The Modern Incarnation of Root Beer
Root beer as it is known today was first widely marketed by a pharmacist named Charles Elmer Hires on May 16, 1866. It was originally called Root Tea.
The drink was a mixture of roots, berries, and herbs. It first went on sale in Philadelphia. Although the drink goes back many, many years, Hires was the first to come up a set recipe and sell it widely and successfully.
Root beer became famous in 1876, when it was introduced at the U.S. Centennial Exposition, also in Philadelphia. Among the other famous inventions unveiled at that Exposition were Alexander Graham Bell's telephone and the Remington typewriter. Also on display, in the food department, was Heinz ketchup.
Hires advertised his product in many ways, all of them successful. As a result, root beer became very well known very quickly. One of the ways he tried to improve the visibility of his product was by selling home-brewing kits. A family who bought a Hires Root Beer Kit could make their own root beer by mixing a certain mix of powder with water, sugar, and yeast. Many people bought these home-brewing kits, but the prebottled root beer ultimately proved more successful.
As for the name, Hires decided to call his product root beer because a friend suggested it, reasoning that the popularity of beer would encourage people to buy anything with the word beer in it. Those who bought Hires Root Beer expecting alcohol were likely pleasantly surprised.
Hires Root Beer is still sold today. Many other brands of root beer are on sale as well. None of them contains alcohol.
Social Studies for Kids