The Soda Fountain

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

The soda fountain, which began as a simple utilitarian device to dispense carbonated soda water, evolved into an inviting public space where consumers enjoyed beverages, ice cream, and light meals. Completing a circle, in the fast-food era the soda fountain returned to its roots as an uninteresting machine that dispenses fizzy liquids.

Primitive societies ascribed magical powers to the effervescent waters bubbling up from underground sources. Many people believed these special waters could cure diseases. Scientists studied the effervescent waters, hoping to replicate them and make their curative powers available to everyone. Around 1766 Henry Cavendish, an Englishman, designed an apparatus for making aerated water. In Sweden, chemist Torbern Bergman produced effervescent waters in his lab and promulgated his method in the 1770s. The noted British scientist Joseph Priestly conducted simple experiments to infuse water with gas expelled from fermentation vats in a brewery. He built a device to impregnate distilled water with carbon dioxide, and John Mervin Nooth improved on his design. In the early 1800s, British entrepreneurs sold bottled water infused with carbon dioxide, which was commonly called soda or carbonated water.