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Let's Reminisce: A bottle of soda water
By Jerry Lincecum
May 7, 2014
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As a country kid in the 1950s, I considered a bottle of cold soda water, costing a nickel, to be a special treat.  Royal Crown Cola was my favorite, although occasionally I would go for a more exotic flavor like Nehi strawberry.  One time in Mississippi I tasted peach soda pop, a local favorite which didn’t do anything for me.

A fellow named Tristan Donovan has written an interesting book on the soft drink industry entitled Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World.  It taught me that the US Patent Office recognizes Dec. 1, 1885, as the first time Dr Pepper was served (in Waco, TX).  That preceded the introduction of Coca-Cola by one year.

Remember how special a fountain Coke tasted, made from a squirt of syrup mixed with carbonated water by a “soda jerk”?  There was no other way to distribute these cola drinks until American ingenuity figured out how to handle mechanized bottling.  That invention enabled the soft drink makers to become packaged-goods companies, distributing their products at retail.

But it cost a lot of money to build bottling plants. Eventually the companies signed up franchised bottlers, a strategy that let them expand with other people's capital.  That why there were so many competing flavors of soda water in the 1950s.

After several decades of mergers and bold marketing strategies, the industry matured into a trio of major players: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

Since I grew up not far from Waco, Dr Pepper has always intrigued me. It was formulated by a pharmacist named Charles Alderton in Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store. To test his new drink, he first offered it to store owner Wade Morrison, who also found it to his liking. Patrons at Morrison's soda fountain soon learned of this tasty new drink and began ordering a “Waco.”  Alderton gave the formula to Morrison, who named it Dr Pepper.

Nobody knows for sure where the name came from. One conjecture is the "pep" refers to pepsin. In 2009, an old ledger book filled with formulas and recipes was discovered in an antique store in the Texas Panhandle.  It contained some sheets and letterheads suggesting it had come from Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store.  One recipe in the book had the title "D Peppers Pepsin Bitters." The term “bitters” was commonly used in the late 19th century to describe drinks with the sharp pungent taste of plant extracts.

Like many early sodas, the drink was marketed as a brain tonic and energizing pick-me-up, so another theory holds that it was named for the “pep” it supposedly gave to users. Others believe the drink was named after a real Dr. Pepper, and there were at least two men by that name known to Morrison.

To return to the present, I’m sure you have noticed how many energy drinks and flavored waters we have to choose from.  As for me, I have substituted plain water for the fizzy and sugary kind.  It has saved me money as well as calories, and I don’t even miss the taste.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired English professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject. Email him at jlincecum@me.com.