In his 1921 memoir The Ways of the Circus: Being the Memories and Adventures of George Conklin, Tamer of Lions, Conklin makes the bold claim that his brother Pete, who also worked for the circus, was the mastermind behind pink lemonade. One day in 1857, while vending lemonade at a show, Pete ran out of fresh water. In something close to desperation, he grabbed a nearby bucket of water in which a performer had just washed her pink tights. Upon discovering the liquid’s new hue, Conklin used his circus-derived trickery and marketed the concoction as “strawberry lemonade,” even though it obviously contained zero strawberries. Awestruck circusgoers fell for it, and sales doubled (via Food Network).
Another account also has to do with a lucky mishap. A New York Times obituary for Chicago native Henry E. Allott, who died in 1912, notes that he was the blush-colored drink’s creator. When he ran away to join the circus as a teenager, he allegedly “invented” pink lemonade after dropping a bunch of red cinnamon candies in a vat of lemonade. (There’s no report whether or not the drink had a cinnamon-y flavor.)
Today, pink lemonade is colored with natural juices or artificial agents that thankfully have nothing to do with red candies or women’s hosiery. Next time you enjoy some nostalgia-inducing, mouth-puckering pink lemonade, thank the circus.