What is more Texan than a Dr Pepper? For many, the answer is nothing. There are many people in our state who would even say they bleed Dr Pepper. But how did this drink come to be so popular? Join me as we explore the creation of Dr Pepper and its legacy.
Although the history of soda goes back centuries, most of the modern sodas we think of today got their start in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Dr Pepper isn’t an exception to this. It all started in 1885 at the Old Corner Drugstore in Waco, Texas. It was common for sodas to originate at the pharmacy back then as they were considered health drinks and even sometimes medicine. A young pharmacist, Charles Alderton, enjoyed mixing up different concoctions at the soda fountain and one day he decided to make a drink containing many of the flavors the fountain offered, 23 to be exact. Do we know those magical 23 flavors? Unfortunately, no. It is a top-secret recipe as you would expect! But what we do know is that there were tons of flavors available in the soda fountain back in the late 1880s. If it was edible, it might have been a syrup flavor. We see what we think of as normal flavors like raspberry, orange, and pineapple, but there were lots of other flavors like celery, coffee, rhubarb, and even clam. With this seemingly endless supply of flavors, we can’t even venture a guess at what those wonderful 23 flavors might be.
Back when Dr Pepper was first invented, it was just called a “Waco.” When it started to become popular, Wade Morrison, proprietor of the Old Corner Drugstore, decided to give it a name. There are a lot of stories out there as to why he chose Dr Pepper, but the truth is we just don’t know which one, if any of them, are true. From there Dr Pepper began to become popular, and it couldn’t just be contained at the Old Corner Drugstore anymore. Together, Morrison and Robert S. Lazenby formed the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company (AMBC) to bottle Dr Pepper and other soft drinks under the Circle A Brand family such as Circle A Ginger Ale, Aqua Lithia, and Celery Champagne.
Lazenby was a beverage chemist who eventually became the president of the Dr Pepper Company. During his time with Dr Pepper, he stabilized the Dr Pepper formula so that it was shelf stable and was able to sit in bottles at stores. He also added caffeine to Dr Pepper! Originally, Dr Pepper did not have caffeine as some people thought caffeine to be dangerous. In its early days, it was advertised as being “absolutely free from caffeine, cocaine, or any injurious drug” or simply just “free from caffeine and drugs.” When Dr Pepper premiered to the world at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 in St. Louis, fairgoers would have seen advertisements with similar wording in the hopes of enticing many to try the drink.
When the AMBC was formed, the company moved into a building on 5th Street. Shortly thereafter it was decided they needed a building specifically for bottling their sodas. Designed in a Richardsonian Romanesque style by Milton Scott, a prominent architect in Waco, the building had many features that made it an efficient and state-of-the-art bottling plant. One of the main features was a well dug in the building that could be used by the employees for all their water needs. This well tapped into the artesian aquifer system that runs underneath Waco and was in use for several years. When visiting the Museum today, you can see the well that was partially excavated during the renovation of the building to turn it into the Museum.
Dr Pepper Fun Facts
There is no “period” in Dr Pepper. The period after the Dr was dropped in the 1950s due to a font change making it difficult to read and it wasn’t added back in.
To produce all the Dr Pepper that would be needed for the World’s Fair, Lazenby temporarily moved to St. Louis shortly beforehand to open another bottling facility.
Dr Pepper was introduced to millions of visitors at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair where it became an instant success.
Dr Pepper is the oldest major soft drink in America.
Waco was once famous for its artesian wells and was known as “Geyser City.” The name of the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company comes from this, and the famous artesian waters were used in bottling their sodas.
Dr Pepper, and several other soda companies, had test kitchens in the 1950s and later whereby recipes were developed using their brand of soda. These recipes were then published in cookbooks to increase soda sales.
The well isn’t the only interesting feature about the AMBC. If you visit the Dr Pepper Museum today, you might notice a few unique features in the old AMBC plant building:
- Safety precautions. Because the AMBC had a well inside the building for their business purposes, it also had a port to the outside of the building. If a neighboring business was on fire, the fire department could pull up to the side of the AMBC, unlock the port and run a hose into the well. This would be a quick and efficient way to extinguish a fire before it threatened other businesses in the area.
- The original 2nd floor. Some of the original flooring still exists on the second floor. One room has the original floor: a series of slopes with a gutter along the wall. It was designed so spills of soda syrup could be easily cleaned. At the end of the day, water was dumped on the floor, the syrup would dissolve, and it would all flow to the gutter along the wall. From there, the liquid would go into the city’s sewer system.
- Look up! When visiting the Museum, make sure to look up! You might see leftover machinery from the bottling plant. On the third floor, ceiling beams painted green, are all original to the building.
- Circle A emblems. Harking back to the Circle A Beverages that were made in the plant, the Circle A emblem is visible in several places inside. Check out the Mary Street side of the building to see a couple of them and several of them are on the original front staircase in the AMBC.
Production ceased at the AMBC in 1965, as the plant was not large enough to bottle soda in both bottles and cans, which had recently come onto the market for soda. Dr Pepper production moved to another location in Waco for a time and then eventually left Waco altogether. In the 1980s, a group of concerned citizens began the process of turning the vacant AMBC into the Dr Pepper Museum. The Museum opened on May 11, 1991. Today, Dr Pepper is part of Keurig Dr Pepper, and the Dr Pepper Museum is a private, non-profit museum dedicated to telling the story of the soft drink industry.