Soda fountain: Early history

The soda fountain, an ornate dispenser of myriad treats, was a nineteenth-century American innovation that became a financial and social success. It reached their peak in periods where choice, quality and service were the battlegrounds. Today, brand, speed and price are considered premiums and quality is an afterthought.

In 1772, Dr. Joseph Priestly first recognized that soda water was impregnated with carbonic acid gas. A Swedish chemist named Bergman produced artificial carbonated or mineral water in 1778, and Professor Benjamin Silliman of Yale began manufacturing and bottling small quantities in New Haven in 1806.

At the turn of the 19th century, chemists continued experimenting with methods of impregnating carbon dioxide gas in water. An early fountain was dispensing various homemade Vichy, Kissingen, and Apollinaris “seltzers” in New York by 1810; they were supposed to cure obesity.

It was John Mathews a British born inventor that made soda-water drinking an industry. ln 1832 John Mathews, created an apparatus to artificially carbonate water in quantities suitable for a drugstore or street vendor.

Taverns were very plentiful across the nation, serving rum, beer, and all manner of libations, but for the first time, John Matthews offered them some competition with his soda fountain. In addition to selling the air-charged waters to retail stores and drug stores, he also sold them full-sized soda fountains.

Mathews’ fountain designs were spartan but functional. They consisted of a lead lined chamber where sulphuric acid and powdered marble (calcium carbonate) were mixed to produce carbon dioxide. The generated gas was purified and then sent to a tank of cool water.

John Matthews established his soda water manufacturing plant at 55 Gold Street, in New York City.

By 1875, there was a soda fountain in almost every city across America. It was now becoming part of the American culture. In the peak of summer, sales were reaching 1200 glasses of soda per day.

The fountain was both an apparatus for advertising and dispensing what was commonly called soda water, and a gathering site for good soda and good times.
Soda fountain: Early history

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