The History of Soda Pop and Carbonated Beverages

How Did Soda Change From a Health Drink to a Health Crisis?

Beverage can in ice
Jeffrey Coolidge/ Iconica/ Getty Images

The history of soda pop (also known in different regions of the United States as soda, pop, coke, soft drinks, or carbonated beverages), dates back to the 1700s. Let's take a brief look at the timeline of the creation of this popular drink. 

Inventing (un)Natural Mineral Water

Although noncarbonated beverages are much older than carbonated ones — in the 17th century, street vendors in Paris sold a version of lemonade — the first drinkable man-made glass of carbonated water was invented in the 1760s. Natural mineral waters were thought to have curative powers at least since the Roman period, and the earliest soft-drink makers wanted to reproduce those in the laboratory. The earliest inventors used chalk and acid to carbonate water.

  • 1760s Carbonation techniques were first developed.
  • 1789 Jacob Schweppe began selling seltzer in Geneva.
  • 1798 The term "soda water" was first coined.
  • 1800 Benjamin Silliman produced carbonated water on a large scale.
  • 1810 The first U.S. patent was issued for the manufacture of imitation mineral waters.
  • 1819 The "soda fountain" was patented by Samuel Fahnestock.
  • 1835 The first soda water was bottled in the U.S.

Sweetening the Business

No one knows exactly when or by whom flavorings and sweeteners were first added to seltzer, but mixtures of wine and carbonated water became popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. By the 1830s, flavored syrups made from berries and fruit were developed; by 1865, a supplier was advertising different seltzers flavored with pineapple, orange, lemon, apple, pear, plum, peach, apricot, grape, cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry, pear, and melon.

But the real change came in 1886 when J.S. Pemberton used a combination of kola nut from Africa and cocaine from South America to create Coca-Cola.

  • 1833 First effervescent lemonade sold.
  • 1840s Soda counters added to pharmacies.
  • 1850 A manual hand-and-foot-operated filling and corking device was first used for bottling soda water.
  • 1851 Ginger ale was created in Ireland.
  • 1861 The term "pop" was first coined.
  • 1874 The first ice-cream soda was sold.
  • 1876 Root beer was mass-produced for public sale for the first time.
  • 1881 The first cola-flavored beverage was introduced.
  • 1885 Charles Alderton invented "Dr. Pepper" in Waco, Texas.
  • 1886 Dr. John S. Pemberton invented "Coca-Cola" in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • 1892 William Painter invented the crown bottle cap.
  • 1898 Caleb Bradham invented "Pepsi-Cola."
  • 1899 The first patent was issued for a glass blowing machine, used to produce glass bottles.

An Expanding Industry

The soft drink industry expanded rapidly. In 1860, there were 123 plants bottling soft drink water in the U.S.; by 1870 there were 387, and by 1900 there were 2,763 different plants. The temperance movement in the U.S. and U.K. is credited with making the business successful, as pharmacies and soft drinks became preferred alternatives to bars and alcohol.

  • 1913 Gas-motored trucks replaced horse-drawn carriages as delivery vehicles.
  • 1919 The American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages was formed.
  • 1920 The U.S. Census reported that more than 5,000 bottlers now exist.
  • 1920s The first automatic vending machines dispensed sodas into cups.
  • 1923 Six-pack soft drink cartons called "Hom-Paks" were created.
  • 1929 The Howdy Company debuted its new drink "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas," later called "7 Up." 
  • 1934 Applied color labels first are used on soft drink bottles. The coloring was baked on the face of the bottle.
  • 1942 American Medical Association recommended Americans limit intake of added sugar in diets and specifically mentioned soft drinks.
  • 1952 The first diet soft drink sold was called the "No-Cal Beverage," a ginger ale sold by Kirsch.

Mass Production

In 1890, Coca-Cola sold 9,000 gallons of its flavored syrup, and by 1904, one million gallons of Coca-Cola syrup were being sold annually. The latter half of the 20th century saw an extensive development of production methods, in particular, that on the manufacturing methods of bottles and bottle caps.

  • 1957 The first aluminum cans were used.
  • 1959 The first diet cola sold.
  • 1962 The pull-ring tab first marketed by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The pull-ring tab was invented by Alcoa.
  • 1963 The Schlitz Brewing Company introduced the "Pop Top" beer can to the nation in March, invented by Ermal Fraze of Kettering, Ohio.
  • 1965 Soft drinks in cans were dispensed from vending machines.
  • 1965 The resealable top was invented.
  • 1966 The American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages renamed the National Soft Drink Association.
  • 1970 Plastic bottles were used for soft drinks.
  • 1973 The PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottle was created.
  • 1974 The stay-on tab was introduced by the Falls City Brewing Company of Louisville, Kentucky.
  • 1979 Mello Yello soft drink was introduced by The Coca-Cola Company as competition against Mountain Dew.
  • 1981 The "talking" vending machine was invented.

SSBs: Health and Diet Concerns

Soda pop's connection to health issues was recognized as early as 1942, but the controversy became a critical public issue only near the end of the century. Concerns were raised in homes and legislatures over the sugary soft drinks' replacement of other foods and beverages, identified links to diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and the soft drink companies' commercial exploitation of children.

The annual consumption of soda pop in the United States rose from 10.8 gallons per person in 1950 to 49.3 gallons in 2000. Scholars today refer to soft drinks as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

  • 1994 Studies linking sugary drinks to weight change first reported.
  • 2004 First connection with Type 2 diabetes and SSB consumption published.
  • 2009 Weight gain in children and adults connected with SSB.
  • 2009 33 states have taxes on soft drinks, with a mean tax rate of 5.2 percent.
  • 2013 New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a law prohibiting businesses from selling SSBs larger than 16 ounces, which was rejected in appeals court.
  • 2014 Positive relationship between SSB intake and hypertension established.
  • 2016 Seven state legislatures, eight city governments, and the Navajo Nation issue or propose laws restricting sales, imposing taxes, and/or requiring warning labels.