Give Me a Sarsaparilla, Please

I don’t know about you but I drink quite a bit through the day. No, I don’t belly up to the bar. I mostly drink water. What can I say? I’m a very boring person. But I have to have a glass of unsweet iced tea with my lunch. Two years ago at my doctor’s urging, I gave up my Diet Dr Pepper. I used to think no day was complete without them. That wasn’t the case at all. It was my crazy brain telling me.

The cowboys in my stories often order a Sarsaparilla in the saloon. In Texas Mail Order Bride, Cooper Thorne always drank them to wash down a fried hand pie. But how common were these drinks?

They bottles didn’t have screw-off caps. Nope, they were corked and had a metal lever on top.

The first marketed soft drinks appeared in the 17th century. I was astounded that they’ve been around so long. In 1676 the Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris were granted a monopoly to sell lemonade soft drinks. Vendors toted tanks of it on their backs and sold cups of it to thirsty Parisians.

But far earlier in the timeline, enterprising men discovered mineral water, which is the basis for soft drinks, found in natural springs contained bubbles caused by carbon dioxide. People long believed the natural springs held medicinal properties. I guess they figured if it was good enough to bathe in, it was good enough to drink.

In 1832 John Matthews, the Father of American Soda Water, built a carbonating machine. Early soda water was served cold and unflavored. Yuck! Don’t think it’d taste too good.

A few years went by and American pharmacists began adding medicinal and flavorful herbs to unflavored mineral water. Some of the earliest flavorings came from birch bark, dandelion, sarsaparilla, and fruit extracts. The pharmacists began tinkering with the concoctions as a way to get their customers to take the awful tasting medicines of the day. They sold their creations for 5 cents a glass.

In 1835 the first bottled soda water in the U.S. was produced.

In 1866 Vernors Ginger Ale (the oldest soft drink in America) was produced.

In 1876 Root Beer was marketed.

In 1885 Charles Alderton, a pharmacist in Waco, Texas, came up with Dr Pepper.

In 1886 Dr. John Pemberton discovered Coca Cola in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1898 Caleb Bradham added Pepsi Cola to the list of soft drinks.

Vernors Ginger Ale was created pretty much by accident. Pharmacist James Vernor mixed together ginger, vanilla, and a few other ingredients in an oak cask then enlisted to fight in the Civil War. When he returned home and opened the cask, the aging process had created the famous ginger-flavored soda. I’m not a big fan of Ginger Ale. Don’t like the taste particularly.

I believe sarsaparilla was the first soft drink to make it to the Old West and it was served in saloons because of the scarcity of pharmacies (or apothecaries) at the time. Sarsaparilla was used during the Civil War as a treatment for syphilis and was touted as a blood purifier. I’m told it tasted a lot like Root Beer. I don’t know since I’ve never had any.

An interesting side note: Dr Pepper drinkers were urged to consume at 10, 2, and 4—a reminder embossed on early bottles—to prevent energy slumps. Supposedly. But I see it as an excellent marketing strategy. They were able to increase their sales this way. Charles Alderton was no dummy.

For those who might’ve heard that Coca Cola actually contained cocaine in it… says it was true. The two main ingredients were extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Just how much cocaine was originally in the formula isn’t known, but traces remained in it until 1929.This is hardly surprising though seeing as how it was considered a patent medicine in the beginning.

But once sodas were here, there was a problem with distribution. People wanted it bottled to take home with them. The early bottles had to be blown by mouth. And because the carbonated contents were under immense pressure, they couldn’t find a way to keep it from blowing the corks out of the bottles or preventing the bubbles from escaping. That is until 1892 when William Painter patented his Crown Cork Bottle Seal. It marked the first successful method of keeping the carbonation fresh until opened. After that, the industry really took off like a shot.

And I’m really glad it did. When I grew up in the 50’s, I remember that a nickel would buy a bottle of refreshing Coca Cola. Even though it was so cheap it was a real treat to get one. People didn’t keep them in their refrigerators like they do now. Maybe that’s why they were appreciated a lot more back then.

Another favorite memory was when we used to make our yearly trips to California to visit my grandparents. We’d always stop in Arizona for a bottle of Delaware Punch. That was so good, especially when it nice and cold. I never saw it sold anywhere outside of Arizona though.

Do you have a favorite memory involving soft drinks? Which ones do you prefer? And do you call it a soft drink, pop, soda, or just lump everything together and call it a Coke like we do here?


Give Me a Sarsaparilla, Please — 14 Comments

  1. Good morning Linda. Wonderful blog. I’m a Dr. Pepper girl. Living in Erath county where the oldest Dr. Pepper Bottling Company is located, Dublin, Texas, how could I not be!!! Like you, I was an avid Diet Dr. Pepper drinker. But for the past year I’ve toned down my daily consumption to maybe 3 a week and stick with water.
    I call all soft drinks “Coke”, yes we Texan’s keep things simple, one word describes a whole assortment of drinks.
    I’ve visited the Dublin Dr. Pepper Plant and if anyone gets the chance it’s a wonderful tour & museum to roam through. Have a wonderful week, I’m heading out the door for my long trip to Topeka. Love you my sister friend.

    • Good morning, Tonya……I knew we were sisters! I loved my Dr. Peppers. Mean old doctor!! But I know water is much better for me, even if it doesn’t have a taste. I’ve always wanted to go to Dublin to that Dr. Pepper Plant but have never gotten to. Next time for sure. Yes, Texans don’t like to waste time or words. Coke means any soft drink.

      Have a great time in Topeka and remember the way back home to Rob and Casino. Love you, sister friend.

  2. good morning, what a nice read while having my coffee. first off its Soda. I guess everyone in Chicago calls it soda! also dr. pepper is my favorite(not diet dr pepper) which is just nasty, I love them dr. pepper commercials with the character called little sweet ! ha. Mr. pibb is another one I like it taste like dr. pepper. a memory i have is they use to have A& W drive inn.not the one’s attached to long john silvers now. and my dad would bring home a gallon of A&W root beer and that makes the best root beer floats.

    • Good Morning, Elaine……Glad I could make your morning coffee more enjoyable. Yes, Soda will do. Mr. Pibb is an old soft drink. I never developed a liking for it though or RC Cola. I used to like Pepsi a lot and Coca Cola. As a kid it was always A&W Root Beer. They had a drive-in not far from my house and served it in icy mugs. Oh man! I loved that. My oldest sister who was married would bribe me and my baby sister–wash her dishes and she’d buy us an A&W Root Beer. But every dish and pan in her house would be dirty with caked on food. It would take us hours and our hands shriveled up like prunes. Somehow, the minute we got that Root Beer our hands and pain in our feet was forgotten. Wonderful memories.

      Love and hugs, sweet lady!

  3. In Kentucky we say Pop…”go get me a Pop….”. My best memories are refunding the bottles, and buying penny candy.. I don’t drink much pop today. But when I do …its Coke…

    • Good morning, Tonya Cherry……Thanks for coming to join the discussion. Pop it is for you. It’s funny how we call it different things in various parts of the country. I remember well, selling the bottles. Me and my baby sister would walk to this little store near us and sell them. Then, like you, we’d buy some candy. I used to like to get a sucker. I can’t recall the brand but it was rather large and would last a long time. And inside the wrapper, it told you if you got a free one or not. Talk about excited when I got a free one. Ahhh, the memories.

      I hope you have a blessed day, sweet lady. Love and hugs!

  4. I see Tonya covered us being Erath County girls and the Dublin Dr. Pepper aspect of our lives. You really do have to have the original pure cane sugar Dr. Pepper to appreciate why we boast of Dublin Dr. Pepper. My best memory of sodas though are from before I moved to Erath County. As a child visiting family in East Texas my step-grandparents had a little country store in Cayuga, Texas. (Side note: they weren’t my step-grandparents yet.) I remember walking from my Nanny and Pa’s down to the store and getting a baby coke, popping off the top on the bottle with the cap remover on the side of the coke box, drinking it down and putting the bottle in one of the crates by the coke box before going walking back to my grandparents. We paid for our sodas but Mr. George always sent us back with a few pieces of penny candy too.

    • Good Morning, Miss Stephanie……I’m happy to see you. Glad you could come. Yes indeed, you live in Dr. Pepper country! That pure cane sugar did have the best flavor and still does when you can find it. What wonderful memories of your childhood and Mr. George. He sounds like a wonderful man. He knew what kids needed. 🙂

      Have a blessed day! Love and hugs, pretty lady!

  5. Loved the article Linda. Thank you for sharing.
    I too am a Dr Pepper girl, though I too was urged by my Dr to scale back.
    Trivia note. I and my Dr participated in a study a while back, on Fibromyalgia and similar pains. Side tidbit that made me go hmmmmm… During a nationwide study they found that 95% of people who suffer from Fibromyalgia chose Dr Pepper as their soda.

    • Good morning, Teresa……Very interesting about that study. I really believe that all soft drinks are detrimental to our health. Dr. Oz did a study too and showed how the product corroded a metal spoon in no time. Maybe that’s why some people use it to clean toilets. It really gets them sparkling.

      Have a blessed day, sweet lady! Much love and hugs!

  6. When I was a kid, my mother was addicted to coke cola from the bottle, she had a couple during the day. Us kids drank water or koolaid. Once in a while if my mother was going to grill burgers outside, that meant us kids got to have one can of Shasta pop from Safeway. I always chose black cherry or orange. They are still my favorite, but that brand isn’t carried where I live.

    Always wondered what sasparilla was like. My grandfather had several old bottles that he had saved from the old days. I remember one still had the Cork top with it. Grandpa would never say what sasparilla tasted like.

    • Good morning, Veda……Thanks for joining the discussion. I loved Shasta soda too. Creme Soda and Grape was my favorite. I used to see it everywhere but not anymore. I guess it went out of business. About Sarsaparilla….I’ve heard it taste like root beer. I’ve never had a chance to try it though and I’m sure the old stuff was very different from this modern. How neat that your grandpa had some bottles and that one still had to the cork top. Wow!!

      Have a blessed day, dear lady! Love and hugs!

  7. Know what I remember most about any type of soft drink? Our daddy loved to drink Fizzies. Anyone know what I’m talking about? They came on a foil sheet much like Efferdent does today, and when you plopped one into a glass of water, it fizzed away and turned into a flavored drink. Wonder where they went? His favorite was Wild Cherry and Root Beer. I thought it was special day whenever I got one. Great post, sister. I have had Sarsaparilla tea and it really does taste much like Root Beer.

    • Jan, oh yes, I remember that. We drank our share of that too. I thought they were great so it’s a mystery to me why no one makes these anymore. Really weird. How interesting about your Sarsaparilla tea. I’ll bet it was good. Love you!