War Gives Rise to Beloved Beverage

Author: 
Jessica A. Bandel

Is there anything more quintessentially North Carolinian than Cheerwine? Most state citizens are familiar with the crisp, sweet taste of the cherry-flavored beverage, but did you know its creation was brought about by a sugar shortage during the First World War?

It all started back in 1913 when Lewis D. Peeler purchased stock in the Mint Cola Bottling Company and opened a franchise location of the Kentucky-based operation in Salisbury. Peeler’s bottling plant featured cutting edge technology and could churn out 360 12-pack cases of Mint Cola each day. When the parent company filed for bankruptcy in 1917, Peeler and his partners bought their Salisbury bottling operation outright and reorganized the business under a new name: Carolina Beverage Company.

About this same time, Peeler began running up against ever increasing sugar prices. The war’s high demand for the commodity drove costs, compelling many manufacturers, whose businesses relied on sugar, to stockpile the stuff. This, in turn, also led to increased prices. Peeler needed a more cost effective product, and fast.

After experimenting with several different syrup sweeteners, he finally settled upon a wild cherry-flavoring. The result was an instant hit, quickly outpacing sales of the standard mint cola formula. In honor of the beverage's popularity, Peeler changed the name of his company to Cheerwine. North Carolinians have been obsessed with it ever since.