Edwin Perkins, the discoverer of Kool-Aid, was a dreamer. He realized his dream of becoming a successful self-employed individual in 1927 with his discovery of Kool-Aid in Hastings, Nebraska.
A well-known soft drink mix, Kool-Aid began under the distinctly different name of “Fruit Smack,” also discovered by Perkins. In fact, Kool-Aid, rather than the powdery mix that it is today, started its career as a liquid concentrate that was both affordable and flavorful.
Perkins, who always had aspirations of becoming an inventor, went through a series of enterprises in his youth in his effort to become successfully self-employed. He worked as a newspaper publisher, printing his own paper. Additionally, he became a printer for hire and worked as a postmaster. Eventually, he started his own mail order business to market a series of products that he had created.
His father opened a general store in Hendley, Nebraska when Perkins was just a young boy. After a childhood friend of his created an interesting dessert mix made from powder, Edwin convinced his father to market the product in his store. Edwin was fascinated with this product, which everyone knows today as Jell-O(r).
Perkins married in 1918. His wife, Kitty Shoemaker, was his childhood sweetheart and the inventor of Jell-O(r). Several of Perkins’ inventions were in such high demand that they soon moved to Hastings to locate closer to the rail system. Fruit Smack was one of the products being shipped at the time.
Breakage and the subsequent loss in profits led Perkins to modify the concentrate until he was able to completely remove the liquid portion so that bottles would no longer be needed to transport Fruit Smack. He designed a paper envelope that he printed himself for the product. Nationally distributed, this six-flavor item soon became a family project from start to finish.
Each year, Hastings hosts the annual Kool-Aid Days Event on the second weekend in August. The festival is full of games and, of course, free Kool-Aid. Today, Kool-Aid remains a popular product across international shores. Kraft Foods is the proud owner of Kool-Aid today. What started out with only six flavors has expanded to a product that constantly introduces new flavors along with its favorite flavors that have withstood the test of time.
The Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History holds a collection of Kool-Aid memorabilia that includes several original promotional items. The exhibit explores Kool-Aid from its origin until the present. The Perkins Library, located on the campus of Hastings College also includes an impressive collection of Kool-Aid memorabilia.