Welch's "The National Drink", 1921
Welch’s “The National Drink”, 1921.
Wars, religion, better health, governing laws, temperance, and the enactment of Prohibition all impacted and influenced the choice of beverages being consumed between 1865 and 1935 in the United States. In the final article of this series, beverage selections will be presented. Many of these are still with us today and have become American brands that we cannot imagine the world without. Here are some impactful developments from the time period leading up to and through the Prohibition era that created a diverse non-alcoholic beverage industry.

Why Create New Beverages?

It is an interesting fact of history that scientists actually started synthesizing carbonated water using sodium salts within the water during the eighteenth century. This became known as soda water.

The trauma, injuries, infections, amputations, and addictions of war all contributed to the creation of new drinks. Most of the beverages were created by druggists, many of whom had been medical doctors during the Civil War. Many of these men were themselves addicted to morphine or other drugs; they used carbonated water techniques to develop new sodas. The drinks they invented helped them ease their addictions. Some of these inventors even believed that stimulants used in these newly created sodas were good for people. The ingredients they used in the creation of these sodas included cocaine, kola (cola) nuts, caffeine, lithium, amaretto, ginger, and sugar.

In the late nineteenth century, the temperance movement became popular as women were participating in social and suffragette activities. The front runner of topics making headway was the elimination of alcohol in the country. As noted in the other articles, the WCTU became the organization that had the greatest influence on changes being put forth in the United States. The Anti-Saloon movement was also involved in the political discussions and campaigns of these years – the saloon lifestyle was under fire. As an alternative to saloons, the creation of soda fountains at the local pharmacies became very popular. Local soda fountains used the “new” fizzy and sweet sodas as the mixer for ice cream sodas and milk shakes.

The Birth of the Soda Based Cocktail

By the time Prohibition was enacted in the 1920s these sodas were used with bootleg and medicinal liquor without leaving the local soda fountain. How convenient that the drugstore was the place to purchase medicinal liquor, or “legal” liquor, and enjoy it at the soda fountain counter without leaving the premises. This was the birth of the soda-based cocktail.

Fruit Juice and Sodas Developed at the Same Time

Creating a juice that had a shelf life and was a health tonic was also important to the citizens of America when water was not known to be a safe or healthy refreshment. There was the establishment of a strong table grape market as early as the 1860s. The ability to use fruit presses used in making wine and cider contributed to the fast rise of other types of fruit juices. Fruit juices are essentially defined as “being drinks made by extracting fruit’s natural liquid.” So, even though this type of drink had been around for many hundreds of years it had not been available to the public in the commercial sense. I was surprised to find out that as a commercial product, fruit juices have only been available as long as soda drinks.

Wine and Grape Juice – Religion and Sacraments – Christians and Jews

Was the biblical mandate calling for the use of wine as the sacrament really the only choice for the Lord’s Supper? This became an important topic during the late 1800s to temperance groups like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) who had organized in 1873 originally consisting mostly of women from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Frances Willard, who served as the first secretary and the second president of the organization was a well-known Methodist. To zealous prohibitionists, the importance of wine to the service of Christian churches was offensive to many parishioners beginning with the Methodist Episcopal Church; and so, the creation and introduction of an unfermented wine seemed to solve that issue in the late 1860s and through the early 1900s. The Jewish synagogues also took issue with wine versus grape juice after the “invention” of grape juice. Grape juice being served instead of wine during the 1920s in the name of the sacrament became a boundary between the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish movements.

Even the Navy got in on Grape Juice

On June 1, 1914, a General Order 99 was instituted by the U.S. government, specifically by the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. It banned alcohol on all Navy vessels and installations, leaving only two options for beverages for the sailors serving during World War I – juice or coffee. However, they couldn’t drink coffee all day long; they needed something rich in vitamins and so fruit juices, specifically grape juice, became the beverage of choice. As a note of interest, the sailors referred to their coffee as “cups of Joe” as an insult to the man who took away their alcohol.

Over the Counter Drugs Prior to 1914

Prior to 1914, all drugs that were sold at pharmacy stores were “over the counter.” For many years grape juice, as well as sodas, seltzers, colas, and other elixirs or tonics were drug store items and not grocery items. So, before the enactment of laws restricting what went into products, the local druggist selling drinks at the soda fountain made with cocaine that druggist was not breaking any law. That is until the Harrison Act became law in the United States which banned the use of cocaine and opiates in over-the-counter products.

And then there was Prohibition. One might say the soda fountain lost its reputation as picking up one’s medicinal liquor and sitting down at the fountain for a quick drink with friends. Eventually, because of the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Prohibition Act providing guidelines for the federal enforcement of Prohibition, the soda fountain became known for serving “soft drinks.”

Louis Pasteur, oil painting by Albert Edelfelt,1885.
Louis Pasteur, oil painting by Albert Edelfelt, 1885.

Unfermented Wine – Temperance Wine

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), a French biologist, microbiologist and chemist, published a theory about alcoholic fermentation in 1858 stating that yeast was responsible for fermentation to produce alcohol from sugar. He was consulted by a local wine manufacturer for advice on the problems of making beetroot alcohol and subsequent souring. By 1861 Pasteur observed that less sugar fermented per part of yeast when the yeast was exposed to air. He also noted that the growth of microorganisms was responsible for spoiling beverages such as milk, beer, and wine. Pasteur’s solution was to heat the liquids to a temperature between 60 and 100 degrees Celsius which killed most bacteria and molds already present in the liquid. This process was patented in 1865 in France and became known as pasteurization used for beer and milk. By 1866 he published Etudes sur le Vin about the diseases of wine.

The information relating to the patent for what became known as pasteurization introduced by Pasteur dispersed around the world quickly. As an example, pasteurization was discussed in 1867 by the California State Agricultural Society in their annual report entitled Transactions. This same process was put to test in 1869 in experiments of controlling fermentation.

In 1864, the Methodist Episcopal Church, upon recommendation of the Temperance Committee, agreed that only “the pure juice of the grape be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper”. Here’s something to imagine. Many churches did not have communion when grapes were out of season. Raw grape juice stored at room temperature ferments into wine. And it was near to impossible to keep the grape “juice” cool from week to week and stop the change to alcohol since there were no refrigerators for “home” use in the country until 1913.

The First Preserved Grape Juice becomes Temperance Wine

The Concord grape, introduced by Ephraim Bull in 1849 who said he developed the “perfect” grape in Concord, Massachusetts, was used when Dr. Thomas Welch pressed those types of grapes into a juice. The juice was brought to a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit resulting in the production of the first preserved grape juice of which there is a record. No permit was necessary for this unfermented wine as it contained no alcohol which was very important to the Methodist Episcopal Church and the WCTU. It was at some point referred to as Temperance Wine.

By 1876, the WCTU members were refusing to receive the sacrament in churches using alcoholic wine and were beginning to change over to requesting the unfermented wine. Their influence increased the demand for Temperance Wine.

Soda Drinks

    • William Brownrigg is thought to be the first person to aerate water with carbon dioxide in 1740.
    • In 1767 Joseph Priestley discovered a method of infusing water with carbon dioxide in Leeds, England, and published a paper entitled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air. He received scientific recognition in 1772 with the Copley Medal by the Council of the Royal Society. Today Priestley might be regarded as “the father of the soft drink.”
    • The first soda factory was built by Thomas Henry of Manchester, England. By 1781 companies specializing in producing artificial mineral water were established.
    • In 1833, the first effervescent lemonade was sold.
    • Ginger ales, lemonades, and cream sodas have been in the United States since the 1850s. Ginger ale was a variation on ginger beer. In 1866, Vernor’s Ginger Ale was born in Detroit, Michigan.
    • Hires Root Beer was created by Charles Elmer Hires (1851-1937) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876. It was the first time root beer was mass-produced for public sale.
    • Cola drinks were first sold at pharmacy counters in the 1880s. Colas were carbonated and sweetened with cinnamon, vanilla, and other flavorings. Most contained caffeine sourced from the kola nut.
    • Dr. Pepper was created in Waco, Texas in 1885 by Charles Alderton (1857-1941).
    • Confederate Colonel John Pemberton (1831-1888) became addicted to morphine after he was wounded in the Civil War; he had a medical degree and created Pemberton’s French Wine Coca nerve tonic in 1885 in Columbus, Georgia. The source of caffeine was the addition of the African kola nut. Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation in 1886. French-Corsican chemist Angelo  Mariani who in 1863 created coca wine (combination of wine with cocaine) as the brand Vin Mariani. Pemberton marketed his non-alcoholic version of coca wine as Coca-Cola, also known as the Temperance drink. This new drink was marketed and sold as a patent medicine using no wine but still had the cocaine, claiming it to be a cure for many diseases including morphine addiction, indigestion, nerve disorders, headaches, and impotence.
    • William Painter had the crown bottle cap patented (US468226A) February 2, 1892 – important to the soda business. Prior to this soda bottles had cork bottle stoppers with rounded bottoms which tended to dry out and shrink. This allowed the gas pressure in the bottle to “pop”. After this invention soda pop bottles no longer needed to be stored on their sides to keep the cork from drying out and they could be stored standing upright.
    • The first bottling of Coca-Cola occurred in Vicksburg, Mississippi on March 12, 1894. The two key ingredients when created were cocaine (coca leaf) and caffeine (kola/cola nut). Hence the name Coca-Cola.
    • In 1890, John J. McLaughlin (1865-1914), a Canadian pharmacist, sold Sarsaparilla, lemon, and cream soda under the brand name Sanitary.
    • “Brad’s Drink” was created in New Bern, North Carolina in 1893 by Caleb Bradham (1867-1934). The name was changed to Pepsi-Cola in 1898 and advertised to relieve dyspepsia (indigestion or upset stomach). The original recipe also included sugar and vanilla. Pepsi-Cola was sold in 6.5 oz. glass bottles and at soda fountains.
    • In a previous article, Handmade Balloon Bottles, I referred to the New England Glass Company. The owner of that company, Edward Drummond Libbey, hired Michael J. Owens in 1888. Owens patented a machine on August 2, 1904 that could automatically manufacture glass bottles which revolutionized both the beer and soft drink industries.
    • By 1905, John McLaughlin had created a “lighter” ginger ale (less sweet) and it was named Canada Dry. He promoted it, at his wife Maud’s suggestion, as “the champagne of ginger ales”.
    • At the beginning of the twentieth century, almost every city and town in the United States had a corner drug store serving refreshing drinks at a soda fountain.
    • In the first six months of Prohibition, soda sales leaped by 200 percent and kept rising until the Great Depression. (According to The Atlantic, November 8, 2013, an article by Tristan Donovan called “The Four Horsemen May Charge Over the Earth—but Coca-Cola Will Remain” in the Health Section of that magazine).
    • There were 8,000 bottling plants making soda in America by the 1920s. They were filling 6 oz. bottles with soft drinks.
    • Sugar = energy, caffeine = alertness, flavorings = enjoyment
    • Canada Dry Ginger Ale became popular as a cocktail mixer. The business was bought for a million dollars by a Canadian and an American; they changed the packaging to small champagne-style bottles in 1922. In 1922, 1.7 million bottles a year were sold and by 1926 more than 50 million bottles were sold. Almost everyone used it as a mixer, masking the taste of bootleg liquor.
    • Pepsi-Cola Company entered bankruptcy in 1923 – their speculation on sugar prices led to bankruptcy. The business was re-organized and began producing beverages.
    • In 1916, Clayton J. Howel (1878-1964) founded the Orange Crush Company and partnered with a California chemist Neil C. Ward (1882-1939) who developed the formula for Orange Crush in 1915 creating an all-natural orange flavor soda. Doctors recommended orange juice as a source of Vitamin C. However, there were no oranges in Orange Crush, only the oil from the skins. By 1921, juice was added, and the company also introduced two other sodas, Lemon Crush and Lime Crush.
    • By 1929, a popular ad campaign and slogan was “the pause that refreshes” from Coca-Cola. It became part of American life. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Arkansas City devoted 1929 to stamping out the “hydra-headed menace of Coca-Cola.” The campaign got lampooned in the newspapers and was dismissed as a joke.
    • During the late 1920s there were around six hundred brands of lemon sodas in the United States.
    • Charles Leiper Grigg (1868-1940) created a lemon and lime-flavored beverage that fizzed more than average sodas. Originally it was named Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime soda but is better known as 7 Up. It launched two weeks before the stock market crashed.
    • Sales went up for Pepsi after the Great Depression; changed serving size to 12 oz. bottles “twice as much for a nickel”. Marketing beginning in the 1930s was “Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot.”


But sodas were not the only non-alcoholic drinks that had a rise to fame. Just like sodas were initially sold to the public as a way to improve one’s health, juices had a healthy-looking exterior at their commercial inception. Remember juice originally was made at home, using a cider or wine press to create juices from any fruit one might have hanging around the homestead. And it is clear that all ancient civilizations had fruit juice beverages and combinations of a variety of fruit juices.

However, fruit juice as a commercial product was definitely created for the consumers at the same time as sodas were; that is post-Civil War, temperance era and leading into and through the Prohibition years. And in my research, I discovered that drinks served at restaurants once Prohibition was enacted in 1920 included mention of some type of fruit within every type of special made drink to make the non-alcoholic list more enticing. Here’s some examples: fruit punch, Catawba punch, raspberry punch, loganberry high ball, pineapple freeze, orange fizz, grape juice rickey, grape lemonade, orangeade. There was also a list included of juices: red grape juice, loganberry juice, Tropiko grapefruit juice, Mier’s white grape juice, etc. So, juice and fruit combinations were the “healthy” alternative to a better life and one without alcohol.

Thomas Bramwell Welch
Thomas Bramwell Welch (1825–1903)

Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch (1825-1903)

A Wesleyan Methodist preacher who had been curtailed by throat problems who took up being a doctor, a dentist, a man of science, who was also a man fervently against the use of alcohol moved to the advertised healthful climate community of Vineland, New Jersey in 1865. He had read of the breakthrough Louis Pasteur had discovered and patented on fermentation and pasteurization. Dr. Thomas Welch wondered if these same ideas could be applied to keep grape juice from fermenting into wine.

This dentist picked forty pounds of Concord grapes outside his house and cooked, squeezed and bottled them (they made 12 quarts of the first shelf-stable fruit juice). He perfected this juice pasteurization process and because he was heavily involved in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he began selling his “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine” to churches that preferred an alcohol-free substitute for Communion.

He believed he was serving God by helping his church to give its communion “the fruit of the vine” instead of the “cup of devils.” But the Dr. gave up this side business just four years after he began it as the idea didn’t take off.

Four generations of the Welch family. Dr. Thomas Welch, the inventor of grape juice, is seated; his son, Dr. Charles E. Welch, the successful promoter of the invention, stands on the left. The picture dates from some time before 1903, when the elder Welch died. Welch's Grape Juice: From Corporation to Co-operative book by William Chazanof.
Four generations of the Welch family. Dr. Thomas Welch, the inventor of grape juice, is seated; his son, Dr. Charles E. Welch, the successful promoter of the invention, stands on the left. The picture dates from some time before 1903, when the elder Welch died. Welch’s Grape Juice: From Corporation to Co-operative book by William Chazanof.
Charles Edgar Welch (1852-1926)
Charles Edgar Welch (1852-1926)
Welch's Grape Juice Advertisment, 1906.

Welch’s Grape Juice Advertisement, 1906.

Charles E. Welch (1852-1926)

His father, Thomas and mother, Lucy M. (nee Hult) Welch had six children: Frederick (1848-1898), George (1848-1918), Charles, Emma (1853-1928), Clara (1855-1914) and Villa (1859-1954). The estate at Chedwel, in Chautauqua County New York included two main houses built by the Welch’s, with adjacent cottages for guests, a tennis court, and a croquet court. Charles Edgar Welch was, among other things, six times mayor of Westfield, a New York State gubernatorial candidate in 1916, and a trustee of Chautauqua Institution, located directly across the lake from Chedwel. The property was parceled and sold by the mid-twentieth century. The community presently includes, besides the former Welch domiciles, several other homes built along its two streets, Chedwel Road and Overlook Avenue. Charles died in 1926 of heart disease.

In 1875 Charles Welch convinced his father to produce the unfermented wine again and Charles offered free samples of this substitute for sacramental wine to churches. Charles, ever the marketing advocate, also published temperance magazines that advocated for Communion without the use of wine.

Of course, at this same time Frances Willard who was the second president of the WCTU and the members of that organization were refusing to receive the sacrament at any church using wine for the purpose of communion. And since the WCTU was conceived in Chautauqua County the heart of this grape region and therefore, they had quite an influence. Affected by the WCTU members’ actions the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church approved changes to their Book of Discipline. First, an option that the church provided an alcohol-free Communion in every church and the second was that unfermented juice of the grape was mandatory when administering the Lord’s Supper effective immediately.

Charles was determined to resume the manufacture and sale of his father’s invention and saw commercial possibilities. He founded two magazines, The Acorn in 1875 and The Progress in 1880 and placed advertisements of grape juice, while still promoting the temperance cause and Welch’s grape juice virtues. For many years the grape juice was a drugstore, not a food store item and was recommended for easing the pain of Typhoid Fever, Pneumonia, Peritonitis, Rheumatis (rheumatoid arthritis), and other chronic diseases.

Finally in 1893, Charles Welch quit his dental practice, changed the name of the unfermented wine to grape juice. In 1893 he went to Chicago’s Columbian Exposition and set up a stand to distribute samples of the grape juice. He continued this practice at other expositions, St. Louis World’s Fair, Atlantic City boardwalk and other locales. He “sold” Welch’s Grape Juice as a tonic to the medical trade, a scriptural necessity for the religious, a pleasant drink to the general public, and the ultimate sales pitch was it was “the national drink”. Eventually Charles Welch moved the business from New Jersey to upstate New York.

The Welch Grape Juice Company – The National Drink

Drinking Welch’s juice became an important trend in American life; from church, to socializing, and also to the U.S. Navy drink. Temperance activities had influenced the pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, and post-Prohibition society to drink grape juice.

The Welch Factory is historically significant and listed in the National Register of Historic Places for the association with Welch’s Grape Juice and the internationally renowned grape industry. The company relocated to 101 North Portage Street, Westfield, Chautauqua County, New York renowned for Concord grape vineyards in 1897.

The Harrison Act of 1914

The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act (Ch. 1, 38 Stat. 785) was a United States federal law that regulated and taxed the production, importation, and distribution of opiates and coca products. The act was proposed by Representative Francis Burton Harrison of New York and was approved on December 17, 1914.

Prior to this, few restrictions were placed on drug trade and use of cocaine and opium flowed freely into the United States but was not considered a criminal activity. In fact, the public health problems of using cocaine and opium were because these drugs were common in medicines as a painkiller and sedative for many centuries. They were also used to relieve chronic pain, settle intestinal disorders, fight depression and serve as an anesthetic. What surprised me was that cocaine was even used as an ingredient in wine and Coca Cola.