Q Drinks

Q Drinks

The sweetest place in town

Early soda fountains were huge - with "pump rooms", ice chests, and tanks of sulfuric acid that occasionally swallowed unlucky workers. A popular design consisted of a lead lined chamber where sulphuric acid and calcium carbonate (thus the "soda") were mixed together to produce carbon dioxide. The gas was purified and then sent to a tank of cooled water. This tank was shaken, for up to an hour, to help the carbon dioxide dissolve into the water. Eventually the carbonated water was piped to a dispensing tap.

Upstairs, the proprietor, usually a pharmacist, would mix the carbonated water with a variety of pre-made syrups. Medicines at the time were usually in liquid form. And the soda fountain provided an effective and tasty vehicle for dispensing them. At first, pharmacists used flavored and sweetened soda water to mask the taste of bitter drugs like quinine and iron. Eventually they expanded into sweet drinks without the medicines for kids and treats for adults - "bracers" that contained cocaine and other pick-me-ups and "nervines" with sedatives including alcohol and morphine.

Not surprisingly, the soda fountains proved extremely popular. Within 20 years, New York City had 670 different soda fountains. And by 1911, there were more that 100,000 across the United States. Competition was fierce. In order to differentiate themselves, soda fountains were decked out in marble and onyx and flaunted Tiffany lamps. The best looked like the great hotel bars in the world, with grand yet sophisticated decor.

Soda fountains also competed over the sodas themselves. Pharmacists experimented with different flavors and different ingredients. A certain proprietor would get known for a particularly tasty and potent soda, and soon he would be selling his syrup, at a hefty mark-up, all across town. The quintessential example is Coca Cola. Within twelve months of pharmacist John Pemberton inventing his recipe - which masked healthy doses of cocaine and caffeine with a pleasant balance of citrus, spice, savory, and sweet flavors - it was the number one soda syrup in Atlanta and the city's most popular drink ever.

Soon entrepreneurs were thinking even bigger. What if anyone could have a soda at any time? What if you didn't need a soda fountain to enjoy a soda? What if soda came in a bottle?