Soft drink finally gets its Dew from small Virginia town

by Larry Maddry

Reprinted without Permission from the 8/6/94 issue of the Virginian Pilot & the Ledger Star

Mountain Dew sparkled all over Marion, Va., last weekend as the town paid tribute to itself and the bug juice beverage that refused to die.

Marion is a maple- and oak-shadowed toan -- population 7,000 -- tucked away in the cloud-shadowed Blue Ridge mountains. Last Saturday, it threw caution to the wind and officially declared itself the home of Mountain Dew.

Shouts of "Yah-Hoo, Mountain Dew," could be heard all over town as three signs were planted in the dirt outside town proclaiming Marion the home of the soft drink that "tickles the innards" and is the perfect liquid complement to peanuts, potato chips and Moon Pies.

About 150 people gathered beside the two-story building on North Main Street to pay dew respects to the late William H. Jones, who concocted the yellow-green liquid.

Jones' daughters received keys to the town and listened with pride as city and county proclamations were read honoring Jones and the "tart and refreshing soft drink reminiscent of the culture and heritage of Southwestern Virginia."

Although some believe that Mountain Dew is to soft drinks what "The Gong Show" was to music, they are not to be found in Marion.

After hearing speeches lauding the forumulator of Mountain Dew, celevrants toasted his memory with complimentary cans of the beverage, supplied by the local Pepsi-Cola bottling company, as a bagpiper droned a parting salute.

Before leaving, many paused to admire an antique 8-by-10-foot Mountain Dew billboard with bare-footed, shotgun-toting mountaineers painted on it. A Marion resident had the good sense to save it many years ago - thereby preserving a piece of important local history for future generations.

Although there are those who dispute that Marion is the home of Mountain Dew - or that Jones was teh formulator - they are not to be found in these parts. For that heretical view, one must travel to Tennessee, where the Hartman brothers of Knoxville held the trademark for the original Mountain Dew and were responsible for an early version of the beverage.

But it was Jones who bought rights to the drink in 1961 and changed its character by adding a highly citrus flavor and more caffeine. (Mountain Dew is now the nation's sixth most popular soft drink.)

Marion Mayor Marshall E. Guy - a retired printer who once did business regularly with Jones - said the drink "never took off" until Guy altered its taste. It took the formulator four years to get it just right.

"He fixed it so it had just a little more tang to it," Guy recalls. "He'd take little cups marked A, B, C, and D around to high-schools and drug stores and factories and ask people which of the mixtures in them tasted best. That's how he developed his formula."

Stories about Jones abound in Marion. Born in Mississippi, he moved to Marion in 1945 and sold drink mixtures to bottling companies. After developing Mountain Dew, Jones sold his rights to the product to Pepsi in 1964.

They say that after concluding the sale to Pepsi in New York, Jones arrived in Marion, looked into his wallet and announced to a clutch of friends: "Well fellows, I'm $20 short of being a millionaire." Friends passed a hat and came up with the other $20, the story goes.

Mayor Guy said Jones had a reputation for generosity after making his big money off Mountain Dew. But his wife began to spend a little more money than previously, irritating the new millionaire

"Why do you keep buying things?" Jones asked. "We don't have to keep up with the Joneses."

His wife is said to have crossed her arms and stared at her husband before replying: "We are the Jones!"

And Marion is the home of Mountain Dew, fer sure. Mayor Guy said the town is considering making Mountain Dew Day an annual event with arts and crafts displays and folks dressed up like old-time mountaineers.

Guy suggested the town bill itself as the home of Mountain Dew after its residents sniffed around for an identity for several years. In 1992 and 1993, the town called itself "The Home of the State Commander of the VFWQ."

Guy was that state commander. But even he concedes the slogan lacked lilt.

Back to the William H. Jones Mountain Dew page

Fred Fredericks
Last Modified, 30 May 1999