Anyone who grew up in Michigan or lived here for some time will likely remember drinking a Faygo “pop” at some time or another. When I was growing up, my parents ran concession stands at the sporting events for my school, and only sold Faygo. I remember looking at all the delicious flavors and wanting to try each one. It surprised me, as it does many people, to learn that Faygo was invented in Michigan in the early 20th century, yet didn’t even hit stores nationwide until the 1960s.
It all started with eighteen-year-old Perry Feigenson and his sixteen-year-old brother Benjamin who immigrated to Cleveland Ohio in 1900 from Russia and began work in a bakery. Benjamin had been a carpenter but took the available job. In 1906, the brothers moved to Detroit and opened their own bakery.
Full of ingenuity and motivation, by November 1907, Ben and Perry had also built a bottling works in an old wood-framed house on Benton street, the original Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works. While living upstairs in the same building, they mainly processed lager beer and soda water. They also made the frosting from their special Russian recipe for the bakery. At this time, the brothers began looking for a way to make the bottling company more profitable and began experimenting with flavors by adding the cake frosting flavorings to the soda water. This soon became a local hit. The first successful flavors were strawberry, fruit punch, and my personal favorite-grape! They started to sell their beverages from the back of their horse-drawn wagon and charged 3 cents for an 8oz bottle, or better yet, two bottles for 5 cents. This would be about a dollar in today’s currency.
The brothers were not only changing their lives from a business standpoint but also personally. In 1908, Ben married Celia Feinglass. Together, they had three children, Blanche in 1909, Gertrude in 1915, and Philip in 1921. Perry married Rose Eichenbaum in 1911. His son, Leonard, was born in 1914 and his daughter Regina was born the next year. Philip and Leonard would eventually take over the company.
By 1912, the brothers stopped using their horse-drawn wagon and purchased their first truck, which probably was a brand new GMC. Within ten years of selling soda, the Feigensons were so successful they were able to hire additional employees and buy delivery trucks. They developed new flavors, including Sassafras Soda and Lithiated Lemon. Then built a new bottling operation on Beaubien Street at Erskine.
Feigenson becomes Faygo
In 1921 the Feigenson brothers (pronounced fay-gin-sin) changed the name of their brand to Faygo. Simply put, the name fit more easily on the bottle. Throughout the rest of the decade, they expanded their home deliveries and added new flavors, including Vanilla, Rock & Rye, and Ace-Hi. Yes, interestingly enough, Faygo is credited with giving us the term “pop” instead of soda in Michigan and other Midwest states. It came as the result of inventing the twist-off cap. They called it that because of the sound the cap made when it popped off the soda bottle.
Detroit’s population was booming in the 1930s, yet the Great Depression forced Faygo to lay off workers and cut production. In 1935, their Beaubien Street building was sold and torn down to make way for a new housing development. The brothers bought an old truck assembly plant on Gratiot Avenue for the new bottling plant where the company is still located today. In the 1930s, the company added Faygo beer, but that only lasted a short time. By 1939, the Feigenson Brothers Company was incorporated, and over 100 workers were employed.
The 1940s brought new flavors, new bottle designs, a new logo, and a new, refined Root Beer formula that would one day win awards. Perry and Ben turned the brand over to their sons, Leonard and Philip, who continued and invented more flavors. Sadly, in 1948, Ben died at the age of 64.
By the 1950s, Faygo was considered many to be the most prominent global independent soft drink firm. It was distributing over 2.5 million cases annually. In 1956, Faygo released a series of popular radio and animated television advertisements, mainly for the Root Beer flavor. They featured a fictional cowboy, the Faygo Kid, and the villain, Black Bart. Jim Henson’s The Muppets also produced a series of advertisements, specifically for Faygo Strawberry.
The 1960s brought even more changes and expansion. Because of the limited shelf-life, Faygo had been kept as a local product. Company chemists were able to install a filtration system to remove impurities from the manufacturing plant’s water system. Faygo decided to increase its regional popularity and began advertising during Detroit Tigers baseball games. The ads reached beyond their current market area, and not wanting to disappoint new customers, Faygo started to ship products to wholesale warehouses.
The company was reorganized as Faygo Beverages in 1965, and earned acclaim for its quality nationwide. Also in the 1960s, they invented six new flavors, Strawberry became Red Pop, diet Faygo was introduced, and Faygo soda was sold in cans.
The 1960s was not all good for the company. In 1861, Faygo launched a “premium product”-the Royal Hawaiian Pineapple Orange. The initial extract was not sterilized and became rancid, causing a buildup of gases that caused some bottles to explode after hitting store shelves. Perry also died in 1964 at the age of 81.
Comic Books and Rubber Bands
In 1973, what some refer to as the Faygo “Boat Song” was released. It was in an ad that featured everyday people enjoying the drink on a big boat that many assumed was the popular Detroit Boblo boats. Locally, the song is so iconic, that many people still know lyrics. They referred to things that kids enjoy like comic books and rubber bands, tricycles, pony rides, and climbing through the window. “Remember when you were a kid? Well, part of you still is. And that’s why we make Faygo.”
During the same decade, the company also released two-quart bottles and produced vending machines to deliver its product. As early as 1998, Faygo was sold from its online store.
Modern Day Faygo
The new millennium allowed for more growth for Faygo. 2007 brought the company’s 100th birthday. They celebrated with a new flavor, Centennial Soda, and held a contest for the new label, which was won by a Fourth Grade teacher from Ohio. In 2009, Bon Appetit magazine named Faygo Root Beer one of the best root beers in the country. They described it as “dry and crisp with a frothy head, a good bite, and a long finish.”
In 2011, the Ohana line was added, which are non-carbonated beverages. It includes punches, iced tea, and lemonade. In 2014, new flavors were introduced, including Candy Apple, Cotton Candy, and the Faygo version of ginger ale, Faygo Gold. In 2017, Arctic Sun, a favorite flavor of the 1990s which had been discontinued, was brought back, and the company celebrated its 110th birthday with a birthday cake float in America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Today, the top 5 flavors out of 50 choices are Cola, Moon Mist, Orange, Red Pop, and Root Beer. I’ve already divulged that my favorite Faygo pop since I was a kid is grape. Remember when you were a kid? What was your favorite Faygo flavor?
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