Anyone who knows me, knows that my beverage of choice is the sweet sweet nectar of Dr. Pepper. Just thinking about it now is making me salivate. When I go to a restaurant, if they don’t have the Doctor’s good medicine on tap I’ll simply drink water, in my opinion nothing can even compare to it, with the possible exception of the knock-offs. Well, I thought, what better way to celebrate my addiction to this miracle elixir than to share some history and fun facts.
The Dr. Pepper formula was concocted by the pharmacist, Charles Alderton, while working at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in 1880 Waco, TX. It wasn’t until December 1st 1885 that the drink was first served to the first brave tester, the owner of the drug store, Wade Morrison, who liked it so much that he had Charles begin serving it to their customers. The customers also really enjoyed the concoction and began ordering it by the name “Waco.” The fact that the beverage was being served all the way back in 1885 means that it beat out Coca-Cola (hah suckers) by a year and is the oldest major soft drink brand in America. Shortly after, Charles began having difficulties meeting demand for his delicious beverage. Robert Lazenby, owner of the Circle A Ginger Ale Company approached Charles with an offer to become a bottler of his formula. At the time Charles had no interest in getting into beverage bottling and and thus handed the recipe over to Morrison and Lazenby. Morrison and Lazenby, in 1891, formed the Artesian Mfg. & Bottling Company, which later was renamed the Dr. Pepper Company.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition
Dr. Pepper was finally served nationally in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, essentially a World’s Fair, celebrating the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Some other, unsubstantiated, claims indicate that some other foods were introduced (or popularized) during this exposition as well, including hamburgers, hot dogs, peanut butter, iced tea, cotton candy, and Puffed Wheat cereal. The exposition also inspired the song and thus film and musical “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis.” The first US-based Olympic games was hosted at the exposition. Notable attendees of the exposition included, Thomas Edison, Scott Joplin, Helen Keller, Geronimo and J.T. Stinson who first introduced the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” during the lecture.
Many theories exist for the origins of the name.
- The “pep” in “Pepper” stands for pepsin, an enzyme secreted by the stomach that aids in the breaking down of proteins into peptides.
- The “pep” in “Pepper” stands for the “pep” that the drink supposedly gave consumers, most sodas of the time were promoted as brain tonics and pick-me-ups.
- Possibly named after a real Dr. Pepper, Dr. Charles T Pepper in Rural Retreat, VA. This is a very likely possibility as Wade Morrison was interested in marrying the doctor’s daughter and would have likely needed permission (this one has been confirmed by Dr. Pepper/Seven Up). Alternately, Dr. Pepper gave Morrison his first job and its possible that Morrison was trying to display gratitude for the gesture.
- Yet another Dr. Pepper lived in Christianburg, VA and, according to Census information from the time, Morrison possibly lived nearby. Census takers of time would go door-to-door to collect data and their were only a few pages between Morrison and Pepper indicating close proximity.
During the ’50s Dr. Pepper decided to drop the period from the “Dr” to avoid confusion. Research had shown that many people thought that “Dr.” was actually “Di:”. Throughout time they’ve used the period off and on, oftentimes using it only when displaying one of their old retro logos.
The Secret Formula
From the very beginning, Dr. Pepper’s claim to fame has been it’s “unique blend of 23 flavors.” While this blend of flavors is top-secret, that hasn’t stopped the internet from speculating their contents. Here is just a sampling of what has been suggested: Plum, Apricot, Coriander, Clove, Molasses, Juniper, and Wintergreen. To learn about the methods used to determine these flavors and see the whole list, click here. Many of these are bound to be artificial flavors but still it’s quite interesting the things that made it to the list, especially…Dandelion.
Many have speculated that one of those 23 flavors is prunes, however, Dr. Pepper/Seven Up has denied this “allegation.”
In 2009, a ledger book filled with formulas and recipes was found at an antique store in Texas. The book had evidence that it once belonged to John Castle, a brief business partner of Morrison. One recipe in particular was entitled, “D Peppers Pepsin Bitters,” and was thought by many to be an early recipe of Dr Pepper. Unfortunately, Dr Pepper/Seven Up insists that this discovered recipe is nothing more than a recipe for a digestive aid. (I’ll bet)
Dr. Pepper Branded Products
The Dr. Pepper brand has appeared on more than just cans and bottles of soda: Jelly Belly jelly beans, gum, BBQ sauce and marinade, lip balm, hard candy, ice cream topping syrup, iPod skin covers, Slurpees, and freezer pops are just a few of the products they’ve slapped the name or flavor on.
Dr. Pepper Capital
90 miles east of Dr. Charles T Pepper’s hometown, Rural Retreat, is Roanoke, VA. Roanoke has been named “Dr Pepper Capital of the World,” due to its world record for mass consumption of Dr Pepper in the late 1950s. In light of this, Dr Pepper donated portions of sales revenue in Roanoke to assist in the restoration of a circa-1950s neon Dr Pepper sign.
The former Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company building in downtown Waco, TX stopped bottling Dr Pepper in the 1960s. In 1991 the Dr Pepper Museum, occupying that building, opened to the public. The museum features three floors of exhibits, a working old-fashioned soda fountain, and a gift shop. It is a life goal of mine to visit this “holy land” at least once.
Sugar and HFCS
While the debate between the health risks of sugar versus high-fructose corn syrup continues I’ll keep drinking my Dr Pepper, regardless of the sweetener used. In the 1980s, when import tariffs on real sugar became too high, many bottling plants switched to high-fructose corn syrup to keep costs down. Thankfully the bottling plant in Dublin, Texas, refused to switch, and to this day still makes their Dr Pepper with cane sugar. This has led to their product being named, “Dublin Dr Pepper.” (and by the way, it’s amazing)
With the recent rising cost of corn and lowering costs of real sugar, in many areas, various Dr Pepper bottlers began releasing limited runs of “Heritage Dr Pepper” made with real sugar.
Dr Pepper is one of the few soft drinks on the market that does not have a complete network of bottlers and distributors. Instead Dr Pepper/Seven Up licenses the bottling and distribution rights to various bottlers across the country. In some areas you’ll find a Coca-Cola or Pepsi (60%) bottler in charge of production and distribution in others, independent bottlers and members of the Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group (40%). These days the Pepsi and Coca-Cola bottlers actually belong to their respective brand as both of them have bought out many of their major bottlers.
Throughout the rest of the world bottling and distribution is all over the place. Some countries are solely handled by Cadbury-Schweppes, others by Coca-Cola, and a few countries import Dr Pepper from United States bottlers.
The Knock-offs and Legal Issues
Dr. Pepper, like any other corporation, hasn’t been without their troubles and legal issues. In 1951, Dr Pepper sued the Coca-Cola company for selling nickel Coca-Colas at below cost, which was restricting trade. Then again in 1972 they sued again for trademark infringement based on Coca-Cola’s soft-drink “Peppo,” following the litigation the drink was renamed to Mr Pibb. It quite appears they might hate Coca-Cola, funny, considering they license some of the Coca-Cola bottlers to produce their beverage in certain areas. In the 1980s, Dr Pepper became insolvent and was purchased by an investment group and made private. Later Coca-Cola attempted to acquire Dr Pepper, the FTC didn’t like this and stopped them. About that same time Seven Up was purchased, by the same investment group, from Phillip Morris. Once the Coca-Cola acquisition failed Dr Pepper and Seven Up joined forces. By doing so they lost international branding rights, these rights were then acquired by Coca-Cola (Dr Pepper) and PepsiCo (Seven Up). Over time Dr Pepper was involved in a number of antitrust cases that led to a great deal of 3rd parties making their own “Dr Pepper” clones.
The number of Dr Pepper knock-offs is so immense it seems to have almost become an art. Since these imposters can’t just label the drink, “Cola” they’ve had to become extremely creative with the naming, generally “Dr “. How’s this for some awesome names: Dr Nut, Dr Zing, Dr Gulpster, Doc Whatever (that’s really a name of one). There are entire sites dedicated to locating all of these fakes, here here and here. They’re everywhere and I’ve only tried a small handful of the ones on these lists, some of them are pretty darn good.
That’s all I’ve got friends, if you’ve never tried Dr Pepper I encourage you to give it a shot, like coffee or booze its an acquired taste but one that I’ve found highly addictive (they must be putting crack in it or something). By the way, if you happen to find Heritage Dr Pepper or Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper anywhere please tell me where, that stuff’s amazing!