Dr Pepper: The Story of Texas’ Favorite Soft Drink
My favorite snack as a teenager was a Dr Pepper with salty peanuts. You remember: you pour the peanuts into the Dr Pepper and let them float around and season the drink. Didn’t get much better than that.
Dr Pepper is the oldest soft drink in America. Older than Coca-Cola, in fact, by a full year. It was created in 1885 by a pharmacist, Charles Alderton, in Waco, Texas. And its original name was Waco – it was served there at the soda fountain in the drugstore. The drink was an instant hit; customers would sit down on one of those old spinning stools and say, “Shoot me a Waco.”
As its popularity exploded, the makers couldn’t keep up supplying the syrup to all the other drug stores that wanted it, so a company was formed, and a new name created.
The name Dr Pepper was suggested by Wade Morrison, the owner of the drugstore. The story goes that Morrison supposedly named it after his would-be father-in-law back in Virginia, a man he wanted to impress because he was in love with his daughter.
Morrison never did get the girl, but I bet the old man Pepper regretted that rejection when Dr Pepper became a national sensation and made the not-good-enough Morrison quite rich. Maybe the saddest person in this whole affair was Charles Alderton – the pharmacist who created Dr Pepper. He simply gave away the recipe because he was more interested in medicine than marketing.
Dr Pepper’s formula is held in two separate bank vaults in Dallas. Each vault has half of the formula and no one person knows the entire secret. Coca-Cola has similar safeguards.
Contrary to soda pop mythology, Dr Pepper is not made of prune juice, nor does it have any part prune juice in it. It is made of a blend of fruit extracts. But the blend of flavors results in a uniqueness that makes many people swear that Diet Dr Pepper is the most undiety tasting soft drink in existence. And let’s not forget Dublin Dr Pepper, now sadly out of production, but once regarded as the finest Pepper of all, thanks to Imperial pure cane sugar.
Dr Pepper Poker – a version of poker where tens, twos, and fours are wild – takes its concept from the numbers 10, 2, and 4 that used to be on every Dr Pepper bottle. The label encouraged you to have three Dr Peppers a day at 10, 2, and 4 to keep you, well... peppy.
A poker purist will not play Dr Pepper. But I like it. It is the only time I have had four a kind, legitimately.
W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.