What is

MODOX was an early 20th century soda manufactured in Providence RI and touted as "The New Nerve Drink." The taste is similar to root beer but with a little exta kick! For most it is an acquired taste. The flagship soda was MODOX but being a beverage company they also produced many other flavor carbonated drinks of the period including cream soda, ginger ale, root beer, sarsaparilla and birch beer.

Photos & Pricing of MODOX Bottles & Advertising

The Man

James Stephen Barry, son of Irish Immigrants - Bottler of MODOX Beverages

In the early twentieth century, my great-grandfather, James Stephen Barry, 'Big Jim' owned and operated a beverage bottling company in Providence, Rhode Island called MODOX. MODOX was the flagship product in the beverage line, touted as "The New Nerve Drink." He distributed many different flavors of soda all over Providence via horse and cart for a number of years, see more about MODOX. He was extremely successful and had the Barry children working at the business. This was a time of local beverages before regional and national drinks. You drank the local brew at the tavern and the local soda at home or at the soda fountain.

Moxie, another beverage company out of Lowell, Massachusetts who had distribution into Boston wanted to expand to become a regional soda distributor.

So at first they tried to buy MODOX from 'Big Jim'. But 'Big Jim' wanted no part of this, he had built the company himself and was a self made man, independent and proud. He refused to sell. Moxie's next step was to sue MODOX for copyright infringement.

Photos & Pricing of MODOX Bottles & Advertising

Both Moxie and MODOX used an Indian as their logo at that time. In the subsequent court case, two court cases ensued. The first in Boston, Moxie's native turf, but MODOX won! Next Moxie took them to district court in New York where they prevailed. With the loss 'Big Jim' was put out of business with nothing to show for it -- he was bankrupt (Moxie had deeper pockets and better lawyers).

After Moxie won the second case on copyright infringement, all MODOX bottles had to have the name ground off and many of these bottles have still survived today. Remaining bottles were to be crushed for which Moxie was to reimburse MODOX a nickel a piece for.

'Big Jim' tried to make a comeback with a beverage company named HERB-O PHOSA but it was too late in the game and he failed. He spent the rest of his life drinking himself to death and subsequently died in 1937, a broken man.

Photos & Pricing of MODOX Bottles & Advertising



MODOX like many other beverages of the time was sold for it's medicinal value as well as for it's distinctive taste. Taste would have been similar to Moxie. Originally, it was bottled in the Nickel-Tone manufacturing plant at 17-19 Mathewson St. in Providence. Later on, bottling was moved to the site of the Hanley Brewing Company (once a major competitor of Narragansett Ale) located on Fountain Street in Providence. The soda was bottled and sold directly to the public via horse and delivery carts with Indians in full regalia. MODOX was also available at the local soda fountain or drug store, where the MODOX syrup would be mixed with carbonated water.

 

With the dissolution of MODOX 'Big Jim' set up HERB-O PHOSA as a replacement for MODOX but the era of locally bottled beverages was coming to an end and eventually he went bankrupt.

Background: Jim Barry originally worked as a salesman for Rumsford Chemical Works selling baking soda, one of the main ingredients in beverages at the time including Moxie. He may have also worked at Moxie after Rumsford Chemical job but there is no clear evidence of that.

'Big Jim' created his own formulas and marketing schemes and became very successful which in turn was probably his downfall. MODOX also bottled all of the traditional sodas of the day i.e. cream soda, ginger ale, root beer, sarsaparilla and birch beer. Based upon our research the earliest data indicates that MODOX was marketed as early as 1904 at the Washington County Agricultural Show in West Kingston, RI. MODOX was sold for 5¢ a glass and was touted as "The New Nerve Drink."

Big Jim continued to bottle soda into1920's (according to census reports he was in manufacturing in 1910 and bottling in 1920). See Connecticut Fairgrounds Postcard featuring MODOX for 5¢ a glass (date unknown).

If you come across any bottles, labels or other marketing items from either MODOX or Herb-O Phosa, please contact the author, we are extremely interested in preserving the past for the family.

Photos & Pricing of MODOX Bottles & Advertising