the origins of coke, pepsi and dr. pepper -- 5/28/21

Today's selection -- from Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation: The Life and Times of a Philadelphia Entrepreneur by Bill Double. In the late 1800s, soft drinks became wildly popular among Americans:

"Advertising trade journal Printers' Ink attributed America's growing passion for soda fountain beverages to several factors:

One of these has been the widely reputed American love of ice-cold drinks. Another has been the proverbial sweet tooth of Americans. A third has been the gradual and insistent growth of Prohibition in this country. A fourth has been the pure food laws which resulted in purer ingredients. Some fountains, before pure food restrictions went into force, were deadly and dirty chemical kitchens. And perhaps more important than all, has been the widespread advertising of the trade-marked drinks.

"Pharmacists had become creative mixologists by the time [root beer popularizer Charles] Hires opened his Philadelphia drugstore in 1872. However, in­venting novel quaffs to please the tastes of drugstore patrons was not their only goal. They were at root medicine men liv­ing in an age when patent medicine purveyors reaped fortunes peddling nostrums to a credulous public. Thus it is not surpris­ing that pharmacists labored to produce drinks for which they might claim palliative powers -- real or illusory.

"Many inspired local druggists attributed fanciful, if not out­landish, health benefits to their soda fountain creations. In fact several drugstore-invented drinks whose brand names would join the popular lexicon -- Coca-Cola and Moxie, for example­ -- were initially marketed as 'nerve tonics.' Scarcely a paragon of modesty in this regard, Hires could not resist ascribing extraor­dinary health benefits to his formulation. He trumpeted his root beer as 'the greatest health-giving beverage in the whole world' and 'a temperance drink of the highest medicinal value.' This 'natural tonic,' Hires promised, is 'full of health. The blood is improved, the nerves soothed, the stomach benefitted by this delicious beverage.'

"The latter half of the nineteenth century marked a period of rapid growth for an amazing variety of soft drinks. Dozens of new beverages, often concocted by creative pharmacists, de­buted in local markets. Several would later achieve household name recognition and become Hires' competitors. ...

"Dr. Pepper, like several of its contemporaries, was formulat­ed by a druggist and first marketed as a curative quaff. In 1885 Charles C. Alderton, who worked at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, came up with a blend of fruit-based flavors that patrons apparently could not get enough of. Alderton was a transplanted New Yorker who had earned a medical degree at the University of Texas. So who was Dr. Pepper? He may have been the owner of a pharmacy where Morrison once worked or merely an invention. Formulas for patent medicines of the day were often ascribed to doctors, real or imagined. Promotions for Dr. Pepper presented fanciful medical claims akin to those of Hires, Moxie, Coca-Cola, and other soft drinks of the era. They proclaimed Dr. Pepper 'bracing and invigorating,' a tonic 'for nerve, brain and blood,' an 'antidote for nicotine,' and a restor­er of 'vim, vigor and vitality.'

"Coca-Cola's success spawned a host of cola imitators. The drink that would prove Coke's strongest and most enduring copier was conceived in a North Carolina drugstore in 1896. New Bern pharmacist Caleb D. Bradham, an erstwhile medical student, served dyspeptic customers a drink he had created to calm their stomachs. To his surprise it became a hit with his other patrons, who would ask for 'Brad's drink.' Forfeiting his opportunity for immortality, Bradham rechristened the drink 'Pepsi-Cola.' The name suggested two of the drink's ingredi­ents, the digestive enzyme pepsin and the kola nut, in a form and cadence suggestive of Pepsi's Atlanta competitor.

"By no means did Charles Hires have the root beer market to himself. Champion Root Beer Extract, curiously similar to Hires' product, was advertised in a grocery trade journal in 1893. A single bottle was said to produce 'five gallons of delicious, health-giving, non-intoxicating beverage in five minutes.' The resulting drink was proclaimed a blood purifier 'refreshing to the tired, thirsty man or woman who without it would consider life a burden.' The manufacturer was Finnerty, McClure and Co. of Philadelphia. The grocery journal also carried a competing ad for Hires Root Beer extolling its pure, nonchemical nature and boasting that it out­sold all other root beer extracts combined. ...

The most interesting fact in the manufacture of soda water is that it contains no soda. The prominent ingredients are marble dust and sulphuric [sic] acid neither of which are regarded as healthful or palatable when take separately. Moreover, to render them so in combination requires a pressure of at least 150 pounds to the square inch -- a condition dangerous to life and limb except under proper safeguards and with the stron­gest machinery .... Surely in all the history of fairyland there is nothing more marvelous than the escape of this sparkling, bubbling, foam-crested liquor, like an enchanted prince from the gloomy death chamber, to delight and refresh the world.

"Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, bottled soda water producers had been offering an alternative to beverages mixed at the soda fountain. Philadelphians Joseph Hawkins and Elias Durand, who marketed bottled soda water about 1835, were recorded among its earliest producers. Writers praised bottled soda and seltzer drinks for their bracing flavor and stomach-calming properties. The tendency to consider carbonated beverages as health drinks led bottlers to adopt such fanciful names as Sparkling Phosphate Ferrozodone, Phospho­done, Voldat, Hedozone, Quinada, and Vigorine. Soda water producers, initially numerous only in metropolitan areas of the East and Midwest, variously described their products as 'aerated water,' 'mineral water,' and the onomatopoeic 'pop,' the sound of a cork being withdrawn from a soda bottle."



Bill Double


Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation: The Life and Times of a Philadelphia Entrepreneur


Temple University Press


Copyright 2018 by William G. Double


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