Dating back at least to the 1700’s, European drank natural mineral waters believed to cure a variety of illnesses such as gallstones or scurvy. Even bathing from these natural spas was seen as therapeutic. People literally went for the waters, though that phrase is only hanging on by its fingernails through the expression “I’m not here for the waters,” said of someplace you don’t want to be. Many people tried to sell the water off-site, but packaging and transportation were prohibitable difficult and expensive, so they went with the next best thing. They’d make their own mineral water, with blackjack and hookers. (Some of y’all are confused, but one person just snorted coffee through their nose.)
1767, British chemist Joseph Priestley tried carbonating water as you would beer, by fermentation with yeast. The results were weak, but they worked. 1772 he published a paper entitled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air. Priestley’s apparatus, which featured a bladder between the generator and the absorption tank to regulate the flow of carbon dioxide, was soon joined by a wide range of others. However, it wasn’t until 1781 that carbonated water began being produced on a large scale with the establishment of companies specialized in producing artificial mineral water. Other improved on Priestley’s work and while he did get respect from the scientific community, he didn’t make anything from his invention that would make possible a $400B/yr industry.
American inventor John Matthews designed a soda fountain that could produce enough carbonated water for people all day in 1832, leading to the opening of the first soda fountain. In their heyday, soda fountains were elaborately designed places for rejuvenation, more like a walk-through health retreat than a snack counter, and they were usually to be found in pharmacies. Pharmacists already used sweet-tasting flavor syrups, like lemon-lime, to mask the taste of bitter medicines like quinine and iron–liquid medicine was the standard form, rather than pills. Add some sparkling water, and you’ve got something big on your hands. Sarsaparilla was supposed to treat syphilis and phosphoric acid, an ingredient in colas, was thought to help hypertension and other maladies. The oldest major soft drink in America, Dr Pepper, was created by pharmacist Charles Alderton in 1885 and marketed as an energy drink and a “brain tonic.” Soda, the effervescent new patent medicine.
We might be frustrated by how long it takes to get a medication on the market, or, top of mind, a vaccine, but it beats the old way, at least from the consumer side. From the manufacturer side, the late 19th century. the era of the patent medicine was the best time to be alive. You could put anything you wanted in a bottle and call it medicine. You could still call yourself a doctor without having to prove it. Mix up some tap water with whatever’s handy, something bitter to make it taste like medicine, something sweet so it’s not too bitter, and of course booze and hard drugs. Have labels printed with pretty filigree and vague, sometimes contradictory claims, and watch the money roll in. Behold the age of the patent medicine.
Patent medicines are named after the “letters patent” granted by the English crown. The first “letters patent” given to an inventor of a secret remedy was issued during the late 17th century. The patent granted the medicine maker a monopoly over his particular formula. The term “patent medicine” came to describe all pre-packaged medicines sold “over-the-counter” without a doctor’s prescription. In the United States very few preparations were ever actually patented.
Many early English patent medicines sold like Jordan in the colonies, like Dicey’s Dr. Bateman’s Drops, whose original patent was granted by King George I in 1726 and was still available into the 20th century. Not about to let Brit make all the luchre, Americans began to cultivate their own patent medicines, an industry that boomed in the decades leading up to the Civil War. [[examples]] Patent medicine actually played its own small part in the civil war. The govt taxed their sale, along with matches, playing cards, perfumes, et al to fund the war effort and repay military debt. Just like cigarettes today, patent medicines had to have a tax stamp on them for decades. Thirty year after the civil war, the government returned to patent medicine taxation during the Spanish American War (1898-1902), using a distinctive “battleship” stamp, as seen on the box of Warner’s Safe Asthma Cure. https://onbeyondholcombe.wordpress.com/
The second half of the 19th century, with the rapid growth of industrialisation and population in American cities, was the heydey of hokum. Literacy was also improving, which meant there were more magazines for patent medicine makers to advertise in and more people who could read the ads. There was also a pervasive and widespread distrust for the medicine in the day. This was the era of “heroic medicine,” where doctors went to extremes, like bloodletting and purgatives, to try to cure disease. We know *now that making an already sick person poop their brains out or cutting them to drain off blood when you don’t know that you need to clean your tools between patients, is a bad idea, but back then, it was, no pun intended, cutting edge. It was also fatal a lot of the time. Many people treated by heroic medicine would have been better off on their own, perhaps sipping on a bottle of Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills. People were drawn to patent medicines in a desperate bid to avoid real doctors.
The marketing of patent medicines was every bit as important as marketing for products is now. Manufacturers developed distinctive trademarks, eye-catching packaging, and clever ad campaigns. They were among the first businessmen to try angles like junk mailers, free samples, promotional tchotchkes, national newspaper campaigns, outdoor signage, testimonials. You know who else has testimonials? Podcasters. This review comes from MultiverseBracketologist: So I heard you like facts? Well, they don’t get presented in a better venue than this one. Moxie delivers each episode eloquently and with a touch of humor that everyone can appreciate. She often includes experts for short segments on the show that are always insightful and informative. I’d recommend this show for anybody that wants to discover and learn about something new every week! If you’d like to hear your opinions read on the show, drop us a review on Apple podcasts or your app of choice.
Patent medicine men even published their own version of the farmers almanac, with handy information and lots of ads. And the things they would write in the ads: Swaim’s Panacea purportedly cured all “blood diseases” including scrofula, chronic rheumatism, ulcers, old sores, boils and carbuncles, diseases of the spine, catarrh, and wasting; Smedley’s Chilli Paste cured sciatica, rhuematism, sore throat, lumbago, gouty pains, and bronchitis, among others; Hall’s Coca Wine was invaluable in cases of influenza, sleeplessness, anemia, and mental fatigue; and Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound seemed to be able to cure women of anything, not just female troubles. Apparently, this stuff was a cure-all, but only for half of the population. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/Lydia_E._Pinkham%27s_Vegetable_Compound_ad_1882.jpg
So what was in these bottles of snake oil? Very rarely oil of snake, which is hard to source. Ingredients ranged from benign-but-unhelpful, like tincture of mallow root, to downright dangerous–many patent medicines contained significant levels of alcohol, opium, morphine, cocaine, basically anything that made the end user feel good so they’d think it was working. The fact that many of medicines were made with highly addictive drugs was probably good for repeat business as well. While patent medicines were hot sellers, they weren’t without their detractors. In 1905 and 1906 Collier’s magazine ran a series of influential articles by Samuel Hopkins Adams entitled “The Great American Fraud,” which exposed many of the deceitful and unsafe methods practiced by patent medicine manufacturers. Exposes like these, and other grassroots efforts, helped bring about the first federal Food and Drug Act in 1906. Now drug labeling had to include a list of ingredients–not all of them, just certain concerning things like heroin, chloroform, cannabis, and of course alcohol– and manufacturers were prohibited from making unproven and unprovable claims. Cocaine wouldn’t be banned from freely available patent medicines until 1909.
The classic sodas we know and love today got their start as patent medicines. Before we address the two soda elephants in the room, the brands so big that apparently they had a war in the 80’s, which I was less aware of than our war with Russia which never really came to pass but gave us lots of heavily-accented movie villains. First, let’s go to an old-school medicinal tonic turned beverage with a familiar name, courtesy of Nick from The Fantastic History of Food. Thanks Nick, for helping with the show, and thanks to our newest supporters at patreon.com Paul, Vladislov, Charles and Jonathan, for helping me cover the very real costs of the show, as well as Eden and Jennifer, who recently increased their support. Don’t forget, for the duration, until things settle down a little, all tier levels are receiving all perks.
In 1893, Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist who had had to quit medical school to support his family, mixed up of carbonated water, lemon oil, and vanilla, with some other ingredients and kola nut extract. The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, a genus (Cola) of trees that are native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. He called it Brad’s Drink. Luckily he was better with chemistry than branding. Bradham touted the drink as a health tonic that could aid in digestion. That’s where the name Pepi comes from. It’s widely believed that Bradham gave the drink the name Pepsi because it contained the digestive enzyme pepsin, but Pepsi-Co says the name came from Bradham’s belief that his drink could soothe stomach upset, or dyspepsia.
Soon, Pepsi-Cola had outgrown the drug store and became a business of its own in 1903. Initially, as with all early soda, Pepsi was only available to restaurants and stores with soda fountains to add soda water to. Only a year later, they began to bottle the cola and almost immediately it was a smash hit. My grandmother, I’m told, hugely preferred bottled cola because the ratio of syrup to sugar would always be right. At the diner counter, you never knew how close the soda jerk would get with it. Bonus fact that you probably already know, but I feel like I should include it: soda jerk name. Bottled soda also made soda accessible for people of color, who weren’t allowed in white-owned soda fountains. Whether or not the companies knew this would open up a whole new market for them I cannot say. Back at Pepsi Co, In six short years, there were bottling 240 franchises in 24 states.
Business boomed, though the company fell on hard times during World War I due to sugar rationing. The war years had been desperate and sugar prices soared when the war ended, but Bradham didn’t care. He purchased a large supply of sugar to ensure the company would have it, but at a very high price, a high enough cost to free-throw the company into bankruptcy in 1923. The secret formula and Pepsi trademark changed hands a few times in the next decade, including to another company that declared bankruptcy. Eventually, they got the hang of it.
While Brandham was mixing medicines John Pemberton, a Confederate colonel who found himself addicted to morphine after being injured in battle, began a quest to find a less-addictive drug. In 1885 at Pemberton’s Eagle Drug and Chemical House, in Columbus, Georgia, he registered Pemberton’s French Wine Coca nerve tonic. Okay, there’s a lot to unpack from that name. Pemberton was probably trying to replicate, and improve on, Vin Mariani, a French-Corsican wine with coca in it. Vin Mariani had been created in 1863 by a Parisian chemist, and sold like mad, especially in the artistic and literary sets. Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, and Arthur Conan Doyle were fans as was,… try to guess, I dare you…the chief rabbi of France, who said, “Praise be to Mariani’s wine!” No less than the pope himself was said to carry a flask of it at times.
Pemberton did Vin Mariani one better by adding kola nut, aka caffeine. He claimed his koka-cola had all manner of medicinal benefits, like “a most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs.” There was really nothing it couldn’t help with, if you believed the label. As Pemberton’s business started to take off, his county went dry, meaning the passed a local prohibition law, 34 years before it would be implemented nationwide. Now, French Wine Coca was illegal. Because of the alcohol, not because of the cocaine. I just want you to sit for a minute with that thought.
Pemberton took this new law on the chin and rebranded the drink “Coca-Cola: The temperance drink.” If you can’t beat ‘em, at least get their money. It went on sale at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886 for five cents a glass. Pemberton claimed it could cure indigestion, nerve disorders, headaches, morphine addiction, and impotence.
Two years later, there were three versions of Coca-Cola being sold by three different businesses. Pemberton himself, Pemberton and a partnership with four Atlanta businessmen, and Asa Candler, who claimed that he had a verbal agreement with Pemberton for a stake in his company. Candler eventually got a legit ⅓ stake in Coca-Cola, but Pemberton’s Charley got control of the name.
My brainiacs are a sharp bunch and I’m sure 90%+ of you already knew there used to be cocaine in Coca-cola, but how much? Without finding an immaculately preserved bottle of original-original coke, it’s impossible to say. Pemberton originally called for five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup (37 g/L), which was an 80’s trading floor caliber dose, though Candler claimed his formula contained only a tenth as much. Coca-Cola once contained an estimated 9mg of cocaine per glass. For comparison, a “line” of cocaine is 50–75 mg. So there was cocaine, but not a Keith Richards amount. The formula changed over time, such as changing from fresh leaves to leaves that already had their active ingredient removed, and we do know that by 1902, it was as little as 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup. By the time they removed the cocaine, there had been so little that most consumers probably didn’t notice. Bonus fact: modern coke uses a cocaine-free coca leaf extract, which they get from the only company in the United States licensed to purify cocaine for medicinal use.
The push to remove hard drugs from patent medicines and soft drinks had a thorny element to it. The people pushing for their removal wanted to protect their communities from the drugs by way of their frightening middlemen, colored people. Author Grace Elizabeth Hale explains, once soft drinks were offered in bottles: Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.
No accounts surfaced in my research of white people being driven to criminal behavior by soda, but if people realized that hypocrisy at the time, they’d probably explain it away equally racistly. Coca-Cola removed the coca 11 years before cocaine became illegal, during which time it was fire, as the kids say. People were going ham on it. Am I doing this right? Recreational use had quintupled in less than two decades. During that time, racially oriented arguments about violence, sexual and otherwise, informed the discourse more than physical health concerns. The same vigor that was touted as a selling point for Vin Mariani was cocaine’s indictment.
While I don’t know that I’d try a soda with cocaine in it if presented with the option, I could really do with a pick-me-up in the afternoons. AD
Leaving the world of caramel-colored colas, let’s talk about one sodas to rep the original lemon-flavor, 7-Up. 7-Up began life with a much less catchy name, Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda. It was created in 1929 by Charles Leiper Grigg, who could be described a serial soda inventor. In 1919, Grigg was working for a manufacturing company owned by Vess Jones when he created an orange-flavored drink called Whistle. After a dispute with management, Grigg left, but Whistle stayed behind, since it was owned by Vess Jones. Crigg then went to work for the Warner Jenkinson Company, where he invented his second soft drink called Howdy. Howdy was supposedly the third-best selling soda worldwide for a time. This time, when Grigg and his employer split, he took the soda with him. Together with financier Edmund G. Ridgway, Grigg went on to form the Howdy Company, but Grigg’s orange soda couldn’t compete with the behemoth that was Orange Crush, so he decided to switch flavors. Eventually, we got Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas, which would become 7Up seven years later.
Why the name change? What does it mean? No one knows, but many people like to speculate. Here’s the most persuasive explanation is that the 7 refers to the 7 original ingredients, water, sugar citric acid, lithium citrate, sodium citrate, and essences of lemon and lime oils (technically two ingredients). This seems to be supported by an early slogan, “Seven natural flavors blended into a savory, flavory drink with a real wallop.” Other alternate histories include Griggs saw a cattle brand that looked like 7UP, Griggs was playing craps and praying for a seven, the bottle held seven ounces, that lithium has an atomic number of 7, “Seven Up” contains seven letters, and, my personal favorite, it doesn’t mean anything at all, that Griggs just came up with something punchier than Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas.
We do know what the *original name meant, even if it lands poorly on the ear. The soda was referred to as lithiated because it contained the mood-altering drug lithium, lithium citrate to be specific. Grigg’s concoction hit crowded store shelves just two weeks before the 1929 stock market crash, but still managed to sell well, which I am more than happy to say was due to the effects of the lithium on stressed and depressed consumers. Though lithium was taken out of the name in 1936, it wasn’t taken out of the soda until 1948 when the government banned its use in soft drinks.
So what is lithium? Is the lithium drug the same as lithium batteries? That doesn’t matter as much as the story of *how it was determined to be a treatment for Bipolar disorder, what we used to call manic-depressive illness, which affects around 1 in 100 people globally. It puts sufferers through a relentless cycle of emotional highs and lows. Suicide rates for untreated people are 10–20 times those in the general population. Fortunately, lithium carbonate can bring that back down to the average.
During the Second World War, John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist, was captive in the notorious Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Changi in Singapore for more than three years. He observed a link between certain food deficiencies, a major issue in a POW camp, and disease. For example, a lack of B vitamins, for instance, caused beriberi and pellagra, which is why most cereal-based goods you buy are fortified with niacin.
Cade survived the camp, which you probably guessed or I wouldn’t be talking about him, and continued his investigations. Working in a disused room in the Bundoora Repatriation Mental Hospital near Melbourne, he began to collect urine samples from people with depression, mania and schizophrenia. He wanted to know if there were some secretion, some marker in their urine could be correlated to their symptoms. Cade had little in the way of sophisticated equipment, even by 1940’s standards, and was treading uncharted waters, so he did what he could where he was with what he had. He injected the urine samples into the abdominal cavities of guinea pigs, raising the dose until they died. Cade found that the urine of people with mania was the most lethal.
In further experiments, Cade found that lithium carbonate, derived from the light, silvery metal lithium and used for decades to treat gout and other conditions, markedly reduced the toxicity of patients’ urine. When Cade gave the lithium carbonate to the animals directly, rather than by way of a urethra, the guinea pigs calmed down, rather than scratching and fussing in their cages. Suspecting lithium could have a similar effect on humans, Cade did my favorite thing a scientist can do, which fans of the show and readers of the YBOF book (which could really use more Amazon reviews, if you have a minute), my favorite thing scientists do, he tested it on himself to work out a safe dose. He must have used good methodology, because, as we know now but he couldn’t have known then, a therapeutic dose is 0.6 to 1.2 mEq/L but a toxic dose is 1.5mEq/L, so the butter zone between ‘doing nothing’ and ‘killing you’ is very narrow. Cade began administering lithium to ten people with mania, many of whom had been in and out of Bundoora for years. In September 1949, he reported fast and dramatic improvements in all of them in the Medical Journal of Australia. The lithium made such a dramatic difference that half of the patients were able to return to their homes and families.
And that’s… Dr Pepper’s people were friendly with Texas state’s Food Commissioner J.S. Abbott, who helped draft a bill which banned the use of caffeine in all sodas. State representatives accused the Dr Pepper company of actually writing the bill, since they stood to gain from its passage. If every other soda maker had to change their formula, it would cost them sales and some of those dissatisfied customers would try Dr. Pepper instead. Dr. Pepper defended their surely noble intentions with vitriolic, collusion-denying ad in the Austin Daily Statesman. That law actually passed and Dr. Pepper leaned even harder into its caffeine- and cocaine-free formula, … for about four years, before they added caffeine.