Brad’s Drink & The Invention of Pepsi-Cola


© History Oasis

From its modest beginnings as Caleb Bradham's "Brad's Drink" pharmacy tonic in 1893 New Bern, North Carolina, the curious elixir we know today as Pepsi-Cola underwent several incarnations on its serendipitous path to global domination.

This historical overview charts Pepsi's unlikely journey from Gilded Age digestive remedy to soda fountain sensation to mass-marketed bottled behemoth fueling the world's burgeoning obsession with branded refreshment.

Tracing the beverage's birth, early promotional strategies and pioneering innovations that facilitated its rise, this account distills the Pepsi genesis mythos down to its intoxicating essence.


Inventing Brad's Drink (Pepsi)
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It was the dawn of a new age—1893 in New Bern, North Carolina—when an enterprising young pharmacist by the name of Caleb Bradham first concocted a curious tonic he termed "Brad's Drink."

Combining sugar, vanilla, kola nuts and other proprietary compounds, Bradham created the syrupy brew in his pharmacy on Middle Street, touting it to customers as a delightful beverage that also eased digestion and restored energy.

And what was the inspiration for Brad's Drink, as it was so plainly yet provocatively named early on?

Why, Mr. Bradham himself!

The pharmacist saw fit to put his own stamp upon his tonic creation, modestly naming it in his own honor while no doubt hoping it would boost his pharmacy business.

Though initially sold solely as a soda fountain beverage to be leisurely sipped by pharmacy patrons, Bradham had grander visions for Brad's Drink.

Believing he had chanced upon a winning health formula in his laboratory one fateful day, Caleb Bradham quickly set his sights on sharing the wondrous Brad's Drink beyond the confines of New Bern.

Little could he have predicted where it would take him in the coming years!


Modern day Pepsi Logo
Source: PepsiCo

Though initially content with his localized success dispensing "Brad's Drink" at his New Bern pharmacy soda fountain, Caleb Bradham's entrepreneurial vision soon grew restless.

He realized that in order to truly transform his curious tonic into a thriving commercial enterprise, some rebranding and remarketing was in order.

Thus did "Brad's Drink" undergo a name change in 1898, henceforth dubbed "Pepsi-Cola"—a clever, catchy epithet with an eye toward mass appeal.

The newly christened beverage's moniker was no arbitrary choice, however. In fact, Bradham specifically chose the name "Pepsi" to directly market it as relief for the common digestive complaint dyspepsia (indigestion).

The "Pep" in Pepsi was therefore intended to invoke the digestive enzyme pepsin, while the "Cola" portion tied it to the increasingly fashionable kola nut extracts used in many tonics of the day.

By directly branding his concoction as a soothing elixir for stomach distress, Caleb Bradham hoped to expand his customer base far beyond the soda fountain set in New Bern.

With such creative, targeted nomenclature, Pepsi-Cola was veritably born in 1898, setting the stage for what would become an iconic global brand in the dawning 20th century.

All thanks to one pharmacist's ambitious rebrand of his original "Brad's Drink" curative.


A glass of the first Pepsi
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Though the Pepsi moniker was born of strategic rebranding in 1898, Caleb Bradham wisely retained the basic recipe that had won local acclaim as "Brad's Drink" in formulating the new Pepsi-Cola.

The foundation of that original formulation could scarcely be simpler, though its balance of flavors proved hugely appealing and enduring.

Pepsi-Cola's first syrup consisted merely of sugar for sweetness, vanilla for depth and smoothing, and kola nuts for their caffeine-like kick.

Such nuts were increasingly popular at the time in tonics claiming energy-boosting properties. Beyond these basic ingredients, Caleb Bradham's recipe for cola syrup remains proprietary even today.

Nonetheless, with that straightforward trinity of sugar, vanilla and kola nut extract, Bradham perfected a winning soda profile in the late 19th century.

Refreshing yet richly comforting flavors with subtle medicinal hints...all delivering a pleasing pick-me-up effect. It proved an elegantly straightforward and economical formula, though one achieving truly inspired, craveable flavor notes.

This foundational recipe popularized as modest "Brad's Drink" laid the groundwork for Pepsico's global ascent in the dawning 20th century.


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Though known today as a global beverage triumph, Pepsi's origins were far more humble and localized.

Caleb Bradham's initial goals in crafting his "Brad's Drink" soda fountain beverage were narrowly tailored to his pharmacy offerings in 1890s New Bern, North Carolina. His aspirations then centered not on building an empire, but boosting business at his counter.

Pepsi was birthed as a therapeutic digestive tonic, designed specifically to be sipped by customers right at Bradham's pharmacy.

The ambitious pharmacist hand crafted what he hoped would be an appealing, refreshing drink that simultaneously delivered health benefits.

Formulated to settle the stomach while gently boosting energy, Pepsi was intended as a delicate pick-me-up for shoppers in need of gentle revitalization.

Caleb Bradham was not aiming to revolutionize the beverage business in 1893.

Rather, he sought to provide patrons a pleasing delivery format for the sorts of compounds traditionally proffered to aid digestion.

Thanks to his pharmacy pedigree, he intuited that a tasty fountain drink would encourage regular consumption of health supplements.


A bottle of Pepsi
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By 1903, demand for Caleb Bradham’s Pepsi tonic was outpacing the capacity of his counter-service soda fountain at the New Bern pharmacy.

Realizing the growth potential for his concoction, Bradham took a significant gamble that year and first began bottling “Brad’s Drink” himself at a rented facility, enabling much wider direct distribution beyond the constraints of cup-and-straw dispensing.

Always the pioneering businessman experimenting with new delivery methods, Bradham rolled out the first round of Pepsi in bottled format in 1903. In this inaugural year of bottling, he moved an impressive 7,968 gallons of Pepsi syrup with his streamlined operation.

Consider that in the product’s first decade, it was solely available on tap, one serving at a time from Caleb’s store counter.

Just serving pharmacy visitors cup-by-cup, annual output measured in the hundreds or thousands of glasses worth of sipped tonic.

Yet with new bottling capacity in 1903 now allowing bulk production, output at a stroke catapulted to nearly 8,000 gallons—a wholesale transformation mirroring its fast growth to come!  

So began in earnest Pepsi’s road from corner pharmacy novelty to mass-distributed commercial juggernaut. That first bottling milestone proved a turning point in scaling Bradham’s brainchild far beyond his cozy New Bern environs.


Pepsi's first sponsorship Barney Oldfield
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Caleb Bradham’s bold 1903 bottling gambit paid rapid dividends, setting the stage for Pepsi’s next quantum growth spurt on the national scene.

Mere years later, the newly bottled syrup showed enough commercial promise for Bradham to ink his first celebrity athlete endorsement.

Seeking to boost Pepsi’s energy drink bonafides, pioneering race car driver Barney Oldfield became the new fresh face of the burgeoning beverage in national newspaper advertising in 1909.

Playfully branding Pepsi “a bully drink”, Oldfield described it as the perfect pre-race “refresher and invigorator” for top performance.

This youthful, adrenaline-fueled profiling perfectly aligned with Caleb Bradham’s original ambitions for “Brad’s Drink” as it secured early viral growth beyond its Carolina origins.

And it surely resonated with the dynamic, speed-obsessed nation emerging through the rash of new automotive technology.

Indeed, with daredevil Oldfield as its high-profile pitchman promoting Pepsi's energizing qualities, sales growth shifted into high gear in the early 20th century.

Though formulated in a pharmacy side room just years earlier, Pepsi now raced confidently onto the national scene.


Pepsi in the early days
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In Pepsi’s critical early growth years as a new 20th century consumer phenomenon, it relied heavily on a straightforward sales pitch: this syrup simply tastes delicious AND it's good for you!

The original “Delicious and Healthful” slogan latched onto Caleb Bradham’s dual aspirations in first concocting “Brad’s Drink” back in 1893.  

Yes, he sought to craft a sweet cola syrup with irresistible flavor.

But the pharmacist’s whole impetus was boosting business by promoting a digestive health remedy beyond typical medicines. Thus Pepsi in its first national forays highlighted its tasty flavor yet also left intimations of wellness benefits.

This balanced “have your cake and eat it too” salesmanship emphasized refreshment AND wellbeing, tasting great while still an elixir for what ails you.

Early packaging and advertising played to consumer self-delusion, allowing them to enjoy sweet indulgence but with subtle health halos.

A daring strategy, but one that enabled Pepsi’s initial niche in an era still wary of strictly recreational food and drinks.

This strategic blend of enrichment and enjoyment spurred on Pepsi for over twenty years, the ultimate “guilt-free” treat before the term existed!

In many ways the Genesis of today’s functional drinks and foods.