Chicago's green river tradition has a surprising connection to soda brand: report

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The city of Chicago kicked off St. Patrick’s Day celebrations early with the return of its annual river dyeing last weekend, which famously turns the Chicago River emerald green for a few hours. 

While Chicagoans and tourists have long been familiar with the tradition, few realize there’s a connection between the green Chicago River and Green River Soda, according to Eater Chicago, a food news website. 

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People gather on the banks of the Chicago River while it is dyed green on Saturday, March 12, 2022.

People gather on the banks of the Chicago River while it is dyed green on Saturday, March 12, 2022.
(Vincent D. Johnson/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Green River Soda was first mixed together in 1916 by Iowa candy shop owner Richard C. Jones, but the sweet drink made its way to Illinois three years later after the Chicago-based beer company Schoenhofen Edelweiss purchased the drink to survive U.S. Prohibition, which lasted from Jan. 17, 1920, to Dec. 5, 1933.

The lime-green citrus soda became a Midwestern favorite and eventually reached national retailers.

Decades later, Green River Soda was acquired by Sethness Greenleaf, a Chicago-based food flavor and dye company, after Schoenhofen Edelweiss went out of business.

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Sethness Greenleaf went on to provide the vegetable-based food dye that The City of Chicago used during its annual river-dyeing event, according to a 1995 article from the Chicago Tribune.

The dye was reportedly a vibrant hue that looked similar to the color of Green River Soda.

Fox News Digital reached out to Green River Soda for comment.

Workers on a barge dye the Chicago River green ahead of St. Patrick's Day.

Workers on a barge dye the Chicago River green ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.
(Vincent D. Johnson/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Chicago’s annual St. Patrick’s Day river-dyeing celebration is a tradition that goes back to 1962, according to the Enjoy Illinois tourism website.

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The tradition was started by the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union and used to involve 100 pounds of green tracing dye, which helps plumbers find leaks in pipes.

Chicago reportedly turned to Sethness Greenleaf in the ‘90s to find a more environmentally friendly dye that would last for a shorter time and be less toxic to wildlife in the river ecosystem.

A boat sails through the Chicago River after it was dyed green on Saturday, March 12, 2022. The Illinois city's St. Patrick's Day tradition dates back to 1962.

A boat sails through the Chicago River after it was dyed green on Saturday, March 12, 2022. The Illinois city’s St. Patrick’s Day tradition dates back to 1962.
(Vincent D. Johnson/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The city uses a river-safe dye that members of the Chicago Plumbers Union Local 130 pour and spray into the water from motorboats.

According to Enjoy Illinois, the group dumps “40 pounds of environmentally friendly dye right into the Chicago River.”

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The process of turning the river a vibrant green took place between 11 p.m. on Friday, March 11, and 6 a.m. on Sunday, March 13, according to a press release from The City of Chicago.

Crowds watch while the Chicago Plumbers Union Local 130 dyes the Chicago River green ahead of St. Patrick's Day.

Crowds watch while the Chicago Plumbers Union Local 130 dyes the Chicago River green ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.
(Vincent D. Johnson/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Green River Soda is still available for purchase and is enjoyed as a St. Patrick’s Day beverage, even if it’s harder to find today.

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The soda brand is owned by the Sprecher Brewing Company, an “old-school brewery” that’s located in Glendale, Wisconsin. 

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