Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Kool-Aid, the powdered drink mix known to generations of children, was invented by Edwin E. Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska, in 1927. Perkins was born in Lewis, Iowa, in 1889 but spent his youth in the village of Hendley in southwestern Nebraska. While working in his father's general store, Perkins became fascinated with kitchen chemistry experiments, prepackaged foods like Jell-O, and mail-order sales schemes. After World War I, the budding entrepreneur invented a tobacco remedy called Nix-O-Tine, the first of his many patent medicines.

In 1920 Perkins and his new wife, Kathryn "Kitty" Shoemaker, moved to Hastings and expanded the Perkins Products Company, which sold more than 125 household products through direct sales. One of the most popular was Fruit-Smack, a liquid fruit drink concentrate. In 1927 Perkins reconstituted Fruit- Smack into powdered crystals and packaged it in bright paper envelopes. Originally called Kool-Ade, the drink mix was sold in selfservice display cartons (another Perkins innovation) in grocery stores and was so successful that the company moved to Chicago in 1931. By the end of the Great Depression, Edwin Perkins owned a suburban mansion and employed hundreds of workers in his factory. In 1953 Perkins retired and sold the company to General Foods, the manufacturer of Jell-O.

Edwin and Kitty Perkins spent their remaining years establishing foundations and making gifts to colleges, hospitals, and other institutions in Nebraska and elsewhere. When he died in 1961, Kool-Aid's inventor, who had lived in a sod house as a child, left an estate worth over $45 million and a product that had become a household name.

Richard C. Witt Hastings, Nebraska

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