The Fascinating Origins of Pepsi, North Carolina’s Hometown Favorite
While Coca-Cola is indelibly tied to the city of Atlanta, some people forget that Pepsi is also a Southern invention.
Caleb Bradham was born in Chinquapin, North Carolina in 1867. He studied at the University of North Carolina with dreams of becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, a family crisis meant that Bradham had to drop out of medical school and return to North Carolina. He had supported himself in medical school by working part-time in a pharmacy, so when he was back in Carolina, he decided to open a pharmacy of his own in downtown New Bern.
Back in the day, pharmacist would frequently stir up medically-based homespun remedies. In 1893, Bradham started selling a concoction known as “Brad’s Drink” made from a mix of carbonated water, kola nuts, lemon oil, vanilla, and other natural additives, according to Pepsi’s website. While Bradham touted the drink as a health tonic that could aid in digestion. Customers loved it and started to flock to Bradham’s Drug Store for the refreshing drink.
In 1898, Bradham renamed the tonic “Pepsi-Cola.” While rumors have long circulated that Bradham gave the drink the name Pepsi because it contained pepsin, the digestive enzyme. Pepsi however, says that the truth is that the name came from Bradham’s belief that his Pepsi-Cola could soothe an upset stomach, taking its name from the word dyspepsia, which means indigestion.
Soon, Pepsi-Cola had outgrown Bradham’s Drug Store and in late 1902, Bradham set up the Pepsi-Cola Company, selling Pepsi-Cola Syrup, and made himself president. He moved the operation to a warehouse and trademarked the new name in 1903. While at first Pepsi was only available to those who purchased the syrup and added their own soda water, by 1904, Bradham started to bottle the cola and almost immediately it was a smash hit. He started to push Pepsi around the South, setting up bottling franchises in Charlotte and Durham. According to The Pepsi Store website: “By 1910 there were 240 franchises in 24 states and that year the Pepsi-Cola Company held their first Bottler Convention in New Bern.”
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Despite its solid fans and booming business, the company fell on hard times during World War I due to sugar rationing. Bradham tried to find a suitable substitute for sugar, but as anyone who has tried to make a healthier sugar cookie around the holidays knows, there really is no substitute for sugar. By the time rationing was over, Bradham was desperate to get back to producing Pepsi. Sugar prices had soared when the war ended, but Bradham didn’t care. He purchased a large quantity of sugar at a very high price. It was a fatal error that ended up costing the company a lot more than money—the company filed for bankruptcy in 1923 and its assets were sold to Craven Holding Corporation for a mere $30,000. The secret formula and Pepsi trademark were later sold to a New York stockbroker who moved the company’s headquarters from New Bern to Richmond, Virginia. By 1931, it declared bankruptcy again.