How pharmacy shaped the fizzy drinks industry

Jodie Williamson MRPharmS, Pharmacist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Jodie Williamson MRPharmS

by Jodie Williamson, Pharmacist and Professional Development and Engagement Lead at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales.

I’m sure many of us have enjoyed the occasional fizzy drink over the Christmas period, but did you know that pharmacy was instrumental in developing this industry? 


Soda – the fountain of health? 

During the late 19th Century soda fountains were a common feature of chemists’ shops across America. Pharmacists would create syrups, often with medicinal properties, and mix them with soda from the fountain. In 1876 Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires created his blend of root beer, Hires’ Root Beer, which claimed to give “New Life to the Old Folks, Pleasure to the Parents and Health to the Children”. It was so popular that he decided to start bottling his preparation so that it could be sold further afield. This was the first root beer to be sold in bottles and set the trend for the sale of soda.


From morphine to the real thing

During the American Civil War John S. Pemberton received a near-fatal wound. He was given large doses of morphine to ease the pain as doctors didn’t believe he would survive. Against the odds he recovered but was left with a morphine addiction. As a pharmacist, he experimented with different mixtures containing alternatives to morphine to ease his addiction. During prohibition years he was forced to create a mixture that didn’t contain alcohol and came up with a syrup containing extracts from the coca plant and kola nut. He served this syrup mixed with soda water from the soda fountain in his Atlanta pharmacy and so Coca-Cola was created. The drink was originally sold as a “Brain Tonic and cure all for all nervous affections” including sickness, headache and melancholy.  

Just one year before Pemberton created his offering, another pharmacist, Charles Alderton, had noticed that his customers in Waco, Texas were becoming bored with the traditional flavours he was offering. So he set about creating a new taste combination. He eventually settled on a blend of 23 different flavours which is known today as Dr Pepper. There is much discussion regarding how the name came about. The most common theory is that the owner of the drug store where Alderton worked named it after a real doctor friend of his. 


 Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda

A little later, Charles Leiper Grigg created “Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda”. Although Grigg wasn’t a pharmacist, his drink was marketed as a patent medicinal product which claimed to enhance the mood. The preparation contained lithium, which is used today for the treatment of mania, bipolar disorder, recurrent depression and aggressive or self-harming behaviour. Created in 1929, just prior to the Wall Street crash and the start of the Great Depression, a drink that claimed to enhance the mood naturally became very popular. However, its name wasn’t particularly catchy and so it was renamed 7Up.  

Although many pharmacists today work in hospitals and community pharmacies, far removed from the days of creating new mixtures and syrups, we are all taught the skills of drug formulation and development during our university training. Some pharmacists choose to work in the pharmaceutical industry where they use those skills every day to create new drugs. While others, myself included, simply look back fondly on our university laboratory sessions where we made suppositories with go-faster stripes!

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