Dr Pepper Snapple Group
Vernors ginger ale shares the title of America’s oldest surviving soft drink with Hires Root Beer. It was invented in 1866 by James Vernor, a Detroit pharmacist.
Without the Civil War, there would be no Vernors.
Before the conflict began, James Vernor, a Detroit pharmacist, had concocted a new drink. It was a mix of 19 ingredients, including ginger, vanilla and natural flavorings.
When Vernor was called off to war in 1862, he stored the secret mixture in an oak cask in his pharmacy. After returning from battle four years later, he opened his secret keg and found the drink inside had been transformed by the aging process in the wood. It had taken on a zippy, zesty, gingery flavor. It was like nothing else he had ever tasted.
It was Vernors.
For years, the only place one could buy a Vernors was from the fountain in James Vernor’s pharmacy at 233 Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit. But demand for the drink continued to grow. Soon, soda fountains throughout the city began selling cold, carbonated Vernors.
Vernor kept an ever-watchful eye on the vendors. When it came to maintaining the quality of his drink, he was a fanatic. Vernor’s personal scrapbook from the time contains many of the pamphlets he sent to soda fountain owners. Those pamphlets “laid down the law” on how Vernors should and should not be served.
This “quality control” helped build a loyal clientele for Vernors Ginger Soda. Vernor also worked with soft drink manufacturers to make their dispensing machines more practical and affordable.
By 1896, the blossoming popularity of his drink led Vernor to establish his own soda fountain store. In the years that followed, Vernors became available in such distant cities as Buffalo, Toledo, Cleveland and Niagara Falls. The continuing expansion into other markets was both deliberate and methodical.
Just as the process for making Vernors extract requires four long years in oak barrels, there was no rushing the marketing of Vernors. James Vernor wanted to be absolutely sure the consistency of his drink would be maintained before he granted any franchise licenses. As a result, his drink enjoyed predictable success in new cities.
A soda fountain owner who wrote to Vernor in 1898 noted that the ginger soda had acquired an enthusiastic following in his city. “Its purity, delicacy of flavor and great refreshing powers have been testified to by thousands of our soda customers,” the franchisee wrote. In time, The Vernors Company would open a landmark bottling operation in downtown Detroit to handle its expanding business. This riverfront business became a favorite stopping place for locals and tourists alike in the 1940s. It was here one could sip a fresh Vernors for only a nickel and watch as it was being produced.
In 1966, the Vernor family sold the company to an outside investment group. Subsequently, the company was acquired by American Consumer Products and, later, by United Brands. Vernors returned to the ownership of a soft drink company when A&W Beverages, Inc. purchased The Vernors Company in 1987.
Today, Vernors is part of Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., an integrated refreshment beverage business marketing more than 50 beverage brands throughout North America.
What’s in a name?
Soft drinks during James Vernor’s time often carried the surname of the inventor along with the product name.