Thursday, June 16, 2011

Soft drinks - a Victorian health tonic?

I have to admit, I am a big fan of soft drinks. Those fizzy sweet drinks, so cold and bubbly, especially on hot humid days like today. While we take them for granted now, due to their ready availability, soda pop is actually of Victorian origins, invented as various tonics, with health beneifts in mind. It's hard to believe that what is today's junk food was once considered a health drink. Then again, soft drinks have changed since they were first introduced to the public in the 1800s.

Carbonated water was first invented in 1767, by an englishman named Joseph Priestly, who discovered that suspending a bowl of water above a vat of beer, created a pleasant fizzy drink. He marketed it as soda water, and after further experiments, published a paper in 1772 describing how to infuse the water by driping sulfiric acid on to chalk, and then suspending a bowl of water above, to create the carbonated water. A Swedish scientist, Torbern Bergman invented a soda fountain in the 1770s, allowing for large amount of soda water to be produced.

Pharmacies started selling carbonated mineral water in the early 1800s, and many started adding their own recipes of herbs for their health benefits, and flavouring to make the new drinks more tasty. The first ones often involved adding lemon or orange flavour to the plain carbonated water. The drinks were called "soft" drinks as they did not contain "hard" liquor. The first of today's well known sodas to be invented, was Ginger ale, introduced in 1851, by a pharmacy in Ireland. Root beer was introduced to the public in 1876, containing various roots, said to improve your health and vitality. Pharmacies found these new soda fountains to be very popular with the public, and a great source of revenue.

The most famous of all soft drinks, Coca Cola was invented in 1886, by a pharmicist named Dr. John S. Pemberton. He claimed his new drink cured morphine addiction, headache and impotence. At first he sold it just out of his drugstore in Atlanta Georgia, but then sold the recipe in 1886, when it then became available to the wider public. The first recipe included cocaine, a drug popular in many medicines and tonics during Victorian times, until it became illegal in the 1930s. It was then that the recipe was changed to no longer include the narcotic. Pepsi was invented in 1898, and Dr.Pepper in 1885, both by pharmacists as well.

As these new drinks gained in popularity, it became more about taste and the emphasis went away from their supposed "health benefits". As manufacturers moved towards bottling these new drinks, the soda fountain slowly wained as a staple in the local drugstores.

So as you drink whatever variety of fizzy pop you enjoy, just remember, it was originally intended for your "health".

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. I really enjoy your writings about the Victorian era Lou! And I like soft drinks :)

    Thanks for the entertaining and educational read!

  2. That is so interesting! I love your historical stuff! I never knew soda was intended for our health...
    Of course that guy said Coca Cola cured morphine addiction, because it got you hooked on another harmful drug!

  3. This is a terrific, educational, entertaining post. Thank you for sharing.

    I especially appreciated learning about why they are called "soft drinks," and that Coca-Cola contained cocaine. A lot of drugs/medicinal remedies contained cocaine and other drugs, but I was never aware of its use in Coke. I guess that's the "coca" part of the name. :)

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