Hires Root Beer:
The Great Health Drink
By Kate Patton, Fall 2009.

Hires Root Beer Logo
drpeppersnapplegroup.com
Hires Root Beer has proved to be one of the longest surviving soft drink brands.

He took a sip and was smitten. The delicious herbal tea filled his mouth with the enticing taste of roots, berries, and herbs. At that moment, Charles E. Hires transformed from a pharmacist on his honeymoon to a future entrepreneur whose passion for root beer would make it the widely enjoyed beverage it is today.

When Charles Hires returned to his job as a pharmacist in Philadelphia, he began delving into the making of root beer. He mixed and re-mixed the roots and berries and herbs until he believed he had found the perfect mixture. He began selling this extract as “Hires Root Tea” in his own pharmacy. In 1876, Charles Hires took his extract to the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was here that “Hires Root Beer” was first introduced to the world (Dr. Pepper Snapple Group).

To produce root beer, Hires first had to make his extract. To create his extract, he would boil the ingredients: roots, barks, herbs and berries. While Hires recipe is not public, he likely boiled birch bark, licorice, ginger, sarsaparilla, wintergreen and juniper berries. After boiling the ingredients for a prescribed period of time, the actual roots and herbs are removed and all that is left is the extract.

To mix root beer from extract, one would put sugar into a bottle, followed by yeast. The bottle would then be shaken to mix the yeast into the sugar. Then the extract would be added, followed by water. After the water was added, the bottle would be rapidly inverted to properly mix the ingredients.

Charles Elmer Hires
Digger Odell Publications
Bottlebooks.com
Charles E. Hires created his root beer at a shop at the corner of 6th and Spruce in Philadelphia.

Rather than selling bottles of root beer, Hires started out by selling “Root Beer Kits.” These kits were designed so that people could make their own root beer by mixing the extract with the water, sugar and yeast, as described above. The cost was 5 cents for 5 gallons. However, Hires eventually came to the realization that it would be easier to sell his root beer if it did not need to be mixed and brewed. So Hires developed soda fountain syrup, a liquid concentrate, and eventually bottled root beer.

Hires Root Beer is frequently celebrated as the original root beer and one of the first soft drinks to be introduced in America. But how did Hires Root Beer gain so much renown? One needs only to look at Charles Hires’ own philosophy about business to understand why the brand took off. Charles Hires was a strong believer in advertising, and is famously quoted as saying “doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark: you know what you are doing, but nobody else does.”

And Charles Hires took this motto to heart. He heavily advertised his product, adapting to the changing times. From Victorian trading cards to ads celebrating the “healthfulness” of Hires Root Beer, it is safe to say that Hires was one of the most heavily advertised brands of its time.

The Victorian trading cards that Charles Hires and other businessmen of his time used were very successful. They were frequently made by wonderful artists, and had wonderful pictures that appeared to the masses. The back of these cards contained additional information on the product. Many households collected these trading cards as a past-time. This meant that they frequently received, kept, read, and looked at the ads. Hires Root Beer published many such cards.

Hires Root Beer Logo
drpeppersnapplegroup.com
Hires Root Beer has proved to be one of the longest surviving soft drink brands.
Hires Root Beer Logo
drpeppersnapplegroup.com
Hires Root Beer has proved to be one of the longest surviving soft drink brands.

Charles Hires’ product was meant to appeal to consumers even through its very name. Hires originally referred to his product as “root tea.” However, Rev. Dr. Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple University, had approached Hires about marketing his product as an alternative to beer for the hard drinking Pennsylvania miners as the temperance movement gathered steam in the latter part of the 19th century. Realizing the popularity of beer, Hires chose to change the name of his product before the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in 1876. This move made Hires Root Beer even more visible.

In 1919, Prohibition was introduced in the United States. No longer were people allowed to consume alcoholic beverages, including beer. During this period, Hires Root Beer was uniquely positioned to sell. Its name made it appealing to those who had enjoyed beer prior to prohibition, and its claim of being “The Great Health Drink” kept it from being targeted by those associated with the temperance movement. In fact, at times Hires even claimed their root beer had medicinal qualities and could cure tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Prohibition lasted until 1933, and during that time, Hires continued to solidify itself as one of the most popular, and healthy drinks in America.

Hires, started in Philadelphia, became one of the first national soft drinks in America through ingenuity and a commitment to advertising. Through these commitments to quality and to advertising, Hires has remained a player in the ever competitive soft drink market for decades.

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