A variety of different OLIPOP soda cans

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History of Soda and Soda Today

Posted Oct 14, 2021 Updated Jun 17, 2024

The makers of the first sodas would have a hard time understanding our modern-day sugar-sweetened soda and the health crisis surrounding its rise in popularity. The first sodas weren’t created to satisfy cravings, instead, they were made and marketed as “health tonics” designed to cure a number of ailments.

Soda today has vastly deviated from its “health tonic” category and now, has the opposite effect. With over 39 grams of sugar found in your average 12-ounce can, soda contributes 24% of added sugar in our Standard American Diet (SAD).2 These high levels of sugar lead to a large number of health concerns including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, and other conditions.1

With OLIPOP, we bring soda back full circle to its original intention: as a healthy drink. Read on as we dive into soda’s long history explaining exactly how a health tonic turned into an unhealthy soda and how OLIPOP breaks the mold.

The History of Soda

17th Century and Earlier: Fruit-Flavored Water

Before the discovery of carbonation, the first soft drinks were fruit-flavored water with ingredients such as lemon, pomegranate juice, mint, tamarind, honey, and other herbs. These drinks were popular in the Middle East and Europe during the Middle Ages.3

Lemonade, made with water, lemon juice, and honey, was among the first soft drinks sold. In 1676 the Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris had a monopoly on the drink, carrying the lemonade on their back and selling it to customers on the street.3

During this time, people were on the hunt for a drink that replicated the therapeutic effects of mineral springs, which were believed to have medicinal and health-boosting properties. In 1685 Robert Boyle, the scientist who helped form and found chemistry as we know it today, wrote in detail about mineral water’s health-boosting properties and outlined how to artificially create this water through chemical and artificial means.3

18th Century: The Invention of Carbonation

Thus, the earliest attempts at developing carbonated beverages meant to imitate the bubbly water of mineral water springs. The first to write about carbon dioxide and call it “gas” was Flemish scientist Jan Baptista van Helmont.

Following Baptisa, British clergyman and scientist Joseph Priestley was the first to discover a method of adding gas or carbon dioxide to water, garnering him the nickname the “father of the soft drinks industry”.3 In 1772, following the invention of Priestley’s “carbonating apparatus”,many others began working to perfect the newly created carbonation method.4

Notably, Thomas Henry, an apothecary in Manchester, England, was successful in making 12-gallon barrels of carbonated water with an updated design based on Priestley’s invention.3 He became the first to sell therapeutic carbonated mineral waters in the 1770s which he proclaimed offered relief from ailments like fevers, vomiting, scurvy and more.4

At the same time as Henry, German-Swiss jeweler Jacob Schweppe was busy building upon Priestley’s design and also joined the business of selling carbonated mineral water. After discovering an easier method of carbonating water using sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid, he began mass-producing his bubbly concoction in 1783 under the name Schweppes, which is in fact the company that is still in operation today.4

Early 19th Century: The Rise of Drug Store Sodas

In 1798, the bubbly drink was very popular and began being sold under the name, soda water.5 During this time, several others were finding easier methods of carbonation and selling their soda water so that others could experience the therapeutic benefits of man-made mineral water.

Namely, in 1806, Benjamin Silliman, a chemistry professor at Yale University, mass-produced and distributed his soda water as a “health tonic” for help with stomach issues as well as for enjoyment as an “article of luxury”.4

Still a novelty, the U.S. glass industry didn’t know how to effectively capture and store carbonated bubbles for long periods of time and therefore, it wasn’t until around 1835 that the first soda water was bottled in the U.S.5 Previously, Silliman and other soda water manufacturers mostly distributed their drinks through soda fountains. In spas, for example, it was a luxury item to have a soda fountain distributing the health benefits of soda water.4

By the 1850s bottled soda water or “health tonic” became a household staple.5 It was incredibly common to head to your local drug store and for the pharmacist to prescribe soda water for ailments such as indigestion, kidney disorder, sleeplessness, bladder issues, headaches, and more.4 During this time, soda water was also used as a substitute for alcohol to reduce heavy drinking.3

Late 19th Century: The Transition From Health Tonic to Soda Pop

Soda water was only consumed for medicinal purposes until pharmacists began adding herbs and fruit extracts like birch bark, dandelion, and sarsaparilla for a more flavorful and enjoyable drink. This addition added to the rise in soda’s popularity and thus, began soda’s transition from medicinal to enjoyment.

In the 1830s, this transition was expedited with the creation of flavored syrups, and by 1865 fruit-flavored seltzers and soda water were widely available for purchase.5 The biggest milestone during this time occurred in 1886 when Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton invented Coca-Cola.3 Originally, Coca-Cola was advertised as a health tonic for pain and was created with caffeine from kola nut.4 6 But Coca-Cola’s classic taste quickly caught on and consumers sipped for enjoyment and not just for its proposed health benefits.

In 1899 another milestone escalated soda’s popularity: the invention of glass-blowing machines.7 Before their invention, all bottles were blown by hand but with glass-blowing machines in operation, soda could be mass-produced and sold at a faster pace. In 1860 there were 123 plants bottling soda water in the United States and by 1900 there were 2,7635.

20th Century: A Massive Sugar Industry Begins

Mass production and the race to create the best-tasting soda quickly turned soda from a health tonic into a popular sugar-filled drink. Syrup and other forms of sugar became the go-to choice for giving soda it's delicious flavor cheaply, with sales and consumption increasing year after year.

As early as 1942 concerns began to grow about the potential negative health consequences of the sugar-filled beverage.5 Along with the accidental discoveries of artificial sweeteners saccharin in 1897, cyclamate in 1937, and eventually aspartame in 1965, led to the boom of diet sodas in the 1950s.8

Regardless of the early health concerns, soda’s prevalence in the American diet only continued to grow. The production of aluminum cans in 1957, the modern-day vending machines in 1965, and plastic bottles in 1970 continued to drive its popularity by providing easy access.5

As a result, annual soda consumption rose from 10.8 gallons per person in 1950 to 49.3 gallons per person in 20005. Along with the rise of consumption came health concerns ranging from obesity to diabetes.9

Soda Today and Its Health Impacts

Today, a 12-ounce can of soda on average contains around 150 calories, 37 grams of carbs, over 39 grams of sugar, and zero nutritional value.

Studies conducted in the 1990s and into the early 2000s began linking added sugar in soda to numerous health concerns.5 Regardless of the associated health concerns, sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, continue to represent the largest intake of added sugar in the Standard American Diet.2

Standard American Diet

The Standard American Diet refers to a diet that is high in protein, processed foods, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, while also low in vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.10 When it comes to added sugars, the average American adult today consumes over 77 grams of sugar every single day, or close to 60 pounds in one year.11

The result of America's unhealthy dietary pattern is that more than two-thirds of all Americans today are overweight, and of those two-thirds, almost 33% are obese.12 This is an alarming trend that puts us more and more at risk for obesity, hypertension, coronary diseases, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal disorders, and certain cancers, including breast cancer.13

Learn more about Why the Standard American Diet (SAD) Is So Sad.

The Fiber Gap

As part of our Standard American Diet, most Americans are not getting enough fiber. Women need 22-28 grams of fiber per day and men 28-34 grams. Yet, more than 90% of women and 97% of men don’t get anywhere near that recommended amount.2

This is a USDA public health concern given that low levels of fiber are a contributing factor to many different health concerns.2

Read more about High Fiber Foods That You Can Easily Add to Your Diet.

How OLIPOP Breaks the Mold

Today, the verdict is clear: sugar-sweetened beverages are a contributing factor to several negative health impacts. That’s why at OLIPOP we’re focused on bringing soda back full circle to its original intention as a healthy drink. Only, we take what we’ve learned from soda’s history to bring you a beverage that’s both a sweet treat and a modern-day “health tonic”.

While other sodas have 39g of sugar and zero nutritional value, every OLIPOP soda contains:

  • Less than 50 calories
  • 2-5g of sugar
  • Up to 9g of fiber
  • Zero artificial sweeteners (or artificial anything!)
  • Plant-based prebiotics and botanicals

The result is the sweet, rich, and creamy flavor of soda that you know and love with the complex nutrients you need for both a sweet and healthy taste.


  1. Stanhope, Kimber L. “Sugar Consumption, Metabolic Disease and Obesity: The State of the Controversy.” Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, vol. 53, no. 1, 17 Sept. 2015, pp. 52–67., doi:10.3109/10408363.2015.1084990.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  3. Korab, H. E. (n.d.). Soft Drink: Definition, History, Production, & Health Issues. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/soft-drink
  4. Corday, K. (2021, June 17). The Medicinal History of Sodas Explained. Grunge. https://www.grunge.com/248371/the-medicinal-history-of-sodas-explained/
  5. Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). The Troubled History of Soda Pop and Carbonated Beverages. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-soda-pop-1992433
  6. Nolen, J. L. (2009, October 16). The Coca-Cola Company: History, Products, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Coca-Cola-Company
  7. Lindsey, B. (2021, April 24). Glassmaking and Glassmakers. Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/glassmaking.htm
  8. Gershenson, G. (2017, February 23). A Brief and Bizarre History of Artificial Sweeteners. Saveur. https://www.saveur.com/artificial-sweeteners/
  9. Nielsen, S.; Popkin, B. (2004). "Changes in beverage intake between 1977 and 2001". American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 27 (3): 205–210. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.05.005. PMID 15450632.
  10. Standard American Diet (Independent Book Publishers Association, n.d.).
  11. How Much Is Too Much?” SugarScience.UCSF.edu, SugarScience, 8 Dec. 2018, sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.YO7gHejYqbi.
  12. Vani Hari, Feeding You Lies: How to Unravel the Food Industry’s Playbook and Reclaim Your Health (Hay House Inc, 2019).
  13. Carlos A Monteiro et al., “Ultra-Processed Foods: What They Are and How to Identify Them,” Public Health Nutrition 22, no. 5 (n.d.): 936–41, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980018003762.
Cheat Sheet
  • Soda wasn’t always a sugar-sweetened beverage that we are familiar with! With the discovery of carbonation, it got its start in the 1700s as a medicinal health tonic designed to cure ailments.
  • However, following the rise of drug store sodas, bottling manufacturing, mass production, and sugar flavoring, it quickly moved away from its health roots into the sugary drink we know today. Luckily, OLIPOP is changing the game by shifting our focus back to soda’s original intention: as a healthy and delicious drink.
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