In their battle for market dominance, Coca-Cola will often tout the fact that it has been around for longer than its primary competitor, Pepsi. But although this is undeniably true, Coca-Cola is far from the oldest soda to have ever been concocted. That honorary title belongs to a different soda entirely.
So what’s the oldest soda ever made?
Vernors Ginger Ale is widely recognized as the world’s oldest soda by most people since it is both made with carbonated water, and it has a distinct flavor. That said 1767 was the year when carbonated drinking water was first created. But the first flavored carbonated drink was this ginger ale that was developed in 1866.
But there’s certainly an argument to be made that Schweppe’s carbonated waters, first created in 1767, are the true heirs to the title of “Oldest Soda Ever.” It really boils down to how you define a soda beverage, which can vary from person to person.
Interestingly, most of the major soda brands that we know and love today weren’t created until the late 1800s, after Vernors Ginger Ale. Soda creation seemed to reach a peak of 50 or so years where many of the world’s favorite sodas came into production one right after the other.
Schweppes vs. Vernors Battle of the Oldest Soda
The heart of the disagreement between which of the two fizzy drinks is really the first “soda” lies in the definition of what constitutes a soda pop the way we think of them today.
Technically speaking, the first time that anyone could enjoy a beverage even remotely similar to modern-day soda would have been 1767. Dr. Joseph Priestley, an Englishman, drank the first man-made glass of carbonated water. As you might already know, all soda is defined by its fizzy or carbonated nature.
But few people would call mere carbonated water a soda. The founder of the Schweppes Company, Johann Jacob Schweppe, manufactured and sold carbonated mineral waters starting in 1783, which is around 80 years before the first Vernors Ginger Ales were starting to crop up.
Schweppe’s secret was the development of a special bottle that allowed his drinks to retain their carbonation over more extended periods. He also gained access to a machine that would enable him to carbonate large amounts of water quickly.
His carbonated mineral waters became a sensation and allowed Schweppe to expand his business empire.
He even started selling Schweppe ginger ale when the formula was widely-accessible starting in 1870… which was four years after Vernors Ginger Ale had taken off.
So from one point of view, Schweppe managed to be the first person to sell carbonated beverages of any type, even if those beverages were just mineral waters. But his company didn’t manage to make carbonated ginger ale until after Vernors, so from that point of view, Vernors was the first true soda. Ginger ale, at least, has a distinct flavor to set it apart from other beverages.
If you hold the latter case to be accurate, then Vernors is the first true soda in the world. Vernors beat Hires Root Beer, which came out ten years after Vernors’ successful Ginger Ale development: 1876. In fact, Vernors eventually acquired Hires Root Beer, so the two sodas were sold alongside one another, starting the soda popularity boom which continues until the present day.
There’s also the fact that advances in refrigeration (and why does a cold soda taste better ?) and bottling technology allowed Vernors to reach a much wider market than the original carbonated waters ever could. While full-blown refrigerators like we use today wouldn’t be seen for another several hundred years at least, Vernors certainly benefited from the improved technology of the time.
It may not have been possible for Schweppe to experiment with carbonated and more flavorful beverages due to the limitations of his time’s technology.
Overall, it’s largely up to you to decide which of these two beverages counts as the world’s oldest soda. But let’s dig deeper into the semantics of the argument to see if one holds more water than the other.
What Counts as Soda?
A soda or “soft drink” starts off with one guaranteed aspect: a soda has carbonated water as its base ingredient. While there are some rare exceptions to this rule, like lemonades that are advertised as sodas without any carbonation, the vast majority of soft drinks have the distinct bubbly and fizzy texture that makes them a joy to drink.
Most sodas are also quite sweet and may have a number of different flavored ingredients to give them a particular identity or kick. Soft drinks may have had some amount stimulants such as caffeine or, in the case of the original Coca-Cola, actual Coca.
But not all sodas have flavored ingredients. Take club soda as a well-known example. Club soda is merely carbonated water and is often used as a mixing element in alcoholic beverages. If club soda counts as a soft, then Schweppe’s carbonated mineral waters would surely count as the oldest soda.
But some others might consider club soda to be on a real soft drink since no one really guzzles it by itself. Some might believe that real sodas must have a distinguishing ingredient or taste to separate them from other beverages. This is also supported by the fact that the vast majority of modern-day soda drinks are heavily flavored and packed with sugar.
All in all, the only common element in all technical definitions of what makes up soda is carbonated water. A soda cannot be a soda without some element of carbonation.
What About Classic Sodas?
While the world’s oldest soda isn’t something that you can find at the local fast-food restaurant, many of the classic favorites are much older than you might think. For instance, Dr Pepper is the oldest of the classic sodas that many people identify with their youth and with the booming restaurant industry.
Dr Pepper was made available as early as 1885. It was developed in Texas by a pharmacist named Charles Alderton, and it contained the unique mixture of 23 different distinct flavors that people associate with a soft drink today. Humorously, Dr Pepper was initially called a Waco. Dr Pepper has its official name from the friend of the store owner where the drink was initially sold: Dr. Charles Pepper.
Coca-Cola famously came just one year later in 1886. It was developed as a substitute for morphine, originally. Coca-Cola started as a mixture of wine and Coca but was then transformed into a carbonated drink with its distinct flavor.
The final soda pop of the “Big Three” was Pepsi. It was developed in 1893 by Caleb Bradham, who utilized an interesting mixture of nutmeg, caramel, kola nuts, lemon oil, and sugar to give the soft drink its much sweeter taste when compared to its main rival Coca-Cola. Eventually called Pepsi-Cola in 1898, the soft drink’s creator eventually lost the company, although Pepsi lived on to become the soda juggernaut it is today.
Interestingly, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi were successful enough to purchase other soda companies beneath their separate corporate umbrellas eventually. Dr Pepper is somewhat shared by both companies and is bottled by Coca-Cola or Pepsi depending on the region in which it is created.
Beyond the Big Sodas
What about sodas that aren’t the top three of Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper or Pepsi?
The first root beer, Hires, was actually developed in 1876 just after the first ginger ale. Curiously, the drink was initially just sold as a powder which could be mixed at home, although this naturally did not have the carbonation associated with soft drinks unless you could make your own.
Eventually, Hires began selling its root beer in carbonated bottles to great success.
Barq’s Root Beer is much more well known by the general population and it came out in 1898. In fact, it wasn’t initially called root beer since Hires had attempted to trademark the term entirely. Eventually, however, Barq’s became the well-known root beer brand that it is today and is currently owned by Coca-Cola.
Other notable early soda mentions include Moxie, developed in 1885. Moxie, like Coca-Cola, was initially developed as a curing element designed to help people in pain that did not have ingredients like Cocaor alcohol. Although Moxie was very popular in the early decades of the 20th century, it slowly declined in popularity and is now much more obscure. You can typically find Moxie in the northeastern United States.
There’s also Fioravanti, one of the oldest soda brands in the world. It was developed by an Italian immigrant to Ecuador named Juan Fioravanti. It’s notable because it was developed in 1878, very early compared to many other soda brands, and because it was created in a country outside the United States. Today, Fioravanti soda can be purchased primarily in Spain and South America, well known for its wide variety of fruity flavors.