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US pharmacists’ fizzy formulae

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In my previous contribution (PJ, 2 August 2008, p144), I commented that pharmacist inventors in Britain have tended to concoct practical culinary and household products such as custard powder and soap powder.

In contrast, the best known pharmacist inventors in the US are all late 19th century creators of famous fizzy drinks, initially produced for sale through the soda fountains in their own drug stores.

The first such inventor was James Vernor, from Detroit, who liked to experiment with “fizz waters”. He left an oak cask of one blend in his cellar when he went off to fight in the civil war. On his return four years later, he opened the keg, found the contents “deliciously different” and launched the product as Vernor’s Ginger Ale in 1866.

In the same year, Charles E. Hires from Philadelphia invented root beer. Initially slow to catch on, Hires Root Beer did not sell widely until promoted at the 1876 US Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

A few years later, in Waco, Texas, a young Charles Alderton devised his own recipes for use in the soda fountain at the drug store where he worked. One formula proved particularly popular and was patented in 1885 under the name Dr Pepper, after a friend of Alderton’s boss.

Then in 1886, John Pemberton concocted a soda fountain recipe in a three-legged brass kettle in his backyard, using ingredients that allegedly included extracts of coca leaves and kola nuts — hence the name of the most ubiquitous of all these products, Coca-Cola.

Coke’s great rival, Pepsi-Cola, was devised a few years later by Caleb Bradham, of New Bern, North Carolina. First sold in 1893 as Brad’s Drink, the beverage was renamed Pepsi-Cola in 1898 and trademarked in 1903. The origin of the “Pepsi” element of the name is unclear.

All these fizzy drinks are still widely sold, although they are all now owned by massive international corporations. Vernors, Hires and Dr Pepper are part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which was recently demerged from Cadbury-Schweppes. And in the cola drink market, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are worldwide rivals.

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