Hires Root Beer, Philadelphia, PA

Though he didn’t invent the drink he called “root beer”, Charles E. Hires is the man who made if world famous, introducing it as Hires Root Beer at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Bottle Side Embossed “Hires Carbonated Beverages”

Bottle Base Embossed “Hires 17”

According to the Notable Names Database “Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires originally called his beverage “root tea”, but was convinced by a friend that it would sell better in his local area — Pennsylvania’s hard-drinking Cumberland County — if he called it “root beer”.

Hires made root beer famous, and root beer made Hires a millionaire, but it is an exaggeration to credit him with inventing the drink. He reportedly first tasted something quite similar to root beer in a restaurant in 1875, and obtained the recipe from the proprietor — who had in turn based her recipe on long-standing folk recipes for beverages brewed from all manner or roots, bark, and herbs. Hires worked in his laboratory to improve the flavor of the concoction, then reduced it to a powdery concentrate that could be mixed in drug stores to make large quantities of the drink, just by adding water, sugar, and yeast. He also had the idea of serving his beverage cold, instead of hot.

Hires’ Root Beer was introduced at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition. The Charles E Hires Company was established in 1890, and in addition to the powder began selling the product in convenient pre-mixed bottles in 1893. Hires himself remained active in the business until his son took the reins in 1925.”

Author Kate Patton writes that “One needs only to look at Charles Hires’ own philosophy about business to understand why the brand took off. Charles Hires was a strong believer in advertising, and is famously quoted as saying ‘doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark: you know what you are doing, but nobody else does.’

Charles Hires’ product was meant to appeal to consumers even through its very name. Hires originally referred to his product as “root tea.” However, Rev. Dr. Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple University, had approached Hires about marketing his product as an alternative to beer for the hard drinking Pennsylvania miners as the temperance movement gathered steam in the latter part of the 19th century. Realizing the popularity of beer, Hires chose to change the name of his product before the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in 1876. This move made Hires Root Beer even more visible.

In 1919, Prohibition was introduced in the United States. No longer were people allowed to consume alcoholic beverages, including beer. During this period, Hires Root Beer was uniquely positioned to sell. Its name made it appealing to those who had enjoyed beer prior to prohibition, and its claim of being “The Great Health Drink” kept it from being targeted by those associated with the temperance movement. In fact, at times Hires even claimed their root beer had medicinal qualities and could cure tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Prohibition lasted until 1933, and during that time, Hires continued to solidify itself as one of the most popular, and healthy drinks in America.”

According to blogger B. P. “The Hires company remained in family hands until 1960 and through a series of sales over the next 30 years, ended up being acquired by Cadbury Schweppes in 1989. Cadbury Schweppes started the decline of Hires as a brand as they decided to concentrate their soda marketing efforts on more popular sodas. In 2008 Cadbury Schweppes spun off the soft drink division into the current Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. In Cadbury Schweppes and its successor entity Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the decision was to promote their own A&W Root Beer brand and phase out Hires.”

Trade Card for Hires' Root Beer, 1894.

Trade Card for Hires’ Root Beer, 1894.

Advertising booklet for Hire's Root Beer, date unknown

Advertising booklet for Hires’ Root Beer, date unknown

Hire's Root Beer ad, date unknown

Hires Root Beer ad, date unknown

Hire's Root Beer ad, date unknown

Hires Root Beer ad, date unknown

Hires Root Beer Victorian Trading Card, c. 1900

1901 Ad for Hire's Root Beer

1901 Ad for Hires Root Beer

1931 Hires Root Beer free liberal trial extract advertisement.

About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
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