Soda Pop of the Week: Hires Root Beer

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“The Original Root Beer”

Hires Root Beer is one of America’s oldest soft drinks. It was created by Charles Elmer Hires, a Philadelphia pharmacist, in 1876. Legend has it that he tasted a delicious root tea on his honeymoon. He set out to recreate this tea made of roots, berries and herbs. He already had experience developing medicinal syrups and extracts during his time working as a pharmacist’s apprentice. Since colonial times, people had produced drinks referred to as “small beer”, produced from herbs, berries, bark and roots. Some examples of these small beers are sarsaparilla, sassafras and the early root beers. Hires’ creation resulted in a powered tea, from which one bag yielded five gallons of his drink, a non-alcoholic root beer. Next, Hires developed a carbonated liquid version of his soft drink. He first introduced his root beer at Philadelphia’s U.S. Centennial Exposition in that year, by passing out free glasses of his new soft drink.

Families were able to buy a Hires Root Beer kit and brew the root beer in their own homes using Hires’ powdered extract. After adding their own water, yeast and sugar, they were able to produce Hires Root Beer for the cost of only 5 cents a gallon. Although these kits sold well, Hires believed he could sell more root beer if people didn’t have to make it themselves.

In 1884 Hires began producing a syrup version of his root beer that was distributed in kegs for use in soda fountains. Hires had dispensers built that dispensed syrup and carbonated water simultaneously, called the “Hires Munimaker”. The root beer was dispensed into Hires mugs marked with the Hires Root Beer name, illustrating Charles Hires’ strong belief in advertising and product identity. The Charles E. Hires Company was incorporated in 1890 and Hires Root Beer was first distributed and sold in bottles in 1893. Hires always insisted that his root beer be made of more expensive ingredients than those used by his competitors, resulting in a reputation for a high-quality product. During the Temperance Movement, Hires was promoted as “The Temperance Drink” and a healthy alternative to alcoholic beverages.

Charles Hires had three sons that were all involved in his company. In 1925 he retired and the sons took over the business. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 85.

In 1989 Hires Root Beer was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes. Today Hires is owned by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. of Plano, Texas.

The Charles E. Hires Co.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Last updated: Jun 20, 2009
Filed under: Soda Pop Tagged with: Charles E. Hires Company, Hires, Hires Root Beer