The Way Water Should Be

Spring water from Poland, Maine, first gained fame in the late 1800s, thanks to the era-savvy marketing of the Ricker family, developers of the Poland Spring resort mecca. The buzzword back then? “Purity.”

“You had the rise of cities and industry, the influx of immigrants, and great concerns about the cleanliness of water, milk, and food,” says David Richards ’84, author of the interdisciplinary history Poland Spring: A Tale of the Gilded Age, 1880–1900. “When people worry about social and cultural change, they focus on ‘purity’ in all its expressions as a way to restore social order and unity. Poland Spring water was presented as a way to cleanse away impurities of modern life from the inner self.”

Richards takes note of Poland Spring’s marketing today, as well.

“Poland Spring still uses history and nature as themes to sell the water,” he notes. “It’s right on the label: ‘From Maine since 1845′ and ‘What it means to be from Maine.’ It evokes that state slogan: ‘The way life should be.’ People who sell don’t even have to list those ways. Consumers have encoded them: purity and goodness and authenticity.”

And geology, says Poland Spring’s Tom Brennan ’83. “The thing that makes the brand special is the geology,” he says. “It is a low-mineral spring water.”