Pink lemonade is popularly associated with the circus; there are various origination stories involving pink circus tights and dubious water. Pete Conklin claimed to have invented pink lemonade at the circus in 1857; W. H. A. Tobey claimed to have invented pink lemonade at the circus in the 1860s, The claims of Henry “Bunk” Allott and William Henry Griffith are both much later than the first “pink lemonade” citations and can be discarded.
“Pink lemonade” was cited in the 1869 New York (NY) Herald as being sold at City Hall Park. The 1872 Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle recorded pink lemonade being sold at the Forty-second street depot. It’s possible that the drink began in New York City.
Artificial and/or natural colorings are used to make the lemonade pink.
Lemonade is a lemon-flavored soft drink.
Pink lemonade is simply lemonade that has been dyed with pink coloring and is sometimes made sweeter. Sometimes artificial colorings are used; natural colorings can include grenadine, cherry juice, red grapefruit juice, grape juice, cranberry juice, strawberry juice, pink-fleshed Eureka lemon juice, or other juices.
The New York Times credited Henry E. “Bunk Allen” Allott as the inventor of pink lemonade in his obituary:
At 15 he ran away with a circus and obtained the lemonade concession. One day while mixing a tub of the orthodox yellow kind he dropped some red cinnamon candies in by mistake. The resulting rose-tinted mixture sold so surprisingly well that he continued to dispense his chance discovery.
However, this is disputed by historian Joe Nickell, who claims that it was Pete Conklin who first invented the drink in 1857 when he used water dyed pink from a horse rider’s red tights to make his lemonade.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
pink lemonade n. chiefly U.S. lemonade coloured with a small amount of grenadine syrup, or (sometimes in later use) another natural or artificial colouring.
1872 Brooklyn Daily Eagle 5 July 3/2 Repelling the advances of sundry youthful dealers in *pink lemonade.
1998 Scotl. on Sunday (Nexis) 6 Sept. 30 The ingredients [of ‘Barbie Juice’]? ‘Pink lemonade (as sold in plastic bottles at the supermarket), diluted with water for the infants and with fizzy wine for the adults.’
21 July 1869, New York (NY) Herald, “The City Hall Park,” pg. 5, col. 5:
The margin around the fences has been monopolized by dealers in cholera-breeding fruit, Washington pies, cheap oyster soup, tough waffles, questionable literature, stinkadora cigars, ice cream (a penny a glass, with two spoons), seaweed for chewing and other delectable refreshments, including pink lemonade
5 July 1872, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, pg. 3:
At New York City’s “Forty-second street depot,” the writer was “repelling the advances of sundry youthful dealers in pink lemonade.”
2 August 1877, Burlington (Iowa) Hawkeye, pg. 4, col. 1:
...which would have given him a nickel for pink lemonade, and by the time he gets in sight of the circus tent, he is ready to make affidavit that the lead was worth fifty cents if it was worth a nickel, which would have enabled him to run the complete gamut of circus refreshments and probably one sideshow.
Forty Liars and Other Lies
By Bill Nye
Chicago, IL: Belford, Clarke & Co
Still, he was obedient, and when the lion-tamer would pound on the floor of thecage with his foot, the venerable old fraud would open his mouth till you could throw a cook-stove into it, and he would gnash his store teeth and roar till the center-pole would tremble, and pink lemonade would go up to ten cents a glass.
25 June 1906, Van Wert (OH) Daily Bulletin, pg. 4:
The Story of Its Introduction to the Circus Public.
“Old Peter Conklin, the clown,” said a circus official, “was the first to give pink lemonade to the world.”
“It dates back to 1857, when Conklin was traveling in the south with Jere Mabie’s big show. Conklin had a dispute with Mabie and jumped the show down in Texas. I’ve had the story straight from his own lips. He bought a couple of mules and an old covered wagon, some tubs, tartaric acid, a lemon, a bushel or two of peanuts and started in the refreshment business.
“The lemonade sold splendidly, and he couldn’t wait on the people fast enough. One day he was surrounded by a mob scrambling for “the juice,” when his water supply ran out. There were no wells or springs at hand. He rushed into the big tent, but there was ne’er a drop of water to be had. In his excitement he invaded the dressing tent. Fannie Jamieson, the bareback rider, was wringing out a pair of pink tights, the aniline dye coloring the water was a very pretty shade. Conklin didn’t stop to ask any questions. He grabbed up the tub and ran. Into the tub he through some acid and the property lemon and called out:
“‘Come quickly. Buy some fine strawberry lemonade.’
“His sales were doubled that day and since then no well regulated circus is without pink lemonade. However, we do not make it the same way now, and sometimes strawberries are used as well as lemons.”—Exchange.
17 November 1908, Trenton (NJ) Times, pg. 11.
PINK LEMONADE MAN FOUND
New Bedford (Mass.) Citizen Admits Introducing Colored Beverage to Circus Loving Public.
BOSTON, MASS., Nov. 17.—The name of the man who first introduced pink lemonade to enrapture circus audiences has become known at last.
For years and years that delectable concoction has been synonymous with trapeze performances, horseback riding, wild animal shows and the allurements of a three ring performance, and still fame has not been sought the one who is responsible for its birth.
But now he stands revealed in the spot-light of glory, and his name is certain to be inscribed on the pages of circus history together with those of Barnum, Forepaugh and other celebrities.
W.H.A. Tobey is the original “pink lemonade man,” and today, at seventy-three, he at last admits this fact, although he is eager to have it understood that it was all due to chance and “just luck.”
Tobey is an old-time showman. After having spent nearly all his life in providing amusement for young and old America he spent his declining years in New Bedford, his native city, and it was there, on the occasion of his birthday, that he told an admiring audience the story of the birth of pink lemonade.
“I was with Forepaugh’s circus in the [1860s],” he said, “when the show struck the Great American Desert. Water was very scarce, and the lemonade man, who occupied a space in the animal tent, could not produce any for love or money.
“He was in despair. Just then it was after the afternoon performance. In going to the horse tent I noticed that a red blanket had fallen into a barrel of drinking water kept for the horses. The water was of a strong pink color and the horses wouldn’t drink it.
“More in fun than anything else, I called over the lemonade man and told him that he could have a barrel of pink water. Neither of us suspected what a hit it would make. That night pink lemonade made its first appearance and has been an indispensable adjunct of a circus ever since.”
Tobey took his first step as a showman in 1857, when the Scars & Garrett Museum and Menagerie was exhibited in New Bedford.
18 September 1912, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, pg. 1, col. 2:
PINK LEMO’ MAN GONE
CHICAGO, Sept. 18.—“Bunk” Allen, inventor of pink lemonade, was buried yesterday. His right name was Henry Allott, a circus man of 40 years age, and he died with a jest on his lips, refusing the offices of a minister whom Mrs. Allott wished to call. Planning his curial he said: “When I’m planted I want everybody to have a drink on me.”
His discover of pink lemonade was brought about when he accidentally dropped a bag of red candy into a tub of lemonade. Pink lemonade became the favorite drink with every circus on the road.
23 September 1912, Charlotte (NC) Observer, pg. 4:
Henry E. Allott, the man who invented red circus lemonade, is dead. He admitted making his great discovery by chance—by having carelessly knocked a few pounds of scarlet cinnamon drops into the plain article and scored a hit from what at first seemed a misfortune. Now we get the whole spectrum bottled as well as sold in a glass. It is a fearful and wonderful thing to behold the riot of bottled color hawked about extensively these days.
The Ways of the Circus:
Being the Memories and Adventures of George Conklin, Tamer of Lions
Set down by Harvey W. Root
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
Everyone knows that for many years it would be no less surprising to find a circus without a clown than for one to appear without a plentiful supply of “pink lemonade,” but very few, even among circus people, know its genesis. The fact that lemonade of a pink color would be more popular and sell faster than the ordinary variety was discovered quite accidentally in 1857 by my brother Pete. He was traveling with the Jerry Mabie show, which at that time was the leading show in the country. The Mabie show traveled in the North summers and in the South winters. Its record of seven years of continuous travel without “laying up” has never been broken. Pete at that time had not begun to aspire to the role of “cap and bells,” but was content with doing a tumbling and acrobatic act. The show was down in Texas. One day just before the time for the afternoon performance Mabie went to Pete in great distress and told him that Tony Pastor, the clown, had jumped theshow. it was a serious matter anywhere for a show to appear without a clown, and doubly so in Texas, where the people were apt to make it hot for a show if it did not make good the billboard announcements. Pete made up as a clown, and without any preparation or rehearsing (Pg. 229—ed.) went into the ring, made a hit, and saved the show. When he came out Mabie complimented him and told him that he had done as well as Tony Pastor. Pete played clown for a few days and then asked for a clown’s rate of pay. mabie told him that he was getting a good salary as it was, and refused to give him any more. Pete replied: “You say I do as well as Tony Pastor. Well, if I do as well as Tony Pastor I want ony pastor’s salary.’ To which Mabie answered: “I sha’n’t give you Tony Pastor’s salary. I sha’n’t give you any more than I’m giving you now, and if you’re not satisfied you can quit.” Mabie supposed this would end the matter and that Pete would stay on and play clown, for Texas at that time was not the sort of place that the average young fellow would care to be left behind in, but Mabie had guessed wrong, for my brother left him then and there.
Pete was a youngster and did not mind taking long chances, and,besides, he had saved a little money, so he bought a couple of mules and an old covered wagon and had enough money to lay in a stock of peanuts, sugar, tartaric acid, and one lemon. In telling the story Pete always says that “that lemon was the best example of a friend I ever met. It stayed with me to the end.” With this outfit he followed the circus, and every time the tents were pitched he would mount his box and begin to sing:
“Here’s your ice-cold lemonade
Made in the shade.
Stick your finger in the glass,
It’ll freeze fast.”
The lemonade sold splendidly and he could not wait on the crowd fast enough. One day he was surrounded by a mob scrambling for the liquid refreshment, when he found that his water supply had run out. There were no wells or springs near. he rushed all around the show for water, but could find none. In his eagerness for it, and as a last resort, he went into the dressing tent. Fannie Jamieson, one of the bareback riders, had just finished wringing out a pair of pink tights. The color had run and left the water a deep pink. Without giving any explanation or stopping to answer her questions, Pete grabbed the tub of pink water and ran. It took only a minute to throw in some of the tartaric acid and the pieces of the “property” lemon, and then he began to call out, “Come quickly, buy some fine strawberry lemonade.” That day his sales doubled and from then on no first-class circus was without pink lemonade.
The recipe for circus lemonade has not hanged from that day to this. A tub of water—with no particular squeamishness regarding its source—tartaric acid, some sugar, enough aniline dye to give it a rich pink, and for a finish some thin slices of lemon. The slices of lemon are known as “floaters,” and any which are left in the tub at the close of a day’s business, together with those which have come back in the glasses, are carefully saved over for the next day’s use. In this way the same floaters may appear before the public a considerable number of times. The lemonade glasses, too, by the way, like some other things in this world, “are not what they seem.” Tall and large in appearance, they give the impression of (Pg. 231—ed.) a generous drink for “only a nickel!” but if examined they are found to taper very rapidly toward the base, to have extra-thick sides, with the bottom nearer the top than it looks, and the thirsty customer actually gets no more of the enticing pink liquid than could easily be poured into an ordinary drinking glass.
12 November 1937, Reno (NV) Evening Gazette, pg. 13:
Pink Lemonade Started by Circus Tights
FLEMINGTON, N.J., Nov. 12 (AP)—A circus lady’s pink tights so the story goes, accidentally made William Henry Griffith famous sixty-four years ago.
Griffith is eighty today. When he was in his ‘teens, he joined a circus as a refreshment dispenser.
On a gusty May day in 1873—Griffith tells the tale—his lemonade was all ready for customers. The bareback rider’s tights were drying on a nearby line and the win blew them down—plump into Griffith’s lemonade. A surprised young man was he when he found his concoction was pink, not pale yellow.
It was too late to make up more, Griffith says, so he barked his new product:
“Step right up and get your pink lemonade. It’s absolutely new.”
And thus, so the story goes, was discovered pink lemonade.
28 April 1938, Tavern Weekly News, pg. 12, col. 2:
Secret of Recipe for
Pink Lemonade Bared
After Inventor Dies
Trenton, N. J.—William Henry Griffith, 82, to whom the circus owed the discovery of the recipe for pink lemonade, died this week.
His death recalled the tale of how he became the father of the “big top” tradition, because an actress’ red tights once fell into the lemonade bucket of his refreshment stand.
The liquid became a deep pink, but Griffith, then a youth, put it on sale anyway. It clicked, and thereafter he colored all his stock the same delectable hue.