As any well-bred, self-respecting Southerner knows, a MoonPie™ and an RC Cola is the (un)Official Snack of the South. It may not be written into legislature anywhere, but it’s one of those things everyone knows. It’s been this way for a hundred years. So on this Way Back Whensday I’d like to explore the history of this Quintessential Confederate Confectionery.
What is a MoonPie
For our Yankee friends who have not encountered this snack, a MoonPie™ is a pastry consisting of two round graham cracker cookies, with marshmallow filling in the center, dipped in chocolate, banana, or coconut coatings. The traditional pie is about four inches in diameter. A smaller version, the mini MoonPie, is about half the size and a Double-Decker MoonPie of the traditional diameter features a third cookie and second layer of marshmallow. Double Decker MoonPies come in the four main flavors and in lemon and orange.
Who Makes MoonPies
Chattanooga Bakery, Inc. at 900 Manufacturer’s Road in Chattanooga, TN was founded in 1902 as a subsidiary of the Mountain City Flour Mill. The bakery was actually added onto the mill’s building so flour could be transferred directly from mill to bakery. The bakery’s original purpose was to use the excess flour produced by the mill. By 1910, the bakery offered over 150 different confectionery items. In 1917, the bakery developed a product which is still known as the MoonPie. Today MoonPies are Chattanooga Bakery’s primary product and they are capable of producing over a million pies per day!
How Were MoonPies Invented
The exact history of how the MoonPie™ was invented was never documented by the Chattanooga Bakery. But one historian, Ronald Dickson of Charlotte, North Carolina, found the “missing link.” after writing, “The Great MoonPie Handbook” as a humorous accounting of lore and legend surrounding the MoonPie™. In the book Dickson lamented that the MoonPie’s inventor was lost to history. Not long after his book was published, Earl Mitchell Jr. telephoned Mr. Dickson and identified his deceased father, Earl Mitchell, Sr., as the person responsible for the invention of the MoonPie. Some sly questioning on Dickson’s part verified this statement and the mystery was solved.
His story went like this; Early in the 1900s, Earl Mitchell Sr. was a salesman for the Chattanooga Bakery, servicing a territory in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Mr. Mitchell was visiting a company store that catered to the coal miners. He asked them what they might enjoy as a snack. The miners said they wanted something for their lunch pails. It had to be solid and filling. “About how big?” Mr. Mitchell asked. The moon was rising, so a miner held out his big hands, framing the moon and said, “About that big!” Mr. Mitchell headed back to the bakery with an idea. He had noticed some of the bakery worker’s dipping graham cookies into a jar of marshmallow and laying them on the window sill to harden for lunch. He took that idea, added another cookie and a generous coating of chocolate and took some back for the workers to try. They were a hit! The Bakery sent samples around with their other salespeople, too. The response they got back was so enormous that the MoonPie™ became a regular item for the bakery.
By the late 1950′s, the MoonPie had grown so much in popularity that the bakery did not have the resources available to produce anything else. The phrase “RC Cola and a MoonPie” became well known around the South, as many people enjoyed this delicious, bargain-priced combination.
This treat was, however, relatively unknown above the Mason-Dixon line until Dickson suggested to Bakery publicists that they send a copy of his book and a box of MoonPies to 250 book reviewers and media outlets around the nation. The resulting high profile reviews and articles spurred a national interest in this iconic Southern snack.
Ron Dickson is a founding member of the MoonPie Cultural Club, which aims to spread the enjoyment, culture, vast folklore, and honorable traditions of that noble snack throughout the world. He is also the MoonPie Goodwill Ambassador. Chattanooga Bakery keeps him supplied with MoonPies which he disperses in his travels promoting the legend of one of the South’s greatest inventions.
On May 26th, 2012 Newport Tennessee, where Earl Mitchell Sr. is buried celebrated the Inaugural MoonPie in the Smokies Festival. Just one feature of this festival was The World’s Largest MoonPie which weighed in at a whopping 30 pounds! This monster MoonPie was produced by the Chattanooga Bakery, a sponsor of the festival, and transported 160 miles across Tennessee for this event. Response to the festival made it clear that the MoonPie is still a Southern favorite.