Introduction to Pop: The History of Soft Drinks

These beverages began with natural mineral water

Cheers from the World of Coke
Samuel Mann / Wikimedia Commons

The history of soft drinks can be traced back to the mineral water found in natural springs. Bathing in natural spring water has long been considered a healthy activity, and mineral water was said to have curative powers. Scientists soon discovered that a gas, carbon dioxide, was behind the bubbles in natural mineral water, formed when water dissolves limestone.

The first marketed soft drinks (non-carbonated) appeared in the 17th century. They were made from water and lemon juice sweetened with honey. In 1676, the Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris, France, was granted a monopoly for the sale of lemonade soft drinks. Vendors carried tanks of lemonade on their backs and dispensed cups of the soft drink to thirsty Parisians.

Early Inventors

In 1767, the first drinkable man-made carbonated water was created by Englishman Joseph Priestley. Three years later, Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman invented a generating apparatus that made carbonated water from chalk using sulfuric acid. Bergman's apparatus allowed imitation mineral water to be produced in large amounts.

In 1810, the first United States patent was issued for the "means of mass manufacture of imitation mineral waters" to Simons and Rundell of Charleston, South Carolina. Carbonated beverages, however, did not achieve great popularity in America until 1832, when John Mathews invented his own apparatus for making carbonated water and mass-manufactured the apparatus for sale to soda fountain owners.

Health Properties

Drinking either natural or artificial mineral water was considered a healthy practice. American pharmacists selling mineral waters began to add medicinal and flavorful herbs to unflavored mineral water using birch bark, dandelion, sarsaparilla, and fruit extracts. Some historians consider that the first flavored carbonated soft drink was made in 1807 by Dr. Philip Syng Physick of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Early American pharmacies with soda fountains became a popular part of culture. Customers soon wanted to take their "health" drinks home with them, and a soft drink bottling industry grew from consumer demand.

Bottling Industry

Over 1,500 U.S. patents were filed either for corks, caps, or lids for carbonated drink bottle tops during the early days of the bottling industry. Carbonated drink bottles are under a lot of pressure from the gas, so inventors sought the best way to prevent the bubbles from escaping.

In 1892, the Crown Cork Bottle Seal was patented by William Painter, a Baltimore machine shop operator. It was the first successful method of keeping the bubbles in the bottle.

Automatic Production of Glass Bottles

In 1899, the first patent was issued for a glass-blowing machine for the automatic production of glass bottles. Earlier bottles had been hand-blown. Four years later, the new bottle-blowing machine was in operation, first by the inventor, Michael Owens, an employee of Libby Glass Co. Within a few years, glass bottle production increased from 1,500 to 57,000 bottles a day.

'Hom-Paks' and Vending Machines

During the 1920s, the first "Hom-Paks" were invented. "Hom-Paks" are the now-familiar six-pack beverage-carrying cartons made from cardboard. Automatic vending machines also began to appear in the 1920s. The soft drink had become an American mainstay.

Other Facts

Here are some additional facts about soft drinks and the industry behind them:

  • Soft drinks are called “soft” because they don’t contain alcohol.
  • Soft drinks are called by many other names. The most popular are soda, pop, coke, soda pop, fizzy drinks, and carbonated beverage.
  • Over 34 billion gallons of soft drinks are sold in over 200 countries each year.
  • The most popular early soda drinks that were invented before end of 19th century are ginger ale, Ice cream soda, root beer, Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.
  • The United States represents 25% of global soft drink market.
  • Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are associated with dental caries, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

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