History of the Soda Fountain

Hires Root Beer

Hires Root Beer was created by Philadelphia pharmacist  Charles elmer HiresThe official story is that Hires first tasted root beer, a traditional American beverage dating back to the colonial era, while on his honeymoon in 1875.  However, historical accounts vary and the actual time and place of the discovery may never be known.  By 1876, Hires had developed his own recipe and was marketing 25 cent packets of powder which each yielded five gallons of root beer.

At Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition in 1876, he gained new customers by giving away free glasses of root beer. Hires marketed it as a solid concentrate of sixteen wild roots and berries. It claimed to purify the blood and make cheeks rosy.  In 1884, he began producing a liquid extract and a syrup for use in soda fountains, and was soon shipping root beer in kegs and producing a special fountain dispenser called the "Hires Automatic Munimaker." In 1890, the Charles E. Hires Company incorporated and began supplying Hires root beer in small bottles claiming over a million bottles sold by 1891.

But Hires choice of name for his product caused a problem; the word "beer" drew the wrath of the Temperance Movement. He had his root beer tested by a laboratory, and announced the labs conclusion that a glass of his root beer contained less alcohol than a loaf of bread. Hires Root Beer was promoted as "The Temperance Drink" and "the Greatest Health-Giving Beverage in the World." Hires advertised aggressively, believing "doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.”

One of the major ingredients of root beer was sassafras oil, a plant root extract used in beverages for its flavor and presumed medicinal properties. The medicinal properties of root beer are emphasized in the advertising slogan, "Join Health and Cheer/Drink Hires Root beer."

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