In Salisbury, L.D. Peeler wanted to create a soft drink of his own, and bought some very interesting cherry flavor from a traveling salesman from St. Louis. He experimented, mixing cherry with other flavors, and stumbled upon this singular flavor sensation, and Cheerwine was born. Anyone who tasted it, loved it. And soon, the Legend began to spread.
In 1920, glass bottles etched with three cherries and the Cheerwine name were produced to replace the original paper label. Shortly thereafter, similar cherries appeared on slot machines and three cherries became synonymous with good luck. Coincidence? Doubtful.
After outselling another L.D. soft drink (Mint Cola) in 1924 the company name was changed from Mint Cola Bottling Co. to Cheerwine Bottling Co. The change came as no big surprise to anyone, except for Herbert Von Kennel, who was Salisbury's only mailman at the time.
After L.D.’s passing in 1931, his son Clifford assumed the managerial role of the Carolina Beverage Corporation and the Cheerwine Bottling Co. Aside from keeping the company afloat during the depression, he kept it profitable. Although Cheerwine’s legendary flavor probably had a lot to do with it.
Like all Americans, the Peelers donated what they could to the war effort. Much of the old signage was used in the creation and repair of naval ships. Sailors of the era claimed to have seen the feint image of a Cheerwine logo imprinted in the hull of the USS Intrepid.
In ‘53, Dwight Eisenhower came through Salisbury to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Rowan County and became the first President known to enjoy a Cheerwine. After the first sip, as rumor has it, he proclaimed "Ike likes!"
Diet Cheerwine was introduced. Sales of plus-sized clothing at "Big Larry's Fat Man & Husky Boy Shop" in Salisbury, NC declined within weeks. Months later, due to his own shrinking waistline, Big Larry himself changed his name back to Lawrence.
Cheerwine moved to its present location in July of 1967. A forklift was the only used equipment brought to the new facility. Production started on July 4th, 1967 in a 100% debt-free, state-of-the-art facility using Crown bottling equipment.
Though they grew up working for the family business, after college, L.D.’s great grandsons signed on full-time. In 1978, Cliff Ritchie came aboard as the manager of the Greensboro facility, while Mark started as a Carolina Beverage Corp. field rep in 1979. So when Mark offers up a story about "playing the field" in the 70’s, don’t expect tales of discos or roller rinks.
In the 1980’s, The Legend continued to spread while loyal Cheerwine drinkers slimmed down. Diet Cheerwine was re-introduced in 1981, and Caffeine-Free Diet Cheerwine was launched in 1984.
This era also saw the aggressive expansion of Cheerwine’s distribution area.
1989 marked the final issue of returnable 8-oz. bottles. To this day, the Cheerwine Bottling Co. is still waiting for the last one to be returned.
George Bush Sr. became the second president to experience The Legend, when he came to the Faith Fourth of July celebration in 1992. We don't know when the third president will enjoy a Cheerwine, but an ice-cold bottle is waiting for him or her!
In 1992, Cliff Ritchie became President of Cheerwine Bottling Company and Mark Ritchie became President of Carolina Beverage Corporation.
In the 90’s Carolina Beverage acquired several distribution facilities throughout North and South Carolina. The Legend had officially expanded to both Carolinas.
In 2002, The Legend gained national attention when Food Finds produced and aired a feature on Cheerwine. To no surprise, letters from Food Network watchers nationwide flooded the Carolina Beverage office. The Legend gained even more popularity as people across the states thirsted for a taste of Cheerwine.
In 2006, Clifford Peeler was recognized with an induction into the Beverage World Hall of Fame. His service to the company began in 1924 and continued for a full 76 years, until his retirement. Today, his grandson Cliff Ritchie runs the company. He was inducted into the Beverage World Hall of Fame in 2010.