In the early 20th century, soda fountains became a popular hot spot for the local community to gather and exchange news and other "happenings". As seen in this picture, families gathered to socialize and spend time together in these drug stores.

At the dawn of the 20th century, soda fountains made their debut in local pharmacies. Their novelty attracted everyone in the community. Soon, pharmacies were attracting customers, not just patients. At this point, pharmacists moved their compounding labs and dispensing counters to the back of the store. This emptied their window space to display their new and shiny soda fountain machines. This new dynamic propelled the pharmacy into what it is today; not just a medication center, but also a place for commodities. This widened the pharmacists' scope of practice from just apothecary duties to other responsibilities, such as adjusting soda flavors.

A lot of work went into creating actual soda that was dispensed from the soda fountain machines. From the dispenser and syrup holders to the unique glasses that held the soda, the process was more complicated than it is today. Now, let's explore some of this equipment...

This is the Bromo-Seltzer dispenser. This was a staple found on many soda fountain counters in drug stores. It was started by Isaac Emerson in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This piece was originally used to dispense seltzer water, which was said to alleviate stomach discomfort, headaches, and nervous tension. Soon enough, seltzer became a key ingredient in soda drinks.
This is the Hot Soda Fountain by Manning, Bowman and Company from Meriden, Connecticut. It was made from brass and it contained water that was heated and added to the syrups that were stored on the rack. The rising heat made the sign on top of the machine spin. It is 40 inches tall.
This is a two-gallon syrup bottle from the Powers-Taylor Drug Company from Richmond, Virginia. It was made out of tin and wood. It was used to store the soda syrups as they were transported and delivered to the drug stores.
Lash's California Orangeade Syrup Dispenser. These dispensers are placed on the counters of the soda fountain bars.
This dispenser is rare - made of ceramic.
Sun Shine Seltzer bottles from St. Petersburg, Florida
Seltzer bottles from Sparklets Corporation in New York.
Menus: Lime Punch ($0.20), Vanilla Ice Cream ($0.10), Ginger ale/single syrup sodas ($0.05). As you can see, on a $5 weekly salary, sodas and sweets were a luxury.
These dispense soda. Made of marble and brass. The aesthetic appeal of the soda fountain machine was one of the highlights of the early twentieth century. It attracted people to the drug stores, like bees to honey. Consequently, the growing popularity of the "drug store" is still seen today, with independent and chain pharmacies on almost every corner.

Fun Facts

- "The soda fountain is the most valuable, most useful, most profitable and all together, most beneficial business building feature assimilated by the drug store in a generation" (John Todd Somerset).

- There were pharmacists, such as Richard Armor, who were resistant to incorporate soda fountain machines, ice cream, and other non-drug commodities to their pharmacy practices.

- The busiest store in American in 1920, "Liggett's Drugstore in Grand Central Station" had about 12,000 people pass through each day. Out of those 12,000, about 8,000 came for the soda fountain machines.

- 8,000 glasses of soda a day means 2,920,000 glasses a year. Assuming 8 ounces per glass, this would stretch 389 miles. This is the distance from Chicago to Milwaukee.

- It was estimated that soda sales along with other impulse buys in 1920, brought in half a million dollars a year with a net profit margin of 33%.

"The bar's dead, the fountain lives, and soda is king!" (Somerset)

Thank you!

Sagarika Grover

Karina Manoogian


Primary Source: Congdon-Martin, Douglas. Drugstore and Soda Fountain Antiques. West Chester, Penn.: Schiffer Pub., 1991. Print.

Secondary Source: Higby, G.J., Stroud, E.C., “American Pharmacy; A Collection of Historical Essays”, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, Madison WI 2005

Primary Source: Devroshart. YouTube. YouTube, 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Tertiary Source: "Highland Park Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain ICE CREAM | MILK SHAKE | SANDWICH Dallas, TX." Highland Park Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain ICE CREAM | MILK SHAKE | SANDWICH Dallas, TX. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Tertiary Source: Dsoneil, and Dsoneil. "History of the Soda Fountain." Art of Drink. N.p., 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.


Created with images by stevepb - "coca cola cold drink soft drink"

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