Dr Pepper is the Oldest Major Soft Drink in the United States

Classic Dr Pepper AdvertisementToday I found that Dr Pepper is the oldest major soft drink, that is still being produced, in the United States; now over 125 years old.

In 1885, in the frontier town of Waco Texas (nicknamed “six-shooter junction”), a pharmacists by the name of Charles Alderton worked at the “Old Corner Drug Store” owned by Wade Morrison. At this drug store, people would come in to buy all sorts of things, including fountain drinks. Charles Alderton noticed how customers loved the smell of the soda fountain with the various fruity smells mingling together, but were starting to get tired of the standard flavors available at that time.

Alderton then decided to come up with a soft drink that didn’t taste like any standard flavor of the day; instead he wanted to make a drink that tasted like the mixed fruity smell from the fountain drink area.  After experimenting around for a while, using the various fruit drink syrups, he hit upon a taste that he thought was unique and tasted good.  With a little tweaking based on feedback from different people, he eventually settled on the formula for Dr Pepper and Morrison and he started selling it at the drug store.

Soon, the soda became very popular with the people of Waco, Texas.  Eventually, other shops began buying the syrup to sell with their fountain drinks.  At this time, because the soda flavor had not yet been named, when people wanted it, they’d say “Shoot me a Waco!” or “Give me Doc Alderton’s drink”.  Soon enough though, Morrison, the owner of the drug store that Alderton worked at, named the soda “Dr. Pepper” with the “period” being dropped in the 1950s so it is now just “Dr Pepper”.

Interestingly, it is not exactly known why Morrison chose to name the drink as he did.  However, the generally accepted tale (and the one cited on the official Dr Pepper site), is that he named it after Dr. Charles Pepper, a friend of his from when he lived in Virginia.  Some have said this is because Morrison was in love with Charles Pepper’s daughter (indeed, this is what the official Dr Pepper company says); however, this is unlikely as she was 8 years old when he left Virginia for Texas and he probably had not seen her since.  But for whatever reason, he seemed to want to honor Charles Pepper by naming Alderton’s drink after him.

Around 1891, Morrison and Alderton were having trouble making enough syrup to meet the demand.  Enter Robert Lazenby who owned a ginger ale company in Waco.  He partnered with Morrison, after Alderton decided he didn’t want to be part of the business side of things, and they started bottling the drink and selling it in that form.

Around this same time, Sam Houston Prim tasted Dr Pepper for the first time and decided to sell it in his bottling plant in Dublin, Texas.  You can still buy Dr Pepper made from the original recipe (with sugar, instead of corn syrup) from the Dublin Dr Pepper bottling plant along with a variety of Dr Pepper versions such as Cherry Dr Pepper, Caffeine Free Dr Pepper, and glass bottled Dr Pepper that are not generally available elsewhere.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Dr Pepper is one of the top 3 soft drinks in the United States and the number 1 non-cola.
  • Despite its popularity in Texas early on, Dr Pepper didn’t really take off nationally until the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
  • The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair not only made Dr Pepper a national hit, but also was responsible for hamburgers, hot dog buns, and ice cream cones becoming national favorites.
  • John Castles was a partner of Morrison around the time Dr Pepper was invented.  Interestingly, in Castles journal, he has a recipe called “D Peppers Pepsin Bitters”.  However, Dr Pepper Snapple Group insist this is not the recipe for Dr Pepper (which of course they must, whether it is or isn’t, in order to keep their trade secret rights).
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, researchers thought that most people needed a boost of sugar around 10:30am, 2:30pm, and 4:30pm as people’s sugar levels were at their lowest points around these times based on their research.  As such, Dr Pepper began marketing itself as a sort of “cure” for these low sugar times, with the slogan “Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4”; this is why on certain classic Dr Pepper logos you will find the numbers “10, 2, and 4”.
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15 comments

  • Fun article – i love Dr. Pepper – and would drive 45 minutes to get a 6 pak in glass bottles. But, Vernor’s Ginger Ale outta Detroit beats Dr. Pepper by almost 20 years as the oldest surviving pop shop.

  • except ginger ale was invented in 1881 allegedly. 4 years before Dr Pepper. And what is Vernors Ginger Ale…..major manufacturer!

  • BUT….who has heard of Vernors Ginger Ale???? Not me. Dr Pepper is known all over the States & probably the world. No doubt MANY soft drinks/ades were made by individuals and/or Mom & Pop companies early on that haven’t been counted!

  • If you look at a Vernors can it says “A Michigan Original Since 1866”. It is now bottled by Dr. Pepper/7-Up Group. Vernors can be puchased in just about any state, even in Canada.

  • The key-word being Major.

  • A sad update: Dublin Dr Pepper is no longer made. The conglomerate who now bottle it, Dr Pepper Snapple, made them stop about a year ago. So you’ll have to settle for second best, made with high fructose corn syrup instead of Imperial pure cane sugar.

  • Moxie is older. 1876.

  • Actually schweppes is the oldest as it was started over 200 years ago

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Lynn: The (originally) Swiss company Schweppes is a brand, rather than a specific flavor, and their original product, just plain carbonated mineral water, I don’t think most people would count. Arguably what they are today best known for in some areas, ginger ale, was also not invented until the late 19th century (or so), and not originally by Schweppes. Schweppes “Indian tonic water” and ginger ale brands seem to have been launched around the 1870s and are still around, but as far as I can tell not in the United States until some time later. If you could pinpoint exactly when Schweppes introduced their ginger ale to the U.S., that would be helpful, though I think most might still argue about the “major” part of that in their brand of ginger ale, but of course that’s a bit subjective. 🙂

  • Christopher Anderson

    Vernors and Hires Root Beer are the oldest in America. Not Dr. Pepper.

  • HIRES ROOT BEER was started in 1876 (140 years ago) that was the 1st soda

  • Damn… it’s not made out of prunes after all … ?

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