pink lemonade
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

What Is Pink Lemonade?

Its roots are murky and sort of disturbing
pink lemonade
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Americans started drinking lemonade way back in the 17th century, but it didn’t turn pink until the late 1800s. So where does pink lemonade get its pink color from? Nowadays, the sweet, summery drink gets its color from strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, cranberry, grenadine or food dye, but it hasn’t always been this way.

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According to Smithsonian Magazine, there are several different legends about the origin of pink lemonade, but Josh Chetwynd, author of “How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun,” says there’s very likely a connection to the circus industry. The drink may very well have been invented by Henry E. Allott, who ran away from his Chicago home to join the circus as a teen in the early 1870s. Allott claimed that while working the concession stand, he accidentally dropped red cinnamon candies into a batch of lemonade, turning the drink pink. The striking color ended up being a hit, and the drink took off.

A second story is pretty gross, and comes from “The Ways of the Circus,” a 1921 memoir written by a lion tamer named George Conklin. In the book, Conklin claims that his brother Pete came up with pink lemonade while selling traditional lemonade at the circus. One night, he ran out of water and reached for a tub of dirty water that a performer had just wrung out her soiled pink tights into, which stained the resulting beverage pink. We find this claim a little bit harder to believe.  

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Nobody really knows for certain if either tale is true, but no one is making beverages with dirty tights water today, and that’s all that matters! If this story took you on a ride, you'll get a real kick out of the fascinating origins of your favorite chain restaurants.