Chicago St. Patrick's Day: The Tale of Chicago's Two Green Rivers

Chicago St. Patrick's Day: The Tale of Chicago's Two Green Rivers
Parade-goers at Chicago's South Side Irish Parade enjoying Green River.

Chicago, whose St. Patrick's Day celebrations rival those of Ireland, has some great traditions tied to its festivities. One is dyeing the Chicago River green which takes place annually right before the St. Patrick's Day parade. This year the greening of the river begins at 10 a.m. followed by the parade at noon on Saturday, March 16.

The tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green took root in 1961 when Stephen Bailey, Business Manager of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union #110, spotted a plumber wearing coveralls that were stained a brilliant green by the dye used to detect leaks in the Chicago River. When Bailey, who was making plans for that year's St. Patrick's Day parade, saw the plumber he got the brainstorm to dye the Chicago River green...and the rest is history.

Chicago's "other Green River" is even older. It is Green River soda. Green River soda came on the scene in 1919--about the same time that Congress was passing the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition.  It seems that the Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company, located in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood (18th and Canalport), was looking for something to do with their empty bottles left wanting after Prohibition became law.  The answer was Green River--a sweet lime-based soda that screamed "look at me"...with its' vivid neon green color.

The original post for Green River featured the Green River girl.

The original poster for Green River featured the Green River girl.

Green River quickly became a hit. In fact, it was so popular that by 1933, it was second only to Coca Cola in consumption.

During that period the Green River girl was on ad posters everywhere and the drink became the subject of songs and celebrity endorsements.

According to musician and songwriter John Fogerty, the name of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song (and album) "Green River" was inspired by the soda.

One popular early refrain for Green River, written and performed by early 20th century entertainer Eddie Cantor, when he was with the Ziegfeld Follies went like this:

"For a drink that's fine without a kick,
Try Green River,
It's the only soft drink you should pick,
Try Green River."

Once, Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Schoenhofen Brewing put Green River soda on a back burner, concentrating their efforts on the production of alcoholic beverages. The brewery eventually closed completely in 1950.  Even so, Green River soda retained it's popularity at many corner drugstore fountains and drive-in movies throughout the 1960s.

"The Lime Soda, with Just A Touch Of Lemon" went through a series of owners after Schoenhofen Brewery closed.  One producer, Clover Club Beverages was located at 4700 W. Archer Ave. then relocated to the former Newport Beverage Plant at 3400 S. Ashland Ave. From there Green River was sold to the Synergy Flavors company in the Chicago suburb of Wauconda.

In July of 2011, Green River finally gave up its Windy City roots and moved to the Left Coast. It is now a part of the Redding, California based WIT Beverage Company stable of beverages. greenriverbottleIt is the intent of WIT to elevate the image of the entire Green River line. The historic green sodas will be sold only in glass bottles (no more plastic) and be sweetened with only 100% cane sugar (no high fructose). The old/new Green River, is now made from its original formula using filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, and natural lime flavors. In addition, Green River soda remains caffeine and gluten free.

It looks like the changes are already working. You could say Green River soda is starting to "trend." Green River soda can be found around Chicago at many new locations and St. Patrick's celebrations including the South Side Irish parade.

Green River soda is available at various Chicago grocery stores and restaurants or can be ordered on-line through Beverages Direct for $41.74 for a 24-pack in glass bottles. Below are some of the locales that you can find Green River soda in and around Chicagoland:

Restaurants
•    All Hackney’s locations
•    11 City Diner
•    Manny’s Deli
•    Smashburger
•    Schoop's Hamburgers (19 locations in Illinois and Indiana)
Grocery Stores.
•    Jewel
•    Dominick’s
•    Butera
•    Strack & VanTil
•    Walts

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    Carole Kuhrt Brewer

    Arts and Entertainment Reporter for media since 1997.

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