Soda Fountains: The Pharmacist’s Creation

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Women and children at a soda fountain. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society via Minnesota Digital Library.

By the late 1800s, many drugstores featured soda fountains. The soda fountain leveraged the pharmacist’s practical knowledge of chemistry. This knowledge of chemistry and chemical reactions allowed for the creation of drinks that combined syrup concentrate, ice cream, carbon dioxide, and water. The result was flavored sodas, sundaes and ice cream sodas, and treats like the banana split, which was invented by a pharmacist in Pennsylvania. Early pharmacists were also instrumental in the creation of commercial soft drinks. Some of modern America’s most popular soft drinks were created by pharmacists. Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Pepper was the creation of Charles Alderton, a pharmacist working at the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas.

The invention of the soda fountain and the changes in the drugstore’s layout signaled a larger change. Drugstores were no longer just purveyors of prescriptions and patent medicines, but rather were expanding their role as purveyors of both medicinal and novelty goods. The soda fountain as a destinationfor first dates, special outings, or just a cool treat on a hot daymade many drugstores the social centers of their communities.