The Evolution of Soft Drink Dispensing
Recently, while doing descriptions for the soda fountain dispensers in the Retroplanet Museum, I was struck by how little I knew about how these IN-dispensable drinks evolved. Drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have become such a staple in the American diet that I think many of us take them for granted.
The first attempts at making a carbonated drink date back as far as the early 1770’s, when it was believed that natural mineral waters had curative powers. People flocked to spas where mineral water bubbled naturally out of the earth. Early scientists tried to replicate these bubbly drinks with health benefits for everyone to enjoy. In the early 1770’s a Swedish chemist and an English scientist invented equipment that combined water and carbon dioxide. This bubbly water was called soda water. In 1806 a Yale chemistry professor, Benjamin Silliman, purchased an apparatus and began selling mineral water (unflavored then) in New Haven, Connecticut. Sometimes Dr. Silliman added wine and sugar to his bottled mineral water, but it was Eugene Roussel of Philadelphia that is credited with making flavored soda water popular. In the late 1830’s he added a “soda counter” to his perfume shop where he offered soda water flavored with orange, cherry, lemon, teaberry, ginger, peach or root beer syrup. His success can be measured by the fact that he had nearly 50 competitors in his city within a very short time.
By the end of the Civil War, soda fountains were a common sight, and flavored soft drinks were commonly dispensed in drugstores at the soda fountain counter. These locations became even more important when the US government passed Temperance Laws forbidding the consumption of alcohol. Soda fountains allowed people to continue to gather and socialize, but without the presence of alcohol. The problem was that the drinks could vary greatly from one to the next, as there was not really a standard method of concocting them. After a pump or two of the syrup, the pharmacist would fill the glass up to the fill-line with ice-chilled carbonated water. This was then stirred and served to the customer.
In 1888 Jacob Baur started the Liquid Carbonic Co. that manufactured carbon dioxide in tanks. This led to the manufacture and sale of Liquid Carbonic soda fountains in the early 1900’s. This made it possible for pharmacists to make their own carbonated water, rather than having to buy it from a supplier. This arrangement still required mixing syrup and water by the pharmacist and therefore, room for variation.
The first automatic soda fountain dispenser that mixed the syrup and the carbonated water together was made in 1933 by Dole and was introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair. This model was the Dole Master Dispenser. Simply by pulling the handle, the syrup and carbonated water were mixed together. In order to cool the drink, ice could be packed into the dispenser.
Dole then released the Dole Junior in 1936. This was a much smaller, 1-gallon capacity dispenser. It could duplicate the same flavor in each ice-cold drink, much faster than was previously possible. The next major development in dispensers came in 1949 in the shape of the “Outboard Motor” design dispensers, like the Selmix Fountain Dispenser. Designed by the famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy, this dispenser was capable of dispensing a continuous flow of mixed carbonated water and syrup with only one pull of the handle. They were then followed by “Super” models that could dispense two types of soda, and in 1955 the Multiplex Faucet Company introduced the Red Barrel dispenser, the first multiple-drink Coca-Cola dispenser that was designed for use at places like movie theaters and drive-ins.
A very drastic change to dispenser design occurred in June of 1958 when the Dole Citation model was released. It was square and constructed mainly of plastic. It had a totally new and modern look. By 1962 dispensers were available as ice-cooled models or with mechanical refrigeration. These dispensers evolved into the 12- to 16-head self-serve dispensers seen in fast food restaurants we see today.