Dr Pepper has been around at least as long as Coca Cola. According to the official company history, even longer.
The soft drink was not invented by a doctor named Pepper (more on that below). Dr Pepper was invented in 1885 by a pharmacist named Charles Alderton, in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco Texas, in those days nicknamed “six-shooter junction.” Like many drug stores in those days, Morrison’s, which was always hopping, featured a soda fountain.
The owner of Morrison’s Corner Drug Store was Wade B. Morrison, who had bought the store when it was originally called Castle’s Old Corner Drug Store. He hired Dr. Charles Alderton as his chief pharmacist. Alderton did what druggists did in those days: He compounded medicines, many of which, if not most, were liquid. Nasty tasting liquids. So, Alderton did what many other pharmacists were doing, he experimented with ways to flavor the medicines using various blends of fruits, spices, etc. While so doing, he played around with flavored sodas simply meant to taste good. Most sodas in those days, whether they were formulated to make a medicine more palatable, or simply as a drink, were marketed as tonics or medicines regardless, but that is another story. Alderton undoubtedly had a lot more fun coming up with new soft drinks and serving them to eager customers than he did mixing medicines
One of Alderton’s formulas proved very popular with customers. As the legend goes, Alderton wanted to capture to essence of the soda fountain, with all its wonderful fruit and spice aromas. He was trying to put the soda fountain in a soda, which is probably why the formula had so many (23?) ingredients. The customers loved it. At some point, people began to speculate that the main flavor base was prune juice, and Dr Pepper gained a reputation for ‘keeping you regular.’ A strong apricot base has been suggested to be the flavor that some mistook for prune juice, although I personally don’t understand why people care so much.
According to some accounts, the drink was originally called Waco. According to others, it had no official name (which is likely), but customers took to calling it Waco and would come to the soda fountain and say “Shoot me a Waco.” The drink was fruity, and although we may never know all of the 23 flavors in Dr Pepper, black cherry seems to be a key.
How Did Dr Pepper Get Its Name?
Since Dr. Pepper has often been claimed to provide ‘pep’ or to ‘pep you up,’ i.e. provide energy. An obvious origin for the name, then, may be be found in the word pep. It is a “pepper.”
There are several other stories as to how Dr Pepper got its final name. According to Wikipedia, some believe that the “pep” comes from pepsin, a digestive enzyme that is claimed to have been part of the original formula, similar to Pepsi. And old ledger book or ‘chemist notebook’ was discovered by a man named Bill Waters. The leger seemed to have come from Old Corner Drug Store and contained entries called Castle’s Formulas. One of the formulas was called D Peppers Pepsin Bitters. This lead many to speculate the recipe was an original formula for Dr. Pepper, seeming to back up the pepsin theory, but the company has denied this, saying it was simply another formula for a digestive aid and that none of the formulas in the book bear any resemblance to the Dr Pepper formula.
The company has claimed that Dr Pepper never contained any pepsin, but this does not seem to be true. Dr Pepper clearly started out as not just a drink, but a medicinal preparation. On the early labels from when the beverage was called Dr. Pepper’s Phos-Ferrates, the logo read “wheat and iron, with pepsin.” As the preperation gained more popularity as a drink the more “medicinal” ingredients were probably removed, including the pepsin.
C.T. Pepper had been in business with his brother, and the Pepper Bros. had marketed their own bitters. After his brothers death and his own marriage, C.T. had opened up his pharmacy in Rural Retreat, undoubtedly taking his bitters formula with him. There at the pharmacy soda fountain, he is said to have mixed up popular drinks. Some believe then that Wade Morrison, having worked for Pepper and becoming disgruntled or having been fired, stole the formula for “pepsin bitters” and later used it to develop the Dr Pepper formula.
The problem with this theory is that it is besides the point. Bitters were a very common medicinal preparation made by pharmacists in those days, and pepsin was often an ingredient, although it certainly was not used in all bitters. These bitters were supposed to aid the digestion and later, they became ingredients in the mixed alcohol drinks called cocktails. Most bitters formulas were fairly similar. That is, they contained a very bitter root or herb, and several other ingredients supposed to be healthful or medicinal, these ingredients macerated in alcohol. It is safe to assume that the formula for ‘D Peppers Pepsin Bitters’ were a ‘petite bitters,’ a highly concentrated and very bitter medicinal preparation. Petite bitters did not contain contain 23 fruity flavors. They were not meant to be a refreshing drink and were not attractive as a beverage in their own right. Some classic prescription bitters were used as the basis drinking bitters which were more diluted, and often heavily sweetend versions of the original. Although still bitter, these were often consumed as beverages or aperitifs. It is quite clear that Dr Pepper is not such a product.
Even if Morrison had started with a recipe for pepsin bitters and modified it, the final result simply did not resemble bitters. If you started with a recipe for bitters, and added various ingredients to it, lots of sugar, turned it into a syrup, and mixed this syrup with soda water, you could hardly be accused of “stealing the bitters recipe” as it is nothing more than one part of a larger formula, which would certainly add an interesting and perhaps desirable bitter component to the flavor, but could not be said to be any more important than, for instance, the sugar and fruit flavors. Beyond all this, there is no need to imagine that what became Dr Pepper must have started as ‘D Peppers Pepsin Bitters.’ It is not even clear that the book is authentic. It went on sale at eBay at some point and was not sold, later to be successfully auctioned.
Often, the drug store owner Wade Morrison is credited with coming up with the name as early as 1885. He is said to have named it after a Confederate surgeon named Charles T. Pepper. So, perhaps there was an actual Dr. Pepper!
Same say that Charles T. Pepper was the former employer of Morrison and that Morrison used the name out of gratitude for Pepper giving him his first job. Still another, more romantic version, claims that Dr. Pepper was the father of a girl Morrison loved, and the name was used to gain permission to marry her.
There are a few problems with these stories. Many sources claim that Charles T. Pepper lived in Rural Retreat, Virginia, where he operated a pharmacy. According to www.AppalachianHistory.net, Milly Walker, the Collections Manager/Curator for the Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Co. Museum in Dublin, TX. claimed that census recoreds showed Morrison to have worked as a pharmacy Clerk in Christianburg, Virginia., not Rural Retreat. In the same census report, on the very next page, there was another Dr. Pepper. And, lo and behold, the records show that Dr. Pepper had a daughter named Malinda or Malissa, who was 16 years old, while Morrison was only 17. On the other hand, the daughter of Dr. Charles T. Pepper, would have been only 5 to 8 years old.
Yet another story says that Wade Morrison’s family moved to Texas from Christianburg when he was only ten years old, and it was in Texas that he began his pharmaceutical career, working for several druggist before partnering with J W. Castles & Company Druggist to form Castles, Morrison Company, which he later bought out and renamed The Old Corner Drug Store. My own census search turned up a Wade B. Morrison in Christianburg, Virginia (Montgomery County) in 1860 (age 8) and 1870, at age 17. Christianburg is indeed over 50 miles from Rural Retreat. Later, I found Wade B. Morrison living in Waco, Texas in 1910, having been born in Virgina and married to Carrie. This is undoubtedly the same Wade Morrison, who was clearly residing in Virginia at the age of 17, but who must have left after this census was taken. I found no other census records for W.B. Morrison between the years of 1870 and the year 1910, when Morrison was 57 in Waco, TX. What was Wade B. Morrison’s occupation listed at when he was 17 years old and living in Christianburg? Druggist clerk. Who did he work for? I found no Pepper who was a doctor, druggist, etc. on any adjoining pages, and indeed, no Pepper at all. My research is still ongoing, however.
In Virginia, there are local claims to the contrary and it is often reported that Dr. Charles T. Pepper, in his pharmacy in Rural Retreat, is the true inventor of Dr. Pepper, a formula stolen by Morrison who took credit for it in Waco. Pepper’s son who worked part time in his father’s pharmacy aso claimed to to have invented the soft drink formula. Unless Morrison travelled 50 miles to work each day, these claims are false.
Putting Dr. before product names, and certainly patent medicines (of which sodas were a class) was quite common in those days, meant to give the products an air of credibility. It is quite likely that a “Dr.” name was wanted for the drink regardless, and Pepper ended up fitting the bill, having been a person Morrison worked for and perhaps having the right connotations. Since most of the early sodas were concocted by pharmacists, there is no reason not to expect Dr. monickers. Dr. Browns sodas for New York, maker of the early Cel-Ray, have been around since 1869. Most of the romance stories regarding Dr Pepper are likely concocted.
Bottling Dr Pepper
Although the syrup for Dr Pepper had been shipped to pharmacies where it could be mixed with soda water and served to soda fountain companies, the drink was first bottled by a bottler named Sam Houston Prim, of Dublin Texas. He started his bottling company, Dublin Bottling Works, in 1891 at the southeast corner of Patrick and Elm Streets, working with $680 of bottling equipment. It is not clear when he first began bottling Dr Pepper, as the agreement was informal, but some sources indicate the date to be as early as 1891. He gained an official distribution territory in 1925, a 44-mile radius around Dublin. The company has noted that Sam Prim had bottled the soft drink longer any other. For many years, this was the only bottler to produce Dr Pepper using the original formula, with Imperial cane sugar instead of corn syrup. If you wanted a “real Texas Dr Pepper” you wanted a Dublin Dr Pepper. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, Dublin no longer bottles the drink, much to the sorrow of “real Dr Pepper” seekers.
In 1891, perhaps at the same time Sam Prim began bottling Dr Pepper, Morrison went into business with Robert S. Lazenby, owner of the Circle A Ginger Ale Company in Waco. A patent was sought for the formula and the duo formed the Artesian Manufacturing & Bottling Company. In those early days, Dr Pepper was called Dr. Pepper’s Phos-Ferrates. It was very popular in the Southwest, especially, of course, in Texas. It gained national attention in 1904 when it was marketed at the St. Louis Exposition, aka the St. Louis World’s Fair. Despite all this exposure, it took until 1964 for Dr Pepper to take off beyond the southwest and the southern United States. This was mostly due Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola, which were both bottled by numerous independent bottlers, having franchise agreements in place stating that these bottlers were not allowed to bottle other ‘colas.’ In 1963 the United States District Court ruled that Dr Pepper was not a cola, which allowed the company to expand nationwide.
“Dr. Type” Sodas?
Virgil’s, brewers of gourmet sodas such as Virgil’s Root Beer, recently released what they call a “Dr. Style” Soda called Dr. Better. A quick review: It is excellent. But, what is a Dr. style soda? There is no such thing. As stated most early soda concoctions were created by Pharmacists who were in those days commonly addressed as Doctor. Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist, after all. Choosing to use “Dr.” in the name of an early soda had nothing to do with it using a particular type of recipe or having a particular kind of tastee, and there is not a particular style of soda that can be considered a Doctor Style.
Virgil’s Dr. Better Soda, as are many other Dr. sodas, seems to be a version of Dr Pepper, the most famous soda with Dr. in its name. Funnily enough, it contains a touch of prune juice, which I clearly made out when I drank the soda, giving it a rich and deep flavor. Nothing wrong with a little prune juice!
Did you notice my mistake? I neglected to put a period after the Dr in ‘Dr. Pepper.’ It wasn’t a mistake. Look closely at your next bottle of Dr Pepper and you’ll see there is no period in there. Weird, huh?