Texas: Myths, Legends, and the Real Deal
Part 9, Charles and His Much-Loved Invention
Travel south from Dallas on Interstate 35 and in about 90 minutes, depending on traffic, you’ll come to the city of Waco. Recently, it’s gained nationwide fame for Chip and Joanna and their Fixer-Upper tv series. In the past, it was known for being home to Baylor University and the Texas Rangers Museum. But here’s a lesser known fact. The soda pop Dr. Pepper also originated in Waco.
It began with a fellow named Charles Alderton. He was born to British immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York, 1857. His childhood was spent there, but for upper education, his parents sent him back to England, where he attended Framlingham College. Perhaps this is where he studied medicine and obtained a degree as a pharmacist. He then returned to Brooklyn and maybe he utilized his pharmacy knowledge in New York, at least for several years. Sources are rather murky on these parts of his young life. Various dates and places don’t jive, so a bit of speculation comes into play.
Charles did like to travel and somehow, he wound up in Galveston where he decided to take up residence. Instead of working as a pharmacist, he ran a flavor extract business that he called Alderton and Company. Also, he found a young woman amenable to courting. Her name was Lillie Walker and they married in October of 1884. Their wedding announcement in the local newspaper referred to Charles as “one of the most liked men in the city.” Unfortunately, not long after, the building that housed Alderton and Company burned to the ground. Charles and his new bride decided to move to Waco, for reasons unknown to history.
As a married man, Charles didn’t have the luxury of re-establishing his flavor extract business. He had to get a job and went to work as a pharmacist for Wade Morrison, owner of Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store, located in the downtown financial district. It was a well-stocked place and even boasted a soda fountain.
Within the first months Charles was on the job, he noticed customers who frequented the fountain seemed bored with the usual flavors of sodas --- sarsaparilla, lemon, and vanilla. Since Charles had knowledge gained from his previous flavor extract business, he experimented with combinations of flavors, especially fruit syrups. Eventually, he hit on one blend of twenty-three ingredients. Mixed with these was phosphoric acid that gave an underlying tang. He offered a taste of the recipe to Mr. Morrison, who liked it very much.
On December 1, 1885, this new soda was offered as a test to customers at the soda fountain. If anything, they liked it more than Morrison did. One of the customers called the new drink, The Waco.
Morrison didn’t like that, but the origin of the name Dr. Pepper is shrouded in numerous conflicting legends. One says it was like other drinks of the era, marketed as “brain tonic” and an invigorating “pick-me-up.” The word “pep” was already a slang term for the lift a tonic would give.
Another legend says that Morrison named the drink for the father of a girl he courted years before. Yet another legend says the “pep” referred to pepsin, an enzyme produced in the stomach that breaks down proteins into peptides. This would again put Dr. Pepper into the health drink category. More legends abound. All that can be known for certain is that Charles had nothing to do with the name. He wasn’t interested.
Over the next several years, Dr. Pepper became very popular among Waco residents, so much that Alderton and Morrison could hardly keep up with the demand. Then came a fellow named Robert Lazenby, owner of the Circle “A” Ginger Ale Company, also located in Waco. He was impressed with the success the Old Corner Drug Store was having with Dr. Pepper. Therefore, he met with Charles and Morrison to discuss his purchase of the recipe. He would manufacture, bottle, and distribute it.
Being a taciturn man and disinterested in business dealings, Alderton bowed out from these discussions. He was content with his profession as pharmacist. Lazenby and Morrison must have haggled a lot, since it took until 1891 to settle on the details and form a new bottling company.
Dr. Pepper continued to do well in Waco. In 1904, Lazenby and Morrison took Dr. Pepper to the World’s Fair in St. Louis and introduced their locally popular soda to a much wider audience. During the fair’s seven months of operation, twenty million people attended and enjoyed the food offerings, including the ice cream in waffle cones, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Dr. Pepper was advertised as a “new kind of soda pop” and the “King of Beverages.” Sales boomed to other parts of the country.
All the while, Charles remained at the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, holding down the fort, so to speak. Was he growing rich quietly, as the inventor of the King of Beverages? Not a bit. He wasn’t even a low-end partner in the enterprise.
Two years after the fair, Lazenby and Morrison put up a new building which would provide more space to bottle Dr. Pepper than their previous digs. It had a large, identifying sign, Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company, address --- 300 South Elm Street. Having nationwide sales, Dr. Pepper had become quite a growing concern. Meanwhile, Charles carried on with his daily work at the drug store.
Morrison was a savvy businessman and in 1912, he moved the drug store some blocks away, to the ground floor of the Amicable Life Insurance building. At that time, it was the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon line, which made it an excellent tourist attraction and sales place for Dr. Pepper. What did Charles do about this change in location? He just went with the flow and traveled a bit farther to and from work each day. He was certainly a loyal employee.
However, in 1916, after thirty-two years of marriage, Lilly Alderton died. She and Charles had no children. At the loss of his wife, he might have been distraught and looked for a change. After his many years at the Old Corner Drug Store, his loyalty seemed to vanish. He up and quit and moved to New Orleans. There, he went to work for the Eli Lilly Drug Company. Lo and behold, he met another woman agreeable to courting. She was a secretary at Eli Lilly and her name was Emily Coquille. They married in 1918 and again for unknown reasons, Charles took himself and his second wife back to Waco. Did he feel out of place in genteel New Orleans?
He didn’t return to employment with Morrison, but was hired by the Waco Drug Company, where he was placed in charge of the laboratory. For the rest of his career, he toiled there and gained recognition as “one of the leading chemists in the South.”
In 1923, Lazenby and his son-in-law J.B. O’Hara moved the bottling business to Dallas and renamed it The Dr. Pepper Company. Morrison died a year later. Charles lived on until 1941. Both men were buried in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery.
In the 1950s, the company logo was redesigned with slanted text and a different font, besides deleting one small part. Dr Pepper --- Do you notice what’s missing? If you guessed the period after Dr, you’re pretty sharp. The Powers at the company thought the period was distracting.
Nowadays, Dr Pepper is owned by a big conglomerate, Dr Pepper Snapple Group. It’s sold in Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, South America, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Think of the billions that have been made from sales of Charles Alderton’s recipe and he never received a penny of profit. People in Waco thought of him as a humble man, satisfied with his adequate salary. He was devoted to his work as a pharmacist, and helping to cure the ills of mankind was more important to him than gaining a fortune.
What if everyone took a lesson from Charles Alderton?