The Dr Pepper formula.
When what is widely considered to be the original formula for Dr Pepper crosses the auction block at Heritage Auction Galleries on May 13 , the world will finally get a chance to see just what it was that originally gave one of America’s three greatest soft drinks—and certainly its first—that distinctive, so-hard-to-identify flavor.
It will also be the culmination of one of those stories you hear only on radio or TV about a seemingly random find that ends up being a one-of-kind treasure.
“I was driving back home to Tulsa from a business trip in Texas when I stopped to look in some antique shops late in the afternoon in Shamrock,” said consignor Bill Waters. That’s Shamrock, Texas, by the way, a little town just outside of Waco. “I’ve always been a rare-book and manuscript aficionado, so the woman at the place brings out an old box of stuff. It was a neat old medicine-bottle crate with an old book stuck in a plastic bag wedged in the back of it.”
Waters bought the notebook, not knowing what was in it, but knowing that it came out of the estate of L. B. Woods, who at one point owned and operated a shoe store out of the same space as the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, well known as the birthplace of America’s first soft drink, Dr Pepper.
“Two months later, I was actually getting ready to list it on eBay, trying to figure out how to show people what I had there,” Waters said. “I thought I should say something about the store it came out of, with reference to that store at one time being the Old Corner Drugstore. I popped it up on Google, and the first thing that came up was Dr Pepper. I started saying to myself, ‘wait a minute.’”
Old Corner Drugstore
Within a few days, however, Waters knew what was going on and realized that what he had in his possession was a notebook containing the original formula for “Dr Peppers Pepsin Bitters,” or Dr Pepper, written in the hand of its inventor. That notebook has now made its way to Heritage in Dallas and is one of the highlight lots of the company’s May Political & Americana Auction.
“It’s an exciting thing, obviously,” said Mary Beth Webster, collections manager at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. “We hope that somewhere along the line, someone would see fit for this rare and important piece of history to reside here at the museum for others to see and for its research potential for both Dr Pepper and Waco.”
The humble creation of pharmacist, and University of Texas graduate, Charles Alderton, an employee of Wade B. Morrison at the Old Corner Drugstore—circa 1885—Dr. Pepper was welcome refreshment to the harried citizenry of Waco, then a major cattle and train transportation hub.
What gave it that distinct flavor, alternately sweet and spicy, became a source of great debate over the course of the next century across Texas and the nation. Only Alderton and Morrison knew, and soon the syrup was parlayed into a soft-drink empire that, for a time, rivaled the market share of competitors Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. If that market share has since diminished, the curiosity about that distinguishing taste has not.
The notebook in which the Dr Pepper formula was written.
“It’s safe to say that the formula represented in this original notebook is not the same formula that Dr Pepper uses today,” said Tom Slater, director of history at Heritage. “The original formula called for ‘denatured rum’ and vanilla, among other things. The Dr Pepper Co. insists that the current formula contains neither of these things. Still, though, this is an amazing piece of American pop culture and commerce, not to mention its secondary value as a great piece of Texana.”
The formula is written in Alderton’s unassuming hand, on pages 14 and 15 in a notebook labeled “CASTLES FORMULAS.” Morrison, who bought the drugstore from John W. Castles at some point in 1883, hired Alderton in 1884. While experimenting with different soda formulas in the store, Alderton came up with a unique flavor that both he and Morrison found to be to their satisfaction. More importantly, when they tried it on the public, they found excellent results. The exact date of Dr Pepper’s conception is unknown, but the U.S. Patent Office recognizes December 1, 1885, as the first time it was served.
“Dr Pepper is not only the first of the big three American colas,” said Slater, “it’s the only major soda invented west of the Mississippi. It’s a native Texan.”
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