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?
- 1767 Joseph Priestly discovers a way to carbonate water
- 1783 Jacob Schweppe invents a machine to artificially carbonate water
- 1819 The "soda fountain" patented by Samuel Fahnestock.
- 1835 The first bottled soda water in the U.S.
- 1836 New York City has 626 different soda fountains
- 1850 A manual hand & foot operated filling & corking device is first used for bottling soda water
- 1851 Ginger ale created in by Joseph Priestly in Ireland
- 1876 Root beer mass produced for public sale for the first time
- 1881 The first cola-flavored beverage introduced
- 1885 Charles Aderton invents "Dr Pepper" in Waco, Texas
- 1886 Dr. John S. Pemberton invents "Coca-Cola" in Atlanta, Georgia
- 1892 William Painter invents the crown bottle cap
- 1898 "Pepsi-Cola" is invented by Caleb Bradham
- 1899 The US Patent Office issues the first patent for a glass blowing machine
- 1911 100,000 soda fountains in the US
- 1920 The U.S. Census reports that the US has more than 5,000 soda bottlers
- 1923 Six-pack soft drink cartons called "Hom-Paks" created
- 1929 The Howdy Company debuts its new drink "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas". They later changed the name to the slightly catchier "7 Up"
- 1934 Silkscreening ("applied color label") is first used on soft drink bottles. The coloring is baked on the face of the bottle
- 1952 The first diet soft drink sold. It's called "No-Cal Beverage"
- 1957 Aluminum cans first used for soda
- 1965 Soft drinks in cans dispensed from vending machines
- 1971 High Fructose Corn Syrup Invented
- 1973 The PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottle created
- 1977 US Government imposes tariffs on imported sugar
- 1984 Coke and Pepsi replace sugar with High Fructose Corn Syrup
- 2004 Jordan has too many gin and tonics with lousy tonic water...