The Early History of Dr Pepper

This Iconic Soft Drink Dates Back to the 1880s

A model lounges with a Dr Pepper in hand.
Tom Kelley Archive / Getty Images

In 1885, in Waco, Texas, a young Brooklyn-born pharmacist named Charles Alderton invented a new soft drink that would soon become known as "Dr Pepper." The carbonated beverage was marketed as having a unique flavor all its own. More than 130 years later, the brand can still be found on shelves and in refrigerated store coolers worldwide.

Alderton worked at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, where carbonated drinks were served at the soda fountain. While there, he began experimenting with his own soft drink recipes. One, in particular, was fast becoming a big hit with customers, who originally ordered the concoction by asking Alderton to "shoot them a 'Waco.' "

As the soft drink's popularity grew, Alderton and Morrison had trouble manufacturing enough Dr Pepper to keep up with the demand for the product. Robert S. Lazenby, owner of the Circle "A" Ginger Ale Company in Waco, had been impressed with "Dr Pepper" and was interested in manufacturing, bottling, and distributing the soft drink. Alderton, who had no desire to pursue the business and manufacturing end, he agreed to let Morrison and Lazenby take over.

Fast Facts: Dr Pepper

  • The U.S. Patent Office recognizes December 1, 1885, as the first time Dr Pepper was served.
  • In 1891, Morrison and Lazenby formed the Artesian Mfg. & Bottling Company, which later became the Dr Pepper Company.
  • In 1904, the company introduced Dr Pepper to 20 million people attending the 1904 World's Fair Exposition in St. Louis—the same World's Fair that introduced hamburger and hot dog buns and ice cream cones to the public.
  • The Dr Pepper Company is the oldest major manufacturer of soft drink concentrates and syrups in the United States.
  • Dr Pepper is now also sold in the United States, Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, and South America, as well as New Zealand and South Africa as an imported good.
  • Varieties of Dr Pepper include a version without high-fructose corn syrup, Diet Dr Pepper, as well as a line of additional flavors first introduced in the 2000s.

The "Dr Pepper" Name

There are several theories regarding the origin of the Dr Pepper name. In some versions of the tale, drugstore owner Morrison is credited with naming the drink "Dr. Pepper" in honor of his friend, Dr. Charles Pepper, while in others, Alderton is said to have gotten one of his first jobs working for Dr. Pepper, and named the soft drink as a nod to his early employer.

Another theory is that the "pep" refers to pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down proteins into smaller peptides. Pepsin is produced in the stomach and is one of the main digestive enzymes in the digestive systems of humans and many other animals, where it helps digest the proteins in food.

Or it might have been something more simple. As with many early sodas of the era, Dr Pepper was marketed as a brain tonic and energizing pick-me-up. The "pep" in Pepper might literally have been named for the lift it supposedly imparted to those who drank it.

In the 1950s, the Dr Pepper logo was redesigned. In the new version, the text was slanted and the font was changed. Designers felt that the period made "Dr." look like "Di:" so for reasons of style and legibility, the period was dropped—but to paraphrase Shakespeare, no matter what you call it, "a Dr Pepper by any other name would taste as sweet."