The Circus Origins of Pink Lemonade

Everyone knows about how to make lemonade with sugar, water and obviously lemons. 😊 But there are different variations of lemonade that were sold over the years like pink lemonade. Pink lemonade in modern times gets it is colour with strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, cranberries, grenadine or red food dye. Nowadays, pink lemonade is cute and awesome but with two stories of origin one whoopsie and the other one just gross.

Based on a genomic study, lemons are a hybrid of the bitter orange and citron fruit first cultivated in the China, India, and Myanmar area. Lemonade is a light yellow colour liquid from a tart citrus fruit. There are pink lemons but they produce a colourless liquid not a pink colour for pink lemonade. There are different variations of pink lemonade like cloudy lemonade which is sometimes called an old-fashioned lemonade. It is a translucent light yellow lemon drink served cold. The word lemonade has the suffix of “ade” which means “drink.” It is a loanword from French and is often used as slang for a sweet drink. The first mention of lemonade came from a Persian travelling poet in the 10th century Nasir-i-Khusraw travelling to Egypt writing about their sugary lemon drink. The drink was called qatarmizat and was made with lemons, honey and dates.

An illustration of a limondier dressed with his metallic container of lemonade.
An illustration of a limondier c, 17th century. Public domain image.

During this time, it became popular with many outdoor excursions like the travelling circus and it was a street drink served cold in the street of Paris during 1676. The 17th century company, Compagnie de Limonadiers, would serve patrons by the glass on the street with tanks strapped on their backs. The recipe back then from François Pierre de La Varenne’s cookbook Le Confiturier Français was a variation of water, sugar, six lemons and two oranges. By the 18th century, chilled drinks became popular amongst the people due to the growth of the ice trade. Lemonade was also popular during the temperance movement, a movement to limit or outlaw the consumption of alcohol in the U.S.A. It was particularly popular with 19th President of United States wife, First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes, who was a supporter of the temperance movement. The nickname “Lemonade Lucy” was given to her by historians 11 years after her death.

There are two origin stories about how pink lemonade was made. Both stories involve being from the circus during the late 19th century in America. The pink lemonade colour became associated with the circus, summertime and clowns. Also, before the invention of pink lemonade, traditional lemonade was usually sold alongside summertime fruits like strawberries and watermelon.

In George Conklin’s 1921 memoirs about the circus, Ways of the Circus, stated that his brother came up with pink lemonade on a whim. Pete Conklin was the brother of George Conklin, a famed lion and elephant tamer, salesman and ex-clown. Pete Conklin sold concession food and drinks near P.T. Barnum circus in 1857. The lemonade that Pete Conklin made was mostly of water and lemons with the tub of lemonade having a single lemon floating in the pail. On one busy night, Pete ran out of water for his lemonade. He ran into Fannie Jamieson’s tent, a trick horseback rider, for her dirty tub water where she just cleaned her pink tights. The vat was a dirty deep pink water. Without a second thought, he took the water to make the lemonade for sale to circus-goer patrons. He marketed it as “strawberry lemonade.” He sold out of the lemonade instantly doubling his business by ushered in a new style of drink.

Two clowns in the centre shaking hand under a ribbon "The Two Greatest Clowns Living!" Two bubbles of portrait illustrations of Pete Conklins and R. Hunting one at each side. Lower banner text: Now with Sells Brothers Millionaire Confederation of Stupendious Railroad Shows. Well export at Logansport. On Friday May 7.
An old black imprint advertisement of a circus event featuring Pete Conklins and R. Hunting. Public domain.

The second story of how pink lemonade was made came by accident. According to a 1912 New York Times obituary wrote that the inventor of Pink Lemonade Died on September 12th, 1912. Henry E. Allott was a circus promoter, saloonkeeper and gambler known as Bunk Allen. When he was a teenager, he ran away to the circus. One of the jobs that Allott had was to make lemonade for the circus. One day mixing the tub of lemonade he dropped some red cinnamon candies by mistake. It created a rose-tinted mixture which sold out surprisingly well. The article would date that the invention happened around 1872-73 at least 20 years after Conklin’s story.

Years later from both stories, a recipe for pink lemonade was published in E.E. Kellogg’s Science in the Kitchen in 1892. The recipe for pink lemonade had half a cup of fresh or canned strawberry, red raspberry, currant or cranberry juice. All ingredients are found in modern pink lemonade drinks.

Banner Credit: Two glasses of pink lemonade on rustic wood – ID 72218992 from Jenifoto406


David’s Tea – When Life Gives you Lemons (A History of Lemonade)

New York Times – Inventor of Pink Lemonade Dead

Internet Archive – The Way of the Circus – George Conklin

The Daily Meal – What Is Pink Lemonade?

The Vintage News – Pink Lemonade was Invented by Old-Time Circus Clowns

Smithsonian Magazine – The Unusual Origins of Pink Lemonade

All That’s Interesting – The Totally Gross Origins Of Pink Lemonade

Food and Wine – The Legend of How Clowns Helped Invent Pink Lemonade

Food Beast – The Shocking Origins Behind Pink Lemonade

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