For the maker of MoonPies, the highlight of the product’s100-year anniversary celebration was the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.
David Flessner of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Daily Free Press got the scoop. He wrote: “Tory Johnson, marketing director for the Chattanooga Bakery Company, quipped that it was nice of Mother Nature to help out in the celebration of the 100th birthday of the MoonPie.”
“We’re grateful the moon cooperated with our centennial marketing plans,” Johnson said. “Retail shelves were near empty, and we had to hit pause on our website because we were so buried in online orders.”
As it turned out, MoonPies were ultra-popular items at eclipse parties all across the United States, symbolic of the moon blocking out the sun for a few minutes.
And the crescent profile of that little man in the moon who is semi-smiling and relaxing on each MoonPie package is still looking a little smug, as the company continues to bask in the glow of the sun’s corona. The second century of MoonPies is off to a good start, company officials say.
The Chattanooga Bakery first opened in 1902, under the leadership of Sam Campbell and his wife, Harriett. (The family business is now in its fifth generation, with Sam Campbell IV at the helm.)
Anne Braley of Chattanooga magazine said the bakery originally offered up to 200 different baked goods products.
The door of opportunity swung wide open in 1917, however, to “fill a specific need as identified by a group of Kentucky coal miners.”
They told Earl Mitchell Sr., a traveling salesman with the bakery, that they needed a man-snack that packed the punch of lunch, and it should be round and “as big as the moon.”
Back in Chattanooga, Mitchell immediately relayed his “out of this world” story with the Campbell family.
Braley wrote: “Before the moon rose over Chattanooga, a serendipitous happening resulted in a graham cracker cookie filled with marshmallow, covered with chocolate and as big and round as the moon.”
Thus, the MoonPie was born in 1917 – measuring a full 4 inches in diameter.
The MoonPie was an instant hit, causing the Chattanooga Bakery Company to cease production of its other items in order to go full-tilt with MoonPies. Braley said MoonPie production now tops 1 million individual snacks per day.
Abbey White of Food & Wine magazine, said: “In its early days, a MoonPie cost only a nickel. Being both inexpensive and filling, the MoonPie was a hot commodity for the country’s working class, as well as field hands and other rural Americans. MoonPies were especially popular in the South.”
Beginning in 1934, it was common to wash down your MoonPie with a 12-ounce bottle of Royal Crown. The RC product sold for nickel, the same price as a 6-ounce Coca-Cola.
RC Colas and MoonPies were destined to be teamed as the best and biggest 10-cent “working man’s snack” that money could buy.
Lyndsay Burginer of Wideopeneats.com said that the coupling of MoonPie and Royal Crown Cola to become “cultural icons for the working class” just happened. Neither of the two brands did any plotting or planning to collaborate. Rather, it was “the work of the Southern culture.”
She said: “It’s clear that you simply cannot have one without the other. It was a lot of snack for a little money. America said: ‘Give me an RC Cola and a MoonPie.’”
In 1951, “Big Bill” Lister, a country music artist who toured with Hank Williams Sr., recorded “RC Cola and MoonPie.” That immortalized this dynamic duo for eternity.
“MoonPie has woven its way through American culture,” Johnson said. “It’s a great all-American food. It’s also got a funny name that you can’t forget once you hear it.”
In the 1960s, the bakery rolled out its “Double Decker.” Then came the “Mini MoonPie,” in response to mothers’ complaints that the Original and Double Decker MoonPies were spoiling their children’s dinners.
Different flavors were introduced, including chocolate, caramel, strawberry, vanilla and banana; and even MoonPie ice cream sandwiches.
“We are grateful for what our product means to people of all ages,” says Sam Campbell IV. “When you say MoonPie, you first get a smile, then a memory.”
Carrie Crowe, a Chattanooga native, says: “MoonPies taste like a s’more, but not hot. And more mushy. It’s the gushy delightfulness of the South.”
Music to Our Ears…
“Big Bill” Lister was born as Weldon E. Lister in Karnes County, Texas, which is located about 55 miles southeast of San Antonio. He was nicknamed “Radio’s Tallest Singing Cowboy,” standing over 6-foot-7 without his cowboy boots and hat.
Lister was a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry and worked with Little Jimmy Dickens, String Bean, Minnie Pearl, Del Wood, The Carter Family and others. He is probably best known for his recording of the Hank Williams Sr. song, “There’s a Tear in My Beer.”
Here’s one section from Lister’s “RC Cola and MoonPie” recording:
Got a brand new pair of overalls; brogans greased and shined;
I’ll tell you boys I did it all for that gal of mine.
We’ll dance all night, and broad day light will find us goin’ still
With an RC Cola and a MoonPie playin’ “Maple on the Hill.”
It’s helpful to know that a brogan is a heavy, ankle-high shoe or boot, and “Maple on the Hill” is a version of the song, “We Sat Beneath The Maple on The Hill,” composed in 1880 by 18-year-old Gussie Lord Davis, an African-American songwriter from Dayton, Ohio.
Davis had an immediate impact on popular music that was felt on Tin Pan Alley in the Manhattan district of New York City, where music publishers and songwriters congregated in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“We Sat Beneath The Maple on The Hill” was first recorded by Vernon Dalhart in 1926. He was a pioneer in country music and its first artist to top 1 million in record sales. He did it with the double-sided hit in 1924, featuring “The Prisoner’s Song” and “The Wreck of the Old 97.”
Dalhart was born in Jefferson, Texas, which is located in the northeastern section of the state, bordering Louisiana. His given name was Marion Try Slaughter, but he took his “stage name” from two towns, Vernon and Dalhart in Texas, between which he punched cattle as a teenager in the 1890s.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he sang on more than 5,000 singles (78s) for many labels, employing more than 100 pseudonyms.