In the 18th century, British chemist Joseph Priestly developed a way to infuse water with carbon dioxide to produce carbonated water. The bubbly water became popular particularly in tonics, mixtures of herbs, roots, and flavorings suspended in carbonated water and marketed as medicines. Such tonics were said to purify the blood, cure a variety of diseases, and strengthen those run down from overwork.
Some tonics, such as Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic for Women, had a high alcohol content. Others had no alcohol. These alcohol-free tonics, along with flavored carbonated water, ginger ale and root beer, were called “soft drinks.” They were sold at soda fountains and in bottles.
In 1903, Sedalia had two companies manufacturing tonics and soft drinks. One, the Capital Bottling Co., was established in 1895 by E. H. Hunt, and was probably named for the capital city Sedalia hoped it would become. In 1895, William J. Crawford purchased the business.
Capital Bottling Works made sarsaparilla, a concoction of extract of the root of the sarsaparilla plant from South America mixed with other roots, herbs, sugar, and carbonated water. Sarsaparilla was sold as a “blood thinner,” but was also popular as a beverage. Capital Bottling Works also produced Royal Ginger Ale, and Victor Lithia Water, a mixture of natural mineral spring water with carbonated water added.
The most popular product of the company was Ironbrew, described by the Sedalia Democrat as “exceedingly palatable.” The Democrat does not list any ingredients, but is name suggests it was an iron tonic designed primarily as a treatment for fatigue. It was served throughout the year, but was especially popular as a refreshing summer beverage.
Capital Brewing Co. sold its product in a 50-mile radius around Sedalia. Demand for its products was increasing, and in the spring of 1903, the company ordered 30,000 to 32,000 half pint bottles to fill and sell in the coming months.
The Hayes Bottling Co. had been established in 1887 by Thomas Hayes. By 1903, its plant at 506 N. Prospect Ave. was considered by the Democrat to be the most complete bottling works in Missouri outside St. Louis or Kansas City. The company’s machinery was valued at $2,800.
Hayes Bottling Co. produced seltzer, and did a great deal of business charging the soda fountains at the drugstores in Sedalia and in the smaller towns within a 50-mile radius of Sedalia. In addition, Hayes Bottling Co. manufactured the standard sodas, including sarsaparilla, root boor, lemon sour, and ginger ale.
Thomas Hayes identified one of the company’s products as “The King of Drinks.” This beverage, a “scientific combination of celery and iron,” was so well mixed that Hayes “claimed that it is not alone highly enjoyable as a drink, but is also of medicinal value to the user.”
During the winter of 1902-03, business had been especially good, and the coming summer promised to be a profitable time.
Sedalia would later become the home of other bottling companies that produced Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, and Royal Crown Cola, all of which seem likely to taste better than Victor Lithia Water or Celery and Iron Tonic.