Soda drinks encompass all carbonated nonalcoholic beverages. The thirst for soda drinks began with the popularity of naturally carbonated mineral waters, which were thought to have medicinal properties. During the eighteenth century, European scientists, such as Joseph Priestley, developed processes for artificially carbonating water. In 1806, a Yale chemistry professor named Benjamin Silliman purchased an apparatus for impregnating water with carbon dioxide. Within three years, he owned soda parlors in New Haven and New York City that sold his mineral water by the glass and by the bottle. Although the use of these waters was at first strictly therapeutic, soon people realized that these shops could be gathering spots for more than sick people. Everybody seemed to enjoy the refreshing qualities of carbonated water. By 1820, soda makers had started adding flavored syrups to their waters, and a whole new industry was born.
Soda “fountains” dispensed their carbonated water into glasses from urns or pipes. They concealed the machinery for carbonating and cooling water beneath elaborate marble and metal trimmings. To these were added pumps for dispensing syrups, sometimes in dozens of flavors. In addition to being impressive sights, these machines allowed employees to mix and serve their concoctions with minimal effort. Soda parlors soon became centers of urban social life, and temperance advocates promoted them as alternatives to saloons. By 1895, there were an estimated fifty thousand soda fountains across the nation.
Soda drinks were also sold by the bottle, to be enjoyed at home or in restaurants. However, the technology of soda bottling took many years to perfect. Bottles were all hand-blown and often exploded while being filled. The capping devices, mainly internal stoppers or wire clamps over corks, tended to leak both liquid and carbonation. It was not until the 1890s that American bottle manufacturers invented the technology for producing strong, inexpensive, and standardized glass soda bottles. In 1891, William Painter of Baltimore invented the “crown” metal bottle cap whose corrugated edge crimped around the bottle top. These advances would pave the way for the giant soda companies of the twentieth century.
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