This Day in History – December 1st, 1885

Go anywhere in the world and there are two words that are understood in just about any language, “Coca-Cola.” In Texas, when ordering a soda, the word Coke is used to describe all sodas; order a “coke,” and your table server will ask which kind, but despite its ubiquity, there is a rival soda that proceeds it by one year, the humble Dr. Pepper.

Dr. PepperThe U.S. Patent Office recognizes December 1st, 1885, as the first time Dr Pepper was served. It was formulated by Brooklyn-born pharmacist Charles Alderton in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. To test his new drink, he first offered it to store owner Wade Morrison, who also found it to his liking. Patrons at Morrison’s soda fountain soon learned of Alderton’s new drink and began ordering a “Waco.” Alderton gave the formula to Morrison, who named it Dr Pepper.

It was introduced nationally in the United States at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition as a new kind of soda pop, made with 23 flavors. Like many early sodas, the drink was marketed as a brain tonic and energizing pick-me-up.  One theory holds that it was named for the pep it supposedly gave to users, whereas some believe the drink was named after a real Dr. Pepper.

One candidate is Dr. Charles T. Pepper of Rural Retreat, Virginia, who may have been so honored by Morrison either for having granted him permission to marry Dr. Pepper’s daughter, or in gratitude to Pepper for having given Morrison his first job. However, Morrison lived nearly 50 miles from Rural Retreat, and Pepper’s daughter was only eight years old at the time Morrison moved to Waco.

Another possibility is Dr. Pepper of Christiansburg, VirginiaU.S. Census records show a young Morrison working as a pharmacy clerk in Christiansburg. One of the following pages of this census supposedly shows a Dr Pepper and daughter Malinda or Malissa, age 16. Since census takers of the period were walking door to door, and their census entries were on following pages, it seems likely that Morrison and the family of Dr. Pepper did not live very far from each other.

Dr. Pepper 2One conjecture is the “pep” refers to pepsin. In 2009, an old ledger book filled with formulas and recipes was discovered by Bill Waters while shopping at an antiques stores in the Texas Panhandle. Several sheets and letterheads hinted it had come from the W.B. Morrison & Co. Old Corner Drug Store (the same store where Dr Pepper was first served in 1885) and faded letters on the book’s cover spelled out “Castles Formulas”. John Castles was a partner of Morrison’s for a time and worked at that location as early as 1880. One recipe in the book titled “D Peppers Pepsin Bitters” was of particular interest, and some speculated it could be an early recipe for Dr Pepper. However, Dr Pepper Snapple Group insists it is not the formula for Dr Pepper, but is instead a medicinal recipe for a digestive aid. The book was put up for auction in May 2009, but no one purchased it.

Whatever the origin of the name, Dr. Pepper continues to remain a popular “brain tonic” today, on its 129th birthday, containing more caffeine at 41mg than Coca-Cola at 34mg, but not Mountain Dew at 54mg.

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