Soft Drinks. No matter what you call them, we are a nation of soft drink lovers (Midwesterners call it “pop.”) Be it Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Fanta Orange, A&W Root Beer, Dr Pepper or any of the other dozens of offerings you reach for, Americans consume a whopping 650 eight-ounce servings a year per person, even though that 2016 figure is the lowest in almost 30 years. There is no question, the addition of designer coffee and energy drinks has made a dent in the soft drink industry, but the U.S. (along with Argentina, Mexico and Chile) top out the highest number of consumers and continue to guzzle a wide variety of sugary beverages. (Dentists love you!)
This time, explorer Marco Polo can’t take credit. Granted, the Chinese had been drinking tea for centuries, but the mineral springs in Europe apparently inspired the first Parisians to add honey and lemon to natural sparkling spring water and began selling the tasty beverage to the French. This delightful alternative to hot tea and coffee appeared in the mid-seventeenth century and was called “limonade.” Chemists were later able to duplicate the carbonation and add it to still water, achieving the same affect. An instant hit, it was likely the forerunner of Perrier.
In 1810, two enterprising men from Charleston, SC named Simon and Rundell took out the first U.S. patent with their invention that gave plain old water its bubbly quality. But it wasn’t until twenty years later that inventor John Mathews came up with his own design which added carbonation, and he began marketing the fizzy stuff to soda fountains. At first, sarsaparilla and fruit extracts were added to the water, and Americans flocked to drug stores for these new sparkling beverages. Many of the drug store owners promoted their flavored bubbly as having health benefits. The origins of cola, for instance, are attributed to an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John S. Pemberton, in 1886. He concocted the original formula and sold it at his drug store fountain as a medicinal. No wonder it caught on like gangbusters–it contained cocaine. Yikes.
Creating new flavors for their sparkling water was far more fun than doling out pills and cough syrups, so once again another pharmacist named Charles Alderton created Dr Pepper in 1885, in Waco, Texas. It is reported to have contained 23 different flavors to create its unique taste, and Alderton may have alluded to Dr Pepper’s “digestive benefits” as a selling point. (If nothing else, it made you burp.) In 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair, as hot dogs and ice cream cones made their debut, Dr Pepper and a variety of soft drinks became all the rage, and America’s thirst was unquenchable.
More companies raced to capitalize on the growing popularity and sell their products in grocery stores, but the major challenge was keeping the carbonation in the drink after bottling. It wasn’t until 1892 that a successful cap was invented by a Baltimore machinist named William Painter, who patented his invention and successfully prevented the bubbles from escaping. Of course, this opened the door for glass manufacturers, and the Libby Glass Company, among others, sprang into action.
During the 1920s, the first six-packs with the convenient cardboard carrying case arrived, and vending machines soon followed. Soft drinks were here to stay. With
the addition of cans, larger and larger packs of soft drinks appeared on the supermarket shelves, enabling shoppers to stock up on their favorites.
Although consumption has declined in the past years, especially among the “diet” drinks containing artificial sweeteners, there is no question that Americans love their beverages. And that will never decline.
Author Dale Phillip is a fan of flavored beverages, and sparkling water ranks close to the top. Growing up, her favorite treat was a chocolate ice cream soda or a lemonade made with sparkling water. She fondly remembers local drug stores with soda fountains and laments their demise. Dale invites you to view her many ezine articles under the Food and Drink category, which chronicle the histories of popular foods and beverages.