The Troubled History of Soda Pop and Carbonated Beverages

The Shift From Health Drink to Health Crisis

Beverage can in ice
Jeffrey Coolidge/ Iconica/ Getty Images

The history of soda pop (also known colloquially in different regions of the United States as soda, pop, coke, soft drinks, or carbonated beverages) dates back to the 1700s. This timeline chronicles the popular drink from its creation when it was touted as a health drink to rising concerns that soda—sweetened naturally or artificially—is a contributing factor to a growing health crisis.

Inventing (Un)Natural Mineral Water

Strictly speaking, carbonated beverages in the form of beer and champagne have been around for centuries. Carbonated drinks that don't pack an alcoholic punch have a shorter history. By the 17th century, Parisian street vendors were selling a noncarbonated version of lemonade, and cider certainly wasn't all that hard to come by but the first drinkable man-made glass of carbonated water wasn't invented until the 1760s.

Natural mineral waters have been thought to have curative powers since Roman times. Pioneering soft-drink inventors, hoping to reproduce those health-enhancing qualities in the laboratory, 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 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 water.
  • 1819: The "soda fountain" was patented by Samuel Fahnestock.
  • 1835: The first soda water was bottled in the U.S.

Adding Flavor Sweetens the Soda 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, and 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 perhaps the most significant innovation in the realm of soda flavoring came in 1886, when J.S. Pemberton, using a combination of kola nut from Africa and cocaine from South America, created the iconic taste of Coca-Cola.

  • 1833: The first effervescent lemonade was sold.
  • 1840s: Soda counters were 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 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 created "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. By 1860, there were 123 plants bottling soft drink water in the United States. By 1870, there were 387, and by 1900, there were 2,763 different plants.

The temperance movement in the United States and Great Britain is credited with spurring the success and popularity of carbonated beverages, which were seen as wholesome alternatives to alcohol. Pharmacies serving soft drinks were respectable, bars selling alcohol were not.

  • 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 the existence of more than 5,000 bottling plants.
  • 1920s: The first automatic vending machines dispensed soda 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 renamed 7•up). 
  • 1934: Colored labeling makes its soft-drink-bottle debut. In the original process, the coloring was baked on the bottle.
  • 1942: The American Medical Association recommended Americans limit their intake of added sugar in diets and specifically mentioned soft drinks.
  • 1952: The first diet soft drink—a ginger ale called "No-Cal Beverage" produced by Kirsch—was sold.

Mass Production

In 1890, Coca-Cola sold 9,000 gallons of its flavored syrup. By 1904, the figure had risen to one million gallons of Coca-Cola syrup sold annually. The latter half of the 20th century saw extensive development in the production methodology for the manufacture of carbonated beverages, with particular emphasis on bottles and bottle caps.

  • 1957: Aluminum cans for soft drinks were introduced.
  • 1959: The first diet cola was sold.
  • 1962: The pull-ring tab was invented by Alcoa. It was first marketed by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • 1963: In March, the "Pop Top" beer can, invented by Ermal Fraze of Kettering, Ohio, was introduced by the Schlitz Brewing Company.
  • 1965: Soft drinks in cans were first dispensed from vending machines.
  • 1965: The resealable top was invented.
  • 1966: The American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages was renamed the National Soft Drink Association.
  • 1970: Plastic bottles for soft drinks were introduced.
  • 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.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: Health and Diet Concerns

Soda pop's negative impact on health issues was recognized as early as 1942, however, the controversy did not hit critical proportions until the close of the 20th century. Concerns grew as links between soda consumption and conditions such as tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes were confirmed. Consumers railed against soft drink companies' commercial exploitation of children. In homes and in the legislature, people began to demand change.

The annual consumption of soda in the United States rose from 10.8 gallons per person in 1950 to 49.3 gallons in 2000. Today, the scientific community refers to soft drinks as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

  • 1994: Studies linking sugary drinks to weight gain were first reported.
  • 2004: The first connection with Type 2 diabetes and SSB consumption was published.
  • 2009: SSB Weight gain in children and adults was confirmed.
  • 2009: With a mean tax rate of 5.2 percent, 33 states implement taxes on soft drinks.
  • 2013: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a law prohibiting businesses from selling SSBs larger than 16 ounces. The law was rejected on appeal.
  • 2014: The relationship between SSB intake and hypertension was confirmed.
  • 2016: Seven state legislatures, eight city governments, and the Navajo Nation issue or propose laws restricting sales, imposing taxes, and/or requiring warning labels on SSBs.
  • 2019: In a study of 80,000 women released by the journal, Stroke, it was found that postmenopausal women who drink two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day (whether carbonated or not) were linked to an earlier risk of stroke, heart disease, and early death.

Sources:

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  • Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, PhD; Victor Kamensky, MS; JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH; Brian Silver, MD; Stephen R. Rapp, PhD; Bernhard Haring, MD, MPH; Shirley A.A. Beresford, PhD; Linda Snetselaar, PhD; Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, PhD. "Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative." Stroke (2019)