The story of Johnson City Tennessee's most famous product

Are you tortured by sleepless nights, agonizing aches and pains, a tired run down nervous feeling, heartburn, acid indigestion, or sour stomach? Dr. Enuf the new miracle tonic can show you the way to that wonderful glow of youth and health! These words introduced the lithiated lemon vitamin enriched drink known as Dr. Enuf to the city that has today has become synonymous with the brand, Johnson City, TN. The person introducing it to them in this old timey snake oil salesman way is Charles O' Gordon of Tri-City Beverage. While Mountain Dew is arguably the most famous product that was partially created in this Johnson City, Tri-City Beverage stopped bottling Dew in 1966. Its absence left Dr. Enuf to become an East Tennessee legend with a growing fan base all over the country, making it a national brand that still feels local.

Much like Mountain Dew there are some myths that hang around this brand, the main one being that the brand was introduced to Johnson City in 1949.(1) William Mark Swartz, President of Mark Williams Chemical Co. of Chicago, Ill., decided to create a soft drink that would relieve fatigue, headaches, and indigestion for his employees. He applied for a trademark for the drink on May 19, 1951, and according to most sources advertised in Bottler's World for franchises, the trademark was granted on December 2, 1952.(3) According to the trademark information it was first used in commerce on April 4, 1951. This leaves me wondering if Dr. Enuf was actually created in 1949. One of the bottlers to acquire a franchise for Dr. Enuf was Tri-City Beverage who introduced the brand to Johnson City on June 20, 1951 with an ad for a free bottle of Dr. Enuf when you sent in an attached coupon.(2)

As it says in the ad "A Million Dollars Can't Buy It! But You Can Try It..FREE! If You Are Selected."(2) The ad makes a big deal about the four hundred who were to be chosen being the first to try Dr. Enuf, which was obviously not available to the general public at this point in time in the Johnson City area. Then we have a quarter page ad that appears on June 27, 1951 announcing an "Introductory Offer" of ninety-eight cents per four bottle carton.(2) Followed by a half page ad from June 28, 1951, and yet another full page on July 5, 1951 that features testimonials of the people who were selected for the free Dr. Enuf in Johnson City.(2) Prior to this all of the testimonials were from people in Chicago, Illinois with the notable exception of J. M. Archer JR., one of Tri-City Beverage's employees. A full two page ad was placed on July 12, 1951 which claims in underlined text "Dr. Enuf Is Not A Soft Drink" but "An Amazing Vitamin Tonic."(2) The ad even included a money back guarantee. The Dr. Enuf Corporation of East Tennessee was incorporated on July 19, 1951 with Charles O. Gordon, Evelyn A. Gordon, and George F. Brandt signing.(5)

There is another legend that claims that Tri-City Beverage was granting franchises to other bottling companies after they acquired their own franchise. This is based on the assumption that Tri-City actually owned the brand at the time. I guess that picture of the formula being transported in a locked case at Tri-City airport in 1951 has them assuming that Charlie bought the brand at that time. Actually the Mark Williams Chemical Company were the owners of the Dr. Enuf trademark until signing it over to the Dr. Enuf Corporation of East Tennessee (aka Tri-City Beverage) on September 11, 1989.(3) This means that the Mark Williams Chemical was handing out franchises until that point, maybe with some help from Charlie Gordon, which might be the bit of truth behind this particular legend.

Every legend is usually based on some truth; however, over years and retellings the facts tend to get confused or forgotten. I’m referring of course to legend of the Dr. Enuf ad which looked like the front page of a newspaper which legend holds Charles Gordon ran at the introduction of Dr. Enuf to Johnson City, and paid the paper delivery personnel to turn the paper backwards so that it looked as though his ad was the front page. As you see further down the page the first ads don't look like the front of a newspaper at all. This legend is based on a real incident; however, it didn't happen at the introduction of the brand, it happened almost a year later.

Charles Gordon did indeed run an ad which looked like the front page of the Johnson City Press Chronicle on March 4, 1952 with a headline which read "Dr. Enuf Price Slashed!" The ad includes faux articles which go on to extol the virtues of Dr. Enuf, and explain how the old price of twenty five cents per bottle had recently been reduced to ten cents. One of the articles talks about a new Dr. Enuf flavor, already in stores, described as having a "…fresh taste sensation of nut-like quality – blended with delicious Lemon-Lime." Of course this wouldn't be the last time that Dr. Enuf experienced a flavor change. Charles Gordon ran the ad again on March 5, 1952, and in the Elizabethton Star on March 6, 1952; however, there isn’t one in the Kingsport Times or the Bristol Herald Courier. Maybe they figured out what he was up to.

There were several franchises who were bottling Dr. Enuf originally including Chicago Illinois, Quincy Illinois, Greenwood Mississippi, Pepsi-Cola Bottlers Inc. of St. Louis Missouri, Maurice Stanley Whitcraft owner, and the Dad's Root Beer Bottling Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is from the latter that the Dr. Enuf Cola cap I own comes from. I purchased this bottle because I didn't have a 1950's version of the Dr. Enuf bottle at the time, and while I knew it had never been opened, I had no idea what it said on the cap. The cap is certainly old enough to have been on this bottle since 1953, as it has some rust issues, and this was the reason I decided to open the soda in order to better preserve this item. The liquid inside certainly had a caramel color, and smelled terrible. An advertising banner for the King Fish show on Johnson City’s WJHL television station features a sponsor tagline at the bottom of it urging the consumer to “Try NEW Dr. Enuf Cola”. This proves that at some point in the 1950’s Dr. Enuf Cola was being bottled by Tri-City Beverage.

A question that always comes up when you are discussing Dr. Enuf is why the glass bottles from 1965 into the 1980's have "new flavor" in yellow on the neck. I have asked Tri-City themselves, and they say that some of the old timers who used to work for the company claimed that the original Dr. Enuf flavor had a stronger medicine/vitamin taste than modern Dr. Enuf, and it is obvious that the company wanted to try to get others who may have balked at the original taste to give the brand another try now that the offensive flavor had been toned down. I became aware of the brand during the mid-nineties when it finally penetrated my home in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia, and upon first taste hated it, but eventually I grew to like it as I tried it again after starting my research which led to the Tazewell-Orange.com site.

The Dr. Enuf Corporation of East Tennessee amends its charter to change their name to the Dr. Enuf Corporation on October 29, 1992, and is dissolved on April 16, 1997.(5) Even after the failed attempt of trying to reintroduce Dr Enuf Cola in August 1992, Tri-City decided to expand the line with the "New" Diet Dr. Enuf being introduced on August 23, 2000.(4) In May 2001 it was announced that the company was going offer the brand nationwide; however, an updated press release on February 05, 2002 replaces the older release causing me to speculate that due to some unforeseen complication they didn't go national until then.(4) May 13, 2002 they had started selling their products online, offering the Charlie O's and Gordon's Cream Soda line along with Dr. Enuf.(4) Dr. Enuf Herbal, a cherry flavored version of Dr. Enuf infused with Ginseng and Guarana, is introduced on June 21, 2002, with Diet Dr. Enuf Herbal being announced on November 6, 2003.(4)

The product would be packaged in plastic bottles for the first time with the introduction of the 16oz bottles on July 19, 2004 for the specific use in vending machines.(4) These have since been replaced with the 20oz bottles, which can only be obtained in certain machines as most distribute the glass versions. The company stopped using aspartame in their diet drinks in favor of Splenda, and introduced a retro style bottle to their lineup in 2007. Tri-City Beverage may not have created Dr. Enuf; however, they are the sole owners of Dr. Enuf which has become an East Tennessee legend that continues to grow in popularity just as other regional sodas like Cheerwine of North Carolina, and Ale-8-1 of Kentucky have done. Don't forget to "ask your Doctor about Dr. Enuf", because it's "the Staff of Life", and Dr. Enuf most certainly "...is enough".

Tri-City Beverage during the introduction of Dr. Enuf

The first Dr. Enuf ad from June 20, 1951. Just click on the ad to enlarge.

The second full page Dr. Enuf ad from June 27, 1951. Just click on the ad to enlarge.

The half page Dr. Enuf ad from June 28, 1951. Just click on the ad to enlarge.

The third full page Dr. Enuf ad from July 5, 1951. Just click on the ad to enlarge.

This is the two full page Dr. Enuf ad from July 12, 1951. Just click on the ad to enlarge.

This is one of the specimen labels sent in with the registration for the Dr. Enuf trademark in 1951. It is very interesting to note something that I initially missed at the bottom of this label, and that is the words “No Deposit on bottle No Return”. While not a huge revelation, it does point out that there is another Dr. Enuf variation bottle out there, and it is a throw away bottle. None of these “no deposit” bottles have surfaced as of yet, and it is possible that these were being bottled in Chicago, Illinois.

From the collection of Geff Moore, photo by Joseph Lee
7oz earlier double Paper label Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1951

Dr. Enuf cap from Johnson City Tennessee

7oz later single Paper label Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1951

7oz Paper label amber Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1951. It was bottled by the Dad's Root Beer Bottling Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1952, couriously it doesn't have a town name on it, I'm beginning to think that none of the earlier acl bottles did.

A Dr. Enuf carton from the 1950's. This particular carton has fallen victim to a manufacturing mistake that resulted in the shifting of the graphics from their intended locations. Usually this was caught before the cartons were shipped to the customer, but this one was missed.

The other side features very different graphics.

Charles Gordon did indeed run an ad which looked like the front page of the Johnson City Press Chronicle on March 4, 1952.

Gordon ran the ad again on March 5, 1952. Just click on the ad to enlarge.

The Elizabethton Star version of the headline on March 6, 1952.

With the price change happening in 1952 we now have a time frame for this small sign.

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1953

A Dr. Enuf COLA bottle cap

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1965

March 3, 1953 Dr. Enuf ad

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1967

1950's Dr. Enuf paper sign

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1972

Dr. Enuf paper sign

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1977

7oz Dr. Enuf bottle error bottle

6 1/2oz Dr. Enuf bottle dated 1978

While not much different from the 1977 bottle in the ACL style, these bottles have no dates, but appear to have been used in the 1980’s. They have no embossing on the bottom aside from the stippling embossed around the bottom edge to prevent the bottles developing suction with the bottling surface. This same concept still exists on the bottom of modern Dr. Enuf bottles.

The bottom of the 80's bottle

10oz styrofoam Dr. Enuf bottle with the tagline "The Staff of Life". I believe this to be from the earlier evolution of the Styrofoam bottles as the label not only goes all the way to the bottom of the bottle but under it about a quarter of an inch as well. The later bottle labels all stop before the bottom of the bottle including a variation of this bottle.

Dr. Enuf baseball cap

10oz styrofoam Dr. Enuf bottle with the tagline "The Staff of Life". This bottle has the shorter version of the Styrofoam label that is still used by the brand today. I would date these two to the 1980's.

10oz styrofoam Dr. Enuf bottle. In the 1990’s a new tagline was introduced “Rich In Vitamins” which is still the tagline used today.

From the collection of Geff Moore, photo by Joseph Lee
10oz Dr. Enuf Cola Number 7 of first 24 bottled on August 12th, 1992. This second attempt at a Dr. Enuf Cola was a failure as well.

10oz styrofoam Dr. Enuf Cola unsigned.

10oz plastic label Dr. Enuf bottle. For a short time in the 90’s the brand tried a shrink wrap plastic label; however, as you can see they were a bit hard to read.

10oz styrofoam Dr. Enuf bottle. Of course the plastic shrink label was replaced by a redesigned Styrofoam label this one having only minor differences in design from today; however, it is pre-website.

12oz Dr. Enuf 50th anniversary bottle from 1999

Card attached to the 1999 50th anniversary bottle

12oz Dr. Enuf bottle from around 2000. Tri-City Beverages launched their drenuf.com website in 2000, and started putting the web address on the back sticker, this label still has the “Ask your doctor about Dr. Enuf” tag line on it like the earlier 1999 version. This would be dropped on later releases.

12oz Dr. Enuf Herbal. Dr. Enuf Herbal was launched in June 2002 and this was the original version of the bottles. The green glass clashed with the red color of the soda making it look like a cola so the decision was made to change the glass color to clear. Since there are no Diet Dr. Enuf Herbal bottles using the older Chinese character labels, I believe the transition of the labels happened in 2003 around the time of the launch of Diet Dr. Enuf Herbal.

10oz Dr. Enuf Herbal bottle in earlier green glass.

12oz Dr. Enuf Herbal bottle in clear glass with the older Chinese letters style label. This and the bottle below may be from the transition in 2003 when they updated the label and changed the bottle to clear glass.

12oz Dr. Enuf Herbal bottle in green glass with the modern style label from the label/glass color transition in 2003.

12oz Dr. Enuf bottle from somewhere around 2005. This bottles back label is starting to conform to the modern version of the label available today, actually it’s almost exact except for the placement of some of the paragraphs. The front label still has the bottom of the art work as the end of the sticker which would be rectified on later releases, then there’s the older style cap.

12oz Dr. Enuf clear sticker label bottle from 2007. Still sporting the front label of earlier releases, but the back label has now become the modern version.

12oz retro style Dr. Enuf ACL bottles from 2007 and 2008

12oz Dr. Enuf and Diet Dr. Enuf sticker label bottles from 2009

12oz Dr. Enuf and Diet Dr. Enuf Herbal sticker label bottles from 2009. The front sticker now extends past the artwork making a better looking label.

10oz Dr. Enuf and Diet Dr. Enuf styrofoam label bottles from 2009

10oz Dr. Enuf Herbal styrofoam label bottle from 2009

20oz Dr. Enuf and Diet Dr. Enuf plastic bottles from 2009

20oz Dr. Enuf Herbal plastic bottles from 2009

20oz Dr. Enuf clear plastic bottle

20oz Dr. Enuf plastic bottle from 2011. There has been a slight design change in the plastic bottle.

If you want to find out more or want to try this brand check out.


Special Thanks to:

Tri-City Beverages for the use of image TCB-1.

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(1) "Mountain Dew: The History" By Dick Bridgforth, Copyright 2007 by Richlard Bridgforth

(2) Johnson City Press Chronicle

(3) United States Patent and Trademark Office Website http://www.uspto.gov/index.html

(4) From the Dr. Enuf site via the Internet Archives Wayback Machine, which archives earlier versions of websites for posterity.

(5) Washington County Circuit Court Records