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History of Root Beer

The history of Root Beer began in the early 1870s when Charles E. Hires, a Philadelphia druggist experimented with a herb tea recipe. Today he is called "The Father of Root Beer" in spite of claims that a Dr. Swett of Boston created Root Beer in the 1840s. However, this claim has never been substantiated.

Charles E. Hires introduced his Root Beer to the general public at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. In the early 1880s his Root Beer was made available to homes, soda fountains and in liquid concentrate. In 1887 Hires was the first to advertise its products with a full page newspaper advertisement.

Other drug companies immediately saw a good thing and began selling their own brand of Root Beer extract. None of the other brands enjoyed as wide or as long dissemination as did Hires.

Hires Root Beer Sign
Hires Root Beer Advertising Sign

Most secret ingredients in Root Beer included dandelion, ginger, hops, pipsissewa, sassafras, spikenard, black birch, sarsaparilla, elecampane, berries and flowers. Early advertisements emphasized the health properties of Root Beer for young and old. Claims for Root Beer included "It acts upon the kidneys and liver" - "Gives an appetite and aids digestion" - "Provides nerve strengthening" - "Toning the stomach, regulating the bowels and purifying the blood" - "Cleans the system" and "Clears complexion".

Root Beer was called the temperance drink during prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s. Hires even referred to its Root Beer as the "Prohibition Beer."

Soda fountains could be found in every drug store and became very popular in the early 1900s. The fountain was famous for its ice cream, banana splits, milk shakes, sundaes, fountain drinks and a Root Beer float. The Root Beer float was a combination of vanilla ice cream and Root Beer served in a glass mug and was commonly called a "brown cow." If chocolate syrup was added it became a "black cow."

Root Beer was first bottled for Hires in 1893 by the Crystal Bottling Co. As bottling plants began to appear so did different brands of Root Beer. At one time there was at least 100 different bottled Root Beer brands. They distributed Root Beer locally or regionally and were usually small family operations. Few local and regional brands still exist today and that ended an era and started a collectable.

Root Beer Cans
Collection of Root Beer Cans

The can was invented in 1934 and by 1970 more soda could be found in a cans on store shelves and pop machines than in bottles. This was also true for Root Beer in cans.

Root Beer is over 100 years old today and the history of some brands are unknown. Each generation retains certain memories of the past through collectors. But sadly a little bit of Americana is lost each day. What is the future of Root Beer? The future is certain - Root Beer is here to stay.

Popular Brands Include Hires Root Beer, A&W Root Beer, Mug Root Beer, Frostie Root Beer, Mason's Old Fashioned Root Beer, Dad's Root Beer, Nanton Summer Root Beer, Triple XXX, Barq's Root Beer, Chicago Root Beer, Barrelhead Root Beer, IBC Root Beer, Frostop Root Beer and Ramblin' Root Beer.


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