Published: Saturday, February 24, 2007
Hillbilly bottles draw big bucks from collectors
The Youngstown plant was one of the few that put a city name on the bottle with the employee's name.
AKRON (AP) Long before Mountain Dew promoted itself to high-energy youth, it touted a proud hillbilly heritage a sugar and caffeine fix that saw itself as the moonshine of the soft-drink industry.
And that's the image Akron bottler Julius Darsky played up in the 1960s when he took the advice of a local advertising agency and began adding names of employees to the bottles.
Naming the folks who made the drinks added to the aura of rednecks tending their own stills, said Stu Giller, Darsky's son-in-law and one-time vice president of sales of the Golden Age Beverage Co. in Akron.
Giller and his wife are featured on bottles that say "Put up by Stu and Carole" ("put up" being a moonshiner's term for manufactured.)
Now a Texas man is looking for the people whose names were immortalized on nearly 1,000 different Mountain Dew bottles, made and filled in plants across the United States as others followed Akron's lead.
Dick Bridgforth of Katy, Texas, is writing his third book on the drink and the Americana that grew up around it.
"Mountain Dew: Hillbilly Bottles" will focus on the green glass for which collectors are shelling out serious money anywhere from a few bucks to thousands of dollars for rarer bottles.
Bridgforth has already found and taken photos of 982 bottles with variations of first names and prefixes.
But only half a dozen plants, including those in Akron and Youngstown, put a city name on the bottle as well.
That puts Stu Giller in a small and precious minority, one of perhaps three dozen people Bridgforth has been able to identify.
He saw Giller's name in a Pepsi publication, put "Stu" and "Akron" together, and gave him a call.
Giller was able to end the mystery behind 11 other bottles known to be from Akron, most of which identify people who are long deceased. And one bottle, "Loved by Lee and Gary," referenced Giller's two sons.
The prefix was a hint at each identity, Giller said. Names preceded by "Sold by" acknowledged sales managers or truck drivers and their spouses. "Filled by" were production workers. "Loved by" generally referenced family members.
List of names grew
At one time, it was assumed the only names on the Mountain Dew bottles would belong to its originators. Brothers Barney and Ally Hartman were the "By Barney and Ally" who created the drink in Tennessee.
It was after they sold their rights to the Tip Corp. in 1957 that independent bottlers had some flexibility with design.
Giller remembered that Charles Jessup, owner of the Jessup Advertising Agency in Akron, came up with the idea of switching out "Barney and Ally" for local names.
That idea got the nod from Julius Darsky, the Youngstown native who moved to Akron in 1937 to open the Golden Age Beverage Co. before acquiring the Pepsi-Cola franchise in Akron; Youngstown; Dayton; Houston, Texas and Miami, Fla.
Akron was the first plant to add employee names, Giller said, then Darsky operations in other cities picked it up before the idea spread to bottlers around the country.
"Mountain Dew was a hokey product," Giller said with a laugh as he held a bottle that featured his own name.
The back of the bottle promised "It'll tickle yore innards!" The front showed a picture of a hillbilly shooting at a revenuer running from an outhouse.
The names "became a real conversation piece around the community," Giller said. "Grocers, customers, everyone would look to see whose names were on the bottle."
Pepsi bought Mountain Dew from Tip Corp. in 1964, and within four years the hillbilly image began to fade away.
But the old marketing gimmick is still cherished by collectors. Bridgforth said his new book will have more than 900 pages, with photos of every bottle he's found.
And by no means has he found them all, with a previously undiscovered bottle popping up on Internet auction sites about every two months.
Bridgforth said one bottle features his own father, Bill Bridgforth, who is credited with inventing the formula in today's Mountain Dew. Only four of those bottles are known to exist, and have sold for about $4,000.
Common bottles will sell for $15 or less, while bottles that collectors haven't seen before go for $100 to $400 each.
Bridgforth plans to put up an online registry for the old-time bottlers. In the meantime, he'd like to collect as many identities and photos as he can for his book, due out in 2008.