Hawaiian Punch was Originally an Ice Cream Topping

This is a guest post by Stacy Jameson

Today I found out Hawaiian Punch was originally supposed to be used as an ice cream topping.

The brand was originally “Leo’s Hawaiian Punch” sold under the company name Pacific Citrus Product Company.  The recipe for the confectionery was created by Tom Yates, A.W. Leo, and Ralph Harrison in a garage in Fullerton, California in 1934.  They started out by selling this tropical fruit flavored ice cream topping to local restaurants, stores, and to certain ice cream makers.

Over the next decade as the syrup’s popularity spread, people started using it not just as an ice cream topping, but also mixing the syrup with water to make a tropical drink.  By 1946, this was a common practice, but the company still didn’t bother selling Hawaiian punch in drink form. This all changed when Reuben P. Hughes and a series of other investors purchased the company in 1946 and began offering it not only in syrup form at grocery stores, but also in the drink forms most commonly associated with it today.

Within a decade of making the switch from primarily selling as an ice cream topping to drink, Hawaiian punch’s popularity skyrocketed and by 1955 it became a national selling brand.  A few years later, they even created their own cartoon character mascot, “Punchy”, who had a propensity to punch people randomly.  The character would ask people, animals, etc. “How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?”  When they’d say “yes”, he’d punch them. (see video below)

As for the name “Hawaiian Punch”, according to the makers this was due to several of the original recipe ingredients, which included apple, apricot, guava, orange, papaya, passion fruit, and pineapple, being imported by Pacific Citrus Product Company from Hawaii.

Bonus Facts:

  • While Hawaiian Punch is often thought as a fruit drink, it actually only contains about 5% juice.
  • Punchy was animated by Jan Svochak for over 20 years before his health declined in the 1990s.  The character was originally drawn by Martin Mandelblatt.  However, this has been contested by some, claiming that the idea for Punchy came from famed Hawaiian entertainer and artist, John “Josefa” Moe, though there is no direct evidence of this, other than claims by Moe’s friends and family that the original designs were his.
  • Jan Svochak was born in Czechoslovakia in 1925, but immigrated to the United States.  He fought in WWII and was a member of the tank corps that was responsible for liberating Dachau, including the concentration camp that was there (which incidentally was the first Nazi concentration camp).
  • Among Josefa Moe’s many skills were: one of the best fire knife dancers in the world; he toured as a comedian; was a musician and singer; was a middleweight Golden Gloves boxing champion; did custom airbrush art on t-shirts (with some of his designs even being featured in TIME magazine); was a tour guide; was a surf boarding instructor; and he owned an art studio in Hawaii, Academy Art Associates.  Various pictures of him were also frequently featured in National Geographic, Esquire magazine, and several other such periodicals.
  • While Moe was Samoan, he actually had a thick British accent.  This was because his parents were also performers and while they traveled around the world doing shows, they put him in an English boarding school.  This resulted in him developing an English accent that cost him several TV speaking roles, such as in Hawaii Five-O.  Instead, when he did appear in shows, he almost always was relegated to a minor, non-speaking role.
  • Hawaiian Punch is currently owned by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc.
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Disclaimer: Guest Articles are written by various people and while I do my best to make sure they are factual, I do not guarantee that everything in them is going to be 100% accurate as I myself didn’t do the research for these articles and it’s possible their sources, even if they are reputable, are themselves inaccurate.
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  • The biography of Hawaiian Punch is reasonably accurate. A. W. Leo and partner(s) owned the business, Pacific Citrus Products Company. I believe Tom Yates ran production and may have had an interest in the packing house nearby. Ralph Harrison was credited with the creation of the formula in 1938. Jack Sparkman bought the company in 1946. Paul Hughes and others bought the company around 1948-1949 and incorporated it. Harry Crosby, a canner, was packing the syrup in his La Habra plant. Harry diluted the syrup and packed it in 46 oz. cans for his employees. The Hawaiian Punch people had no idea of doing this. Word got back to them and they started to look for canners around the country. That was Ralph Harrison’s job as VP of Production. Hawaiian Punch made its first $million in sales in 1950. RJ Reynolds bought the company around 1969-1970. The original plant was a garage that had been converted into a small bottling plant on Amerige Avenue in Fullerton. It was not a “home” type garage. It was long and narrow. When it burned down, the company moved to a new plant on Santa Fe where it remained for most of the 1950’s. The last Fullerton plant was on east side of town, still next to the Santa Fe railroad tracks.

  • Yates is spelled wrong. It is spelled Yeats. I know because I am the granddaughter of Tom Yeats.

  • I grew up drinking Hawaiian Punch and to this day love and crave the original flavor. The original recipe and flavor is not the same. I would love to have the ORIGINAL RECIPE.