‘Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?’
December 1, 2020
When this product was granted a US patent on December 1, 1885, no one had ever heard of Coca-Cola. In fact, it was a year later before that iconic product was patented.
But for people in Waco, Texas, Dr Pepper was wildly popular. Despite over a century of being in monolith Coke’s shadow, the soft drink has an almost cult-like following.
The story begins with one Charles Alderton, a pharmacist, at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco. The owner of the Drug store, upon trying it, soon added it to the menu and the local folks would order a “Waco.”
Like so many products of the late 1800’s, all sorts of wild claims which touted Dr Pepper as a healthful drink abounded. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Early advertisements for this soft drink made medical claims, stating that it ‘aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality.’
As with Coca-Cola, the formula for Dr Pepper is a trade secret, and allegedly the recipe is kept as two halves in safe deposit boxes in two separate Dallas banks. A persistent rumor since the 1930s is that the drink contains prune juice, but the official Dr Pepper FAQ refutes this with ‘Dr Pepper is a unique blend of natural and artificial flavors; it does not contain prune juice.’ The origin of the rumor is unknown; some believe it was started by a deliveryman for a competitor trying to cast aspersions based on prune juice’s laxative effects, but it may simply be because many people feel that Dr Pepper tastes similar to prune juice.
In 2009, an old ledger book filled with formulas and recipes was discovered by Bill Waters while shopping at antiques stores in the Texas Panhandle. Several sheets and letterheads hinted it had come from the W.B. Morrison & Co. Old Corner Drug Store (the same store where Dr Pepper was first served in 1885) and faded letters on the book’s cover spelled out ‘Castles Formulas’. John Castles was a partner of Morrison’s for a time and worked at that location as early as 1880. One recipe in the book titled ‘Dr Peppers Pepsin Bitters’ was of particular interest, and some speculated it could be an early recipe for Dr Pepper. However, Keurig Dr Pepper insists it is not the formula for Dr Pepper, but is instead a medicinal recipe for a digestive aid. The book was put up for auction in May 2009, but no one purchased it.”
Over the years Dr Pepper has earned its spot on the grocery store shelves despite a century long effort by Coca Cola to eliminate the competitor. Coke even went so far as to introduce a similar tasting soda in the early 1970’s they named “Peppo.” Dr Pepper successfully sued Coke for copyright infringement. When the competing product’s name was changed to Dr Pibb it was determined even that was still infringement. Coke finally settled on Mr Pibb. As hard as Coke might try, Mr Pibb just doesn’t taste the same.
Which brings us to my take on Dr Pepper. I grew up in a Coke or 7-Up household with an occasional orange or root beer for variety. I doubt my mother had ever heard of Dr Pepper. But in the mid 1970’s a memorable jingle wormed its way into the American consciousness and suddenly everyone wanted to be ‘a Pepper too.’
And still I had not ever tried Dr Pepper! But I really liked the jingle even adapting the song as a promotion for an event I was working on.
When I met my future hubby in 1979 I finally tried Dr Pepper. At first sip I was hooked.
The Dr soon became our ‘go to’ beverage. In the summer of 1981, we traveled to Sacramento for a long weekend and a DeVore family reunion. When we left Sacramento that hot Sunday morning, it was to drive all 751 miles to Seattle since we had to both be at work the next day.
Oh, and did I mention that the hubby’s 1975 Audi had windows? Which was a good thing since it did not have air conditioning.
So we headed north with a six pack of Dr Pepper and the wind through the open windows as the only way to stay even remotely comfortable as the temperature soared to 106 degrees.
On we drove, downing the Dr Pepper and not once having to stop for a restroom break.
Over the years every trip has always required we have at least a few cans or bottles in the cooler.
In recent years I had to curtail my Dr Pepper consumption due to the caffeine. Instead of sharing an entire six pack, I now might have a half a can. That was until I went on a diet in April. The Dr might be good for restoring ‘vim, vigor, and vitality’ but it wasn’t the leader in weight loss products. The cost – caloric wise – was higher than I was willing to pay.
Now before y’all start telling me that I can get Dr Pepper in caffeine and sugar free versions, I know that. My worry is that it just won’t be the same taste I love.
One of these days I might try it. I’ve missed being a Pepper… and really would like to be a Pepper too (again!)
The video above is the 30 second commercial from the 1970’s when I became aware of Dr Pepper’s existence. And, just so you know, it is Dr Pepper without a period after the word ‘Dr’ so that’s not a typo. And, of course, even more trivia courtesy of The Infallible Wikipedia: