longest selling soft drink in the United States.

In response to the temperance movement and the quest to find better-tasting non-alcoholic beverages, Hires developed a strong tasting tea concentrate made up of more than 25 herbs, roots and berries. He then mixed it with seltzer and – voilà – one of the greatest soft drinks ever was invented.

Hires promoted his new concoction on a commercial scale at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. To ensure that it appealed to the largest audience possible, he wisely called it root beer instead of root tea. By 1893, Hires Root Beer was sold as a bottled soft drink.

Today, Hires is one of the many brand mass-producing the beverage along with the A&W, Barq’s and Mug. However, numerous root beers are sold on a regional basis across the country. The best I ever had was Sprecher’s Root Beer, which is brewed in Wisconsin.

May 15, 1940: First McDonald’s Opens

On this day in 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened McDonald’s Bar-B-Que restaurant in San Bernardino, California. The restaurant, a drive-in with car hop service, was technically the first McDonald’s to open.

On this day in 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened McDonald’s Bar-B-Que restaurant in San Bernardino, California. The restaurant, a drive-in with car hop service, was technically the first McDonald’s to open.

The brothers reopened their restaurant in 1948 with a menu more akin to the typical McDonald’s we know and love today. They then signed a franchising deal with Ray Kroc in 1954 and since then, more then 99 billion have been served.

In 1975, McDonald’s created its first drive through in Sierra Vista, Arizona, to accommodate soldiers at nearby Fort Huachuca who weren’t permitted to get out of their car while wearing fatigues. That’s one of the most important milestones to me. Here are my others.

1949: French fries and triple thick milkshakes debut

1961: Hamburger University opens

1968: The Big Mac is introduced

1973: The Quarter Pounder debuts

1979: Happy Meals

1982: The McRib is introduced

1990: McDonald’s opens in Soviet Moscow

For McDonald’s full historical timeline, please click here (Note: it does not mention the McRib).

April 23, 1985: New Coke Introduced

On this day in 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke, pulling the original formula of its popular soft drink off the shelves. This move was one of the worst decisions and greatest strokes of luck in business history

New Coke AdOn this day in 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke, pulling the original formula of its popular soft drink off the shelves. This move was one of the worst decisions and greatest strokes of luck in business history.

In the early 1980s, Coca-Cola found itself losing ground to Pepsi in popularity and sales. After extensive research, it tried to shake up its old brand and formula with a slew of advertisements (like the one to the right) and commercials including the below one with Bill Cosby.

Coca-Cola, an Atlanta-based company, first introduced its soft drink and southerners have held a steadfast loyalty to the brand since then, even referring to all soft drinks as Coke. As a six-year-old in Tennessee, I remember my mother bringing home New Coke from the grocery store. It tasted like bad Pepsi.

Apparently, millions of Americans from all over the U.S. agreed with my assessment and the company experienced an unprecedented level of backlash. On July 11, Coca-Cola announced that it was bringing the original formula back as Coca-Cola Classic. By early 1986, it was once again the number one sugar cola in America.

A common myth is that Coca-Cola planned the whole thing to increase popularity for the brand, but a great Snopes.com article gives a detailed chronology of the pulling and reintroduction of the original formula and an explanation of how Coca-Cola could not have logistically pulled off this move. Instead, it is simply a corporate misfire that miraculously paid off and is a testament to what Americans will do when a product they love is changed.

As for New Coke, it remained in stores. In 1992, its name was officially changed to Coke II. By 1998, it was sold only in Midwestern cities and in 2002 it was pulled off the shelves.

April 1, 1996: Taco Bell Pulls Ultimate April Fools Day Hoax

Happy April Fools Day! On this day in 1996, Taco Bell pulled an all-time hoax in announcing that it was purchasing the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.

Taco Bell AdHappy April Fools Day! On this day in 1996, Taco Bell pulled an all-time hoax in announcing that it was purchasing the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.

The company announced the hoax/purchase through six full-page advertisements (pictured right) in the The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and USA Today. Taco Bell announced that the Liberty Bell would spend half its time in Philadelphia and at the company’s headquarters in Irvine, California.

The ad generated numerous calls to the White House and the National Park Service about the purchase of the Liberty Bell, which was actually owned by the city of Philadelphia and not the federal government. White House press secretary Mike McCurry joked that, as part of its ongoing privatization efforts, “We’ll be doing a series of these. Ford Motor Company is joining today in an effort to refurbish the Lincoln Memorial. It will be the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.” Later that day, Taco Bell issued a press release clarifying that the whole deal was just a hoax.

Ultimately, those six ads generated millions of dollars in free publicity for Taco Bell. The company’s prank is one of the greatest corporate hoaxes in American history.

February 23, 1896: Tootsie Roll Introduced

On this day in 1896, the first Tootsie Roll was sold in a New York candy store. Developed by Austrian immigrant Leo Hirschfield and reportedly named after his five-year-old daughter, Clara “Tootsie” Hirschfield, the Tootsie Roll is now one of the most popular candies in America today.

Tootsie RollOn this day in 1896, the first Tootsie Roll was sold in a New York candy store. Developed by Austrian immigrant Leo Hirschfield and reportedly named after his five-year-old daughter, Clara “Tootsie” Hirschfield, the Tootsie Roll is now one of the most popular candies in America today.

Believe it or not, the story of the Tootsie Roll is not without controversy and those interested should check out the excellent articles by Samira Kawash, PhD, aka The Candy Professor. Yet in a nutshell, the candy went from a small individually wrapped candy to being the first “penny candy” to being a part of U.S. war rations because of its longevity. Today, the Tootsie Roll’s additional companies include Andes, Charleston Chew, Dots, Dubble Bubble, Junior Mints and Sugar Babies.

But for me, Tootsie Roll’s greatest invention was the Tootsie Fruit Roll, which it introduced in later years. Ironically, the material used to make the first Tootsie Rolls was used in fruit candies before creating the chocolate treats we know today.