Back in 1885, over 130 years ago, before its inscrutable list of 23 ingredients was locked away in two separate Dallas banks, no one had ever even heard of Dr Pepper, or, for that matter knew the recipe. That is, with the exception of pharmacist Charles “Doc” Alderton. In between concocting elixirs for cough syrups and stomach remedies at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Alderton unwittingly became a soda pop pioneer. It was here at this drugstore that Dr Pepper, the world’s oldest major soft drink, was born, although Coca-Cola would enter the market just a year later.
Back in those days, drug stores were equipped with a vast array of fruit syrups, extracts, spices, and herbs used for medicinal purposes. Some, though, were used to make remedies more palatable. Back in 1885, upon entering the shop, customers would have been greeted with an enchanting assortment of tantalizing scents. It was this very aroma that Alderton wished to capture by mixing his 23 mysterious ingredients that would later become his signature soda.
Unlike today, brand name sodas could not be purchased just anywhere, and drug stores prided themselves on signature drinks and exclusive recipes that would keep customers coming back for more. Therefore, keeping the recipes secret was part of a druggist’s trade, and in the case of Dr Pepper, the secret remains today.
Nineteenth-century drug stores were fitted with a panoply of equipment including soda fountains, which were used to make healthful tonics for customers. Carbonated soda water, especially when infused with ginger, lemon, lime, roots, or herbs, was considered a healthful beverage. As a result, these corner drug stores evolved into hybrid ice cream and soda shops. In order to attract even more business, since the flavors and sweeteners used in the remedies and tonics were already on hand, pharmacists began serving up sweet, fizzy, fruity drinks they simply called “sodas.” Pharmacists in that time were essentially neighborhood chemists, and it is no surprise they sought ways to make their medicines both taste delicious and cure ailments. Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi were all pharmacy creations.
After tasting Alderton’s mixture, customers kept coming back to Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store saying, “Hey doc, shoot me a Waco!” Alderton, pleased with his recipe, shared it with the drug store owner Wade Morrison, who also loved it and christened it “Dr Pepper” after a friend of his. At the time, products with the term “Doctor” in their marketing or name sold far better in drug stores than items without the moniker. While other rumors exist as to the origination of Dr Pepper’s name, the tales tent to unravel upon close inspection.
The new Waco soda became so popular that Morrison sought the help of Robert Lazenby, owner of Circle “A” Ginger Ale Bottling Company, to bottle it up. Alderton, a trained physician, preferred to remain in the pharmacy, devoted to medicine, and had no interest in pursuing the bottling and distribution side of the soda business. Alderton stepped away from the enterprise, suggesting that Morrison and Lazenby further develop the company. Ironically, just two city blocks away and 52 years later, Waco would introduce another favorite Texas soda to the beverage scene: Big Red.
By this time, sodas were not a novelty, but were still really only found near fountains and pharmacies. Bottling was difficult and often involved corks, at least until metal caps were invented in 1892. The term “pop” was likely coined as a result of the sound made when opening a soda water ginger beer. Bottling became easier and cheaper in 1899 with the advent of automated soda bottle manufacturing
In 1904, with regional business booming, Lazenby and his son-in-law O’Hara introduced Dr Pepper to its first national audience of nearly 20 million people at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. This fair is known for several food firsts, including hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and puffed wheat. By 1910, Dr Pepper was known as the “King of Beverages.”
As Lazenby and Morrison’s product grew in popularity, they formed a new enterprise called the Artesian Bottling and Manufacturing Company, which later became the Dr Pepper Company. By 1923, they had relocated the company to Dallas.
During the 1920s and ‘30s, Dr Pepper capitalized on its success and developed the 10-2-4 advertising campaign. Research from the time suggested that throughout the day, folks generally experience low energy at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. Research also showed that sugar gave a quick boost of energy. Therefore, the Dr Pepper Company encouraged people to “Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4.” By the 1950s, the brand had become the “Friendly Pepper-Upper.” By the 1960s, the drink became associated with rock and roll music after being featured on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. During this same time period, the name actually dropped the original period after “Dr,” as the new font made the word unreadable. It has been period-less ever since.
Today, Dr Pepper is part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a leading producer of beverages in North America and the Caribbean. The group boasts six of the top ten non-cola soft drinks and thirteen of their fourteen brands rank first or second in their flavor category. In addition to Dr Pepper and Snapple, the group’s product list includes 7Up, A&W, Canada Dry, Crush, Hawaiian Punch, Mott’s, Schweppes, and Sunkist Soda.