Coca-Cola may have invented modern advertising as we know it, but that doesn’t mean other soda companies didn’t do their best to keep up and carve out their own slice of the market. Signs were one of the most common ways for such companies to advertise, especially in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. Many of these non-Coca-Cola signs have become quite collectible today.
Soda signs were made out of a variety of materials. Porcelain enamel signs were covered with layers of powdered glass; each layer had its own color, and they were fused, one layer at a time, onto an iron base. Early soda-sign manufacturers included McMath-Axilrod of Dallas and L.D. Nelke Signs of New York.
While many porcelain enamel signs were square or rectangular, others were produced as ovals or circles, some as large as four feet wide. Some porcelain enamel signs had graphics on only one side, while others had images on both. Other porcelain enamel signs weren’t even flat—convex oval shapes in the center of a sign gave the illusion of depth for a more attractive and eye-catching image.
Porcelain enamel soda signs were posted both inside or outside of stores. Strategic locations included the sides of soda coolers and soda fountains, as well as cigar boxes, door pushes, root beer barrels, and even soda companies’ truck doors.
Soda signs were also made out of cardboard, tin mounted on cardboard, paper, wood, and glass mounted on wood. Moxie, for example, made signs in virtually all of these media, including stand-up cardboard displays that were several feet tall.
Of course, many of these signs featured a catchy slogan to help the product sell. Many consumers ordered cases of soda to their homes, a buying practice soda companies attempted to encourage: “Shall I send a case of Moxie to your home?” asked one stand-up sign. Seilheimer’s Ginger Ale cleverly proclaimed to be “So-Da-Licious,” and Dr. Pepper reminded potential customers that its drink was “Good for life.”
In fact, many signs in these early days of soda advertising pitched their product as medicinally useful. Moxie was a “nerve food” while Pepsi-Cola was “healthful and invigorating...
Later, soda was advertised more modestly as soft drinks, so many signs sported simple slogans that are quite similar to those we know today. Moxie’s pitch was straightforward: “Drink Moxie.” 7-Up signs frequently did without any motto at all, relying instead on its distinctive logo and brand recognition. Pepsi signs often featured an image of the Pepsi-Cola logo on a bottle cap.
Other soda brands whose signs have proven collectible include Orange Crush, Grapette Soda, M&S Beverages, Orange Squeeze, Lash’s Root Beer, Vernors, Squirt, Mountain Dew, Bowey’s Root Beer, Borden, Canada Dry, Carnation, A&W, Dad’s Root Beer, Howel’s Root Beer, Royal Crown, Hires, Salada, Boylan’s, and Barq’s.