The history of soda pop is a fascinating chapter in the cultural history of North America. Today, it is sold in grocery stores, gas stations, corner stores, vending machines, and of course, drug stores. The history of soda pop began around the time of the US Civil War. One sad fact about wars is that they do increase the knowledge regarding how to treat wounds of the body and the mind.
After the War there was a new market for various medicinal products and it would not be until the 1920’s that there would be any meaningful regulation on what could be sold over the counter. Drug stores began to appear in large numbers in towns, as well, as large cities. As the population moved West the "Traveling Medicine Show" began to visit. It was the high point of the year, along with the circus coming to town.
Each traveling show had its own magic elixir to sell to the gathered crowds. The pitch was usually the same: the product would cure everything from hernias, seizures, croup, consumption, corns, fallen arches, rusty nail punctures and much more including being "down" or as we know it in 2015, depression. Testimonial letters were read out to the crowd as part of the plan to increase sales. Who really knew if someone had written those letters? Another reason for the development of these elixirs was the push by the Temperance Movement beginning to accelerate. If you lived in a "dry" area it did not take long to discover that the medicine gave one a nice pick me up.
In many towns, and cities, in the late 1880’s druggists or pharmacists began to concoct new drinks that were marketed as pick me ups. Of course the most famous Coca-Cola was invented by Dr. John Stith Pemberton. He stirred up the first glass of what was to become named Coca-Cola in May 1886 at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Pepper, was a product of Waco, Texas. Both Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper have their own museums where one can explore the history of the drink and the company. The museums are located in the cities where each drink was invented. Explore their websites.
The local area is home to the famous Canada Dry Ginger Ale Company, which was founded by John J. (Jack) McLaughlin. The McLaughlin family’s other business was General Motors of Canada. He, like so many of the others, was a pharmacist and chemist by trade. Starting in 1890 he opened a small factory in Toronto to bottle water and soda water. The soda water was sold to drug stores which employed it to mix with fruit juices and other flavoured extracts.
McLaughlin spent his spare time experimenting with various types of flavours searching for his own unique type of extract to mix with his soda water. Eventually he developed a drink made with ginger and called it Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale. There were already many types of ginger ale on the market, but his chemical formula developed a variety that was not as sweet as the other brands, hence the "dry".
The Canada Dry Ginger Ale began to be marketed in 1904. Jack McLaughlin wanted to be different from the other manufactures and his goal was to not just sell to drug stores, but directly reach a large mass audience of consumers. For that he required a large supply of high quality water to mix with his ginger ale formula. Part of the marketing plan was to create a slogan that set his brand apart from the others.
After searching he found the perfect area, not only to draw the vast amounts of required water, but to be able to conveniently ship into the Toronto plant. In 1911 he built a pumping station in Cataract at the headwaters of the Credit River that connected to the rail line. He was able to pump his water and then have it transported easily to the Toronto bottling plant. He even gave a name to the water taken from the Credit River - "White Mountain Spring Water". The water of the Credit River close to Caledon flowed through rocks that were able to produce pure and crystal clear water. The local area is honeycombed with many springs still producing water.
With this seemingly unlimited supply of water, McLaughlin was able to reach beyond the corner drug stores into direct marketing including baseball parks, and grocery stores giving people the ability to take Canada Dry Ginger Ale to the beach and picnics during the summer time.
In the 1920’s consumers found that even though a bottle of Canada Dry was comparatively costly at 35 cents, it was the perfect mixer to kill the taste of the bootleg liquor that was sold during Prohibition. In the 1930’s the company put out two other varieties Tonic Water and Club Soda.
Advertising was focused on the fact that Canada Dry Ginger Ale was "The Champagne of Ginger Ale". It cost a few cents more, but it was the best on the market. It hit home with those wanting to impress and demonstrate to friends and guests that they served only the best.
The label on the bottle pictured a map of Canada. After all, didn’t everyone associate Canada with not only cold, but crisp, clean water? An ad on the back page of Life Magazine in 1937 stated "Canada Dry was famous for its gay sparkle, and its mellow flavour alight with the tang of sunny Jamaica ginger." To emphasise even more how clean it was, the ad told how it was inspected by chemists 14 times during the manufacturing process. It was the drink served in many hospitals to prevent nausea. And if there was any doubt of its superior quality, it was served on the Queen Mary. The other selling point was that since this was the time of the Great Depression it was at its lowest price ever.
Another ad in 1939 screamed "Ginger Snap, Drink Canada Dry Ginger Ale - It’s Gingervating".
In the 1960’s it was one of the first companies to put out sugar free drinks and move from bottles into cans.
The McLaughlin Family eventually sold the company. It still bears the name Canada Dry, but is now owned by the parent company of Dr. Pepper and Snapple.
Later, Pepsi Cola was invented by Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist from North Carolina and N.C. Ward, a chemist in San Francisco devised Orange Crush which in the beginning contained real pieces of orange. In 1929 Charles Leiper Grigg of St. Louis, Missouri brought onto the market Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon Lime Soda, which became known as 7Up. The little bubbles on the 7Up bottle were a sign that if you drank it, you would become happy. This was very possible since it contained Lithium. Moxie, invented by Dr. Augustin Thompson of Salem, Massachusetts, was sold as, "nerve food, helping those suffering from nervous exhaustion." Originally it was sold to be taken by the spoonful before meals. The famous Boston Red Sox baseball player Ted Williams appeared in its advertising especially on metal signs along the highway and in drug stores.
As the original inventors of the product brought in business partners, it became apparent that to maximize profits these soda pop drinks had to move out from the drug store fountain and into mass markets. In 1892 the metal bottle cap crown was invented along with the machinery to turn the caps out by the thousands. This coupled with the introduction of the mass produced glass bottle made it possible to produce the soda pop in large factories and begin to market and develop a company brand. In addition, the syrup for the soda pop could still be employed in drug stores for customers that wanted it fresh on the spot. Carbonated water could be purchased in bottles or new machines made it possible to create it in the drug store
Coca-Cola became the major developer in setting the tone and putting their brand into the public realm. In 1900 as a forerunner to the coming Age of the Automobile and the drive-in restaurant, Coca-Cola marketed its cola syrup to drug stores. Many drug stores then began to provide curb service for horse and buggy drivers. An employee would take your order, go in and mix the Coca-Cola drink, and then carry it out to the waiting occupants of the carriage.
While each of the soda pop drinks were sold as pick me ups, Dr. Pepper focused on the female customer. Their ads ran, "Vim springs from within, rest won’t restore energy, but food will. Dr. Pepper is the jiffy quick energy lift. The bottle cap contained the numbers 10-2-4. The three numbers indicated when it was time for a Dr. Pepper.
As competition for the customers’ money heated up, companies issued give away items, conducted contests, and with the advent of radio, soda pop advertising increased. Like today’s television shows, radio shows required sponsors to pay the bills. Pepsi Cola, which had been purchased by the Loft Candy Company was quick off the mark with its radio jingle - "Nickel Nickel" indicating the low price for a bottle of Pepsi Cola. This was followed by Dr. Pepper with, "Drink a bite to eat at 10,2,4 - the friendly Pepper-Upper."
But, it was the Coca-Cola Company that hit it big with the most iconic figure of all time Santa Claus. Starting in 1931, their illustrator Haddon Sundblom created the Santa Claus image which is still with us today. Sundblom would move on to create the Quaker Oats Man, the package art for Maxwell House Coffee, and the advertising for Packard cars, but it would be his depiction of Santa Claus that would make him famous. The Christmas advertising campaign ran for 40 years. One year featuring Santa Claus playing with electric trains, another year holding a bottle of Coca-Cola, and even being caught by a little boy as he looks in the ice box for a cold one. In recent years the company has resurrected those long ago images on collector cans and packages and brought back many of the original images including the Polar Bear. Advertising has always featured groups having a wonderful time while drinking a soda pop beverage.
Each company attempted to keep their product before the public eye. In the past one hundred years, innumerable items have been given away as premiums. They have included special edition bottles, calendars, trays, pencil holders, bottle neck hangers, baseball picture cards, movie stars and during World War II a large series of Allied aircraft bottle neck hangers card.. The set was designed by the famous artist William Heaslip. The complete 4 sets of aircraft sell in the thousands of dollars. Point of sale items have been a major part of the advertising campaigns, as well. Records with famous singers, have been issued and now one can find Santa Claus on the sleeve of Christmas Carol records. From the 1930’s to 1970’s restaurants and soda fountains posted cardboard ads featuring hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers along with a bottle of Coca-Cola, or Pepsi Cola. Many items were issued with the local high school or college team logo and a section to add the latest football, basketball, baseball or hockey scores. The competition became so intense that companies provided stores with a metal door push to put on the screen door. As you entered and pushed on the door, there was the company brand putting out the subliminal message to have a cold soda pop.
After World War II, with wages increasing, autos mass produced, and gasoline cheap, the "Golden Age of the Automobile" had arrived. As a kid I remember gas wars and full service, my father operated a Philips 66 gas station. We asked you to step out of your car while we vacuumed the inside. With the advent of the Sunday drive and vacation trips, more and more fast food drive-ins appeared. Each drive-in provided kid friendly, inexpensive food, hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and of course a soda pop to wash it all down. Drive-In restaurants had agreements with specific soda pop companies and only served that brand. These agreements have continued on in 2012.
A&W started in the 1930’s and by 1970 had over 2,400 drive in restaurants located across North America. The feature of A&W was the car hop who took your order and brought back the food on a tray which hooked on the car window. A 1970 ad for A&W features a young woman in a fashionable outfit much like an airline stewardess. "A&W Root Beer, brewed with pure natural ingredients and true draft flavour, so good with food." And of course one could then purchase their own heavy draft root beer mug to take home. A&W became famous for the combination of ice cream and its root beer to create a float.
With the internet, one just has to Google to find thousands of sites devoted to soda pop. The book on Coca-Cola Collectibles runs to over 600 pages. Several pages are devoted to Coca-Cola trays that were only issued in certain markets such as Canada or Mexico. Many of the companies marketed items to each specific area and so it makes collecting soda pop items very interesting. Many soda pop items have cross over collector appeal. Into sports, train sets, advertising, bottles, Christmas, in fact, it is unlimited. Many brands have their own collector clubs, magazines, annual conventions. When the television show Mad Men returns watch it to see how the process for developing adverting for specific products is undertaken.
With Prohibition arriving John Somerset wrote in the June 1920 issue of Drug Topics, "the bar is dead, the fountain lives, and soda is king!"