By: Madeleine Horrigan
Contrary to it’s present day reputation, soda’s roots trace back to medicine, health, and curative powers. It was well known that the mineral water found in natural springs had health benefits, and scientists later discovered that this mineral water contained carbon dioxide which created the bubbles.
Prior to becoming mass marketed beverages, soda was a concoction of medicine and flavouring to remedy ailments such as indigestion, impotence, headaches, and various psychological disorders.
These sodas tasted so good that people began to drink them all the time, regardless of if they needed it for health reasons or not. Gatherings at soda fountains soon became a social pastime in American culture, and as a result soda fountains started to become increasingly common. Since soda was originally a health drink, many of these soda fountains could be found inside pharmacies and drugstores.
“According to Darcy O’Neil, author of Fix the Pumps, pharmacists initially used sweet-tasting soda flavors to mask the taste of bitter medicines like quinine and iron, as most medication was taken in liquid form during this era.”
In addition to this, many customers would go to soda fountains for a morning pick-me-up drink (similar to coffee) as the sodas stimulated drinkers mentally and physically from caffeine and various addictive substances. Some sodas would contain drugs such as cannabis, morphine, and cocaine, a “wonder drug” which had addictive properties and contributed to the financial success of soda fountains.
While the soda industry was booming, medical professionals began to realize that carbonated water did not have the healing properties it was once thought to have. Due to this, soda was then sold as more of a treat rather than medicine.
Coca-Cola was later invented by John Stith Pemberton, an American pharmacist in 1886. It was invented during his attempt to create a opiate-free painkiller. Coca Cola contained cocaine which was extracted from the coca leaf and kola nuts which are known for their high caffeine content. Thus, the name Coca Cola was derived. In 1906 the Food and Drug Act in America required that narcotics must be clearly labeled and as a result, the majority of cocaine content in Coca Cola was removed. By 1926, the company was able to remove all cocaine in the beverage.
During the prohibition age in America, the soda fountain industry boomed once again. The opportunity to drink soda at home also boomed as it became less difficult to bottle and cork soda. Coca Cola realized that in order to keep afloat, they would have to find a way to bottle their beverage so that it could be shipped around the country. In 1899, entrepreneurs Joseph Whitehead and Benjamin Thomas gained exclusive rights to bottle Coke products. Whitehead and Thomas offered franchises to bottlers across the country.
As World War II approached, Coca Cola began to expand globally and became iconic around the world. After the war, it became increasingly common for families to have refrigerators in their homes, further expanding the opportunity for take-home bottles of Coca Cola.
Since narcotics in beverages were not nearly as accepted as they once were, soda brands became more reliant on high sugar content to get customers hooked.
Brands that we still know today such as Coca Cola, Pepsi and Dr Pepper all began as beverages with supposed health benefits, but in present day, these companies rely on sugars, corn syrup and colouring to keep costs low and to make good tasting beverages that consumers will enjoy.
Despite major changes in their recipe, large soda brands such as Coca Cola still value their roots by continuing to use their iconic bottle shape and bright red signature colour, and sharing an evolving, but similar message.