HIGH POINT — When summer temperatures soar into the 90s, as they’ve done in recent days, what could possibly be more refreshing than an ice-cold bottle of Tip Cola, right?
Oh, you say you’ve never heard of Tip? Well, that’s what High Pointers swigged on hot summer days back in the late 1930s and early ’40s, before the burgeoning soft drink — manufactured right here in High Point — became a casualty of World War II.
New Bern gave the world Pepsi, Salisbury gave us Cheerwine, and High Point was — if ever so briefly — Command Central for Tip Soda, until the popular carbonated soft drink, shall we say, went flat.
Our story begins in 1928, with the founding of the Gary Beverage Co., which eventually opened bottling operations in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greenville and High Point to produce the grape-flavored NuGrape soft drink. The High Point plant opened around 1933 and was originally on West Lexington Avenue before moving to North Main Street. It was initially run by company founder Fred Gary.
In the mid-1930s, after NuGrape lost a legal battle with the giant Welch’s grape juice manufacturer over its ingredients, Gary stopped producing NuGrape and began making ginger ale and other flavored soft drinks.
From that product change came a new grape-flavored soda, Tip Cola, introduced in 1939. Concocted with grape flavoring, dextrose — an energy-boosting sugar — and carbonation to give it fizz, Tip was sold in 6-ounce glass bottles.
The new soft drink apparently enjoyed a strong following, particularly in High Point, which had been designated as the test market for Tip. At some point — it’s not clear exactly when — High Point’s Gary Beverage Co. actually became the Tip Bottling Co., and the plant added Tip-O, an orange-flavored version of Tip, to its inventory.
Tip officials worked hard to market their new soft drink, coining slogans such as “Take A Tip: Drink A Tip,” “Tip Is Tops” and “One Good Tip Deserves Another.” Ads in The High Point Enterprise described Tip as “bottled sunshine” and “the new sensation drink,” hailing its “unique flavor” and “tangy taste.”
The company also promoted Tip and other beverages with its Dymaxion car, a long, submarine-shaped vehicle with three wheels — two in the front, one in the back — that advertised Gary Beverage Co. on its aluminum fuselage. The car, one of only three prototypes produced by inventor Buckminster Fuller, rode around town to be visible and at other times was parked outside the plant on North Main Street.
Elsewhere around town, Tip participated in promotions at events such as High Point College football games and regional pro wrestling matches between the likes of Strangler White and the Black Panther.
For one wrestling event in the fall of 1941, Tip even paid to bring nationally known pro wrestler Phil Olafsson — better known as The Swedish Angel — to High Point for a bout. An Enterprise ad promoting the event pictured the hulky wrestler — in his wrestling tights, mind you — drinking a Tip with one hand and holding a carton of Tip in the other. The accompanying copy spoke of the drink’s energy-boosting quality — critical for a pro wrestler, you know — and claimed The Swedish Angel had insisted on having a carton of Tip in his dressing room before and after his bout.
Alas, by 1942, Tip Cola was, um, down for the count. The nation’s entry into World War II created a hardship for countless companies, including Tip, which was especially crippled by sugar rationing during the war years. It was just a matter of time until Tip toppled, and the fizz was gone.
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