Tang: Hey, it was good enough for the astronauts

Wake up to TangI’ve been thinking lately about products that were ubiquitous in my 1960s and ’70s childhood – when I was growing up here at the Manse – and that now are kind of … well,  if not gone, kind of forgotten. Or at least, certainly not considered quite as essential to life as they were back then.

My ruminations started when – for a reason I have since forgotten – the words “Turtle Wax” came up in a conversation I was having with Raymond. (It is very possible that the conversation was about how popular “show-and-shine” nights are in the Queensborough area. It seems like every town – Madoc, Marmora, Picton and so on – devotes one night a week through the summer to closing off the main street and hosting all manner of vintage cars, all perfectly polished up and gorgeous to look at. It’s all quite fun, if you ask me. I like to see the vintage [i.e. from my 1960s youth] muscle cars, and the huge boat-like monsters that were once considered perfect family vehicles.)

Anyway, I shall leave Turtle Wax for perhaps the next instalment in this series, and today turn my attention to: Tang!

What was up with that stuff, anyway? Did it taste as sickly-sweet bad as I remember?

Ah, but I see in perusing my good friend the internet that Tang was marketed as a healthy drink. You see, it apparently had “more vitamin C than orange juice!” And apparently it was felt that Vitamin C was in short supply among the children of North America back in the day:

Florence Henderson and Tang

Hey, if Carol Brady told us it was good, it had to be good. Right? (Photo from the astoundingly great site clickamericana.com)

(Those were the days when vitamins and other nutritional elements were kind of new and exciting, as I recall. Remember how all the breakfast cereals were marketed on TV as having “riboflavin and niacin”? [Or, earlier, “niacinamide;” I think they might have changed it because “niacinamide” sounded kind of dangerous.] Do you have any idea what “riboflavin and niacin” are, or what nutritional benefits they bring? Me neither. But we all dutifully bought those “healthy” breakfast cereals anyway, didn’t we?)

Also, Tang was cheap. Which I suspect was the real attraction for big families such as my own, without a lot of money to spend. And so convenient! My goodness, all you had to do was empty that pouch full of glittery Tang crystals into a jug, add water and stir! And yum! All that sweetness – not to mention the Vitamin C – right there in your glass! Except I think I am not wrong in suggesting that there was a bit too much sweetness involved, not to mention potential tooth decay.

In my extensive (okay, not so much; we are on a limited time budget here, people) research on Tang, I came across one snippet of information that pretty much says it all. It’s so wacky as to be almost unbelievable (and it does come from Wikipedia, after all, so maybe some cheeky monkey made it up and threw it in), yet it has the ring of midcentury-kookiness truth about it:

“The creator of Tang, William A. Mitchell, also invented Pop RocksCool Whip, a form of instant-set Jell-O, and other convenience foods.”

I mean, really. Wow. How did the man sleep at night?

Anyway, the one thing we all remember about Tang is that “the astronauts drank it!” And indeed they did (whether they liked it or not; Wikipedia reports that Buzz Aldrin of the legendary Apollo 11 moon mission once said, “Tang sucks.”) Here’s a vintage ad on the subject:

And hey, if it was good enough for the astronauts, the heroes of everybody in my youth – as I wrote here – I guess it was darn well good enough for a poor country minister’s four kids here at the Manse.

And, apparently, everybody else.

20 thoughts on “Tang: Hey, it was good enough for the astronauts

  1. Katherine, when a friend and I went to England in 2008, we stayed at a hotel B&B near Paddington for a week, accommodation that included ‘the full English.’ Each morning a glass of some suspicious-looking weakly-coloured orange liquid was plunked down in front of us just before the arrival of an unappetizing plateful of undercooked eggs, limp bacon, a sea of pale baked beans and soggy white toast. The taste of our morning ‘orange juice’ was not only dreadful, but my friend and I were certain that it had been watered down to make it stretch a little further. And equally certain that it was Tang. We both remembered it from our early years. All those ‘innovations’ that our mothers thought were just the bee’s knees, eh? Sheesh.

    • Exactly! Those “convenience” foods were pretty appealing to many overworked mums, and I can certainly understand why. But once the sheen wore off, one realized that those “foods” might not actually have been worth consuming.

  2. Hi Katherine, drank lots of Tang as a kid in the mid sixties, my grandmother used to always have it on hand….also freshie or koolaid, but at home with six of us kids, no one just went and opened the fridge door to see what treat or drink awaited or else!….. definitely only pop on special occasions,in steel 10 oz. cans that required a pointy can opener, c1965…..seem to remember that the tang powder would settle a bit in your glass, and the last sip would be more concentrated….I do know that the Tang tasted far superior than the crappy Powdered Milk that my mom would buy by the 5 or 10 lb box, that stuff even tasted poisonous and I dont think the powder ever fully dissolved without floaters on top of the milk……best drink ever? Ice Cold Water straight from the tap, before all this bottled water foolishness! ……….have a drink on me, Raymond too of course, Bob McKeown

    • Oh wow, Bob, your memories are practically identical to my own – the only exception being that we were (mercifully) spared the powdered milk. For sure one did NOT help oneself to whatever cold beverages there might have been in the fridge – and you are absolutely right that the best drink of all was a cold glass of water, though in our case at the Manse it didn’t come from the tap (the well water wasn’t potable) but from a bucket carried from the village well. (How quaint!) I had totally forgotten about soft-drink cans that you had to open with an opener – wow!

      • I have never had the nerve to try it – and was very lucky that my paternal grandmother (who, being the thrifty type who had lived through the Depression, seemed to think highly of powdered milk) never forced me to.

  3. And don’t forget Pop Tarts to go with the Tang! So much of this is just marketing; actually, most of it is. If they had called it “Tang powder”, it would not have had the same appeal as “Tang crystals”. It seemed so special; well, maybe not special, but different and tantalizing. Tantalizing Tang. Hmmm. Anyway, if it was good enough for astronauts, then I guess we were honoured to have it, too.

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