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A Surprisingly Disgusting History of Lemonade Stands

At first glance, running a lemonade stand appears to be a wholesome activity. We imagine children getting their first taste of entrepreneurship, while passers-by get a refreshing drink on a hot day. But it wasn't always that way. Lemonade sold on the street was always iffy. If you were lucky, it contained alcohol, and if you were unlucky, it could be vinegar and swill. And even when kids took over, sometimes it could be dangerous.

One hot afternoon in July of 1941, a young woman—name and age unreported—opened up a lemonade stand in Western Springs, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The “little girl,” as newspaper accounts later described her, plied her friends and passing strangers with refreshing glasses of lemonade in a makeshift stand just outside of her home. She sometimes sampled her own supply.

Within weeks, the county’s health department was knocking on her door. They asked questions about the chain of lemonade custody and her sanitary practices. It turned out that the budding entrepreneur had failed to rinse the glasses she gave to her customers after they had been used. As a result, she had contracted polio, and so had four of her young friends. According to the Associated Press, the outbreak of the disease was no less than the “hottest trail of the deadly disease virus in the history of epidemiology.”

Read the history of lemonade stands at Mental Floss.

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