Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer

HiresBook.com is presented by Steve J. Sourapas and Ron Fowler

Updated: September 7, 2019

Steve James Sourapas 1935-2019

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Steve Sourapas, my longtime friend, co-author, and the driving force behind the publication of HiresBook.com.  Here's Steve's obituary as published in the Seattle Times newspaper on May 5, 2019:  

Beloved father, grandfather, friend, cousin, brother passed away peacefully on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 surrounded by his family in Seattle.  Born in Seattle on March 20, 1935 to James and Angelika Sourapas who emigrated from Greece.  He is survived by his two daughters Alicia Sourapas and Angela Sourapas Jones, son-in-law Jeff Jones and grandsons Nicholas and Jacob Jones.  To describe him one would say he was extremely positive, hardworking, kind hearted, genuine with strong family values.

Steve was raised in the Wallingford area of Seattle and attended Interlake, Alexander Hamilton and Lincoln High School graduating in 1953.  He attended the University of Washington for two years, eventually going to Griffin Business College to study accounting while working at the family business.

In 1919 his father started the Hires Bottling Company of Seattle which ultimately became his life.  With his father's passing at age 12 he began learning the business and eventually worked his way up to become President in 1969.  He grew Northwest Beverages from a small business with a few employees to over 165 when the family sold it in 1997.  Along with running a successful soft drink manufacturing and distribution business he was a single father raising two daughters, juggling the demands of a career where he was also President of the National Soft Drink Association and the Washington State Soft Drink Association.

In his spare time he enjoyed spending time with his family, travelling and collecting pre-1940 Hires Rootbeer memorabilia.  He obtained one of the largest collections in the world along with being known as an expert in the industry.

Recently, he used his parents' meticulous business documents and his life stories to co-write a wonderful book with Rosanne Royer - A Seattle Greek Immigrant Family's Soft Drink Business - that can be found in many local libraries.  He also professionally photographed his entire collection and co-authored an online book with Ron Fowler which can be found at HiresBook.com.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at 11:30 am, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2100 Boyer Avenue E., Seattle, Washington 98112.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Steve's memory to the 'Capital Improvement' project at St. Demetrios.  He will be dearly missed!

Hires to you, Steve!  Rest in peace, my friend.  Ron F., May 6, 2019

 

Our Mission

The creation of HiresBook.com was initially sparked by Steve Sourapas' many decades of passionately collecting Hires Root Beer memorabilia, while also acquiring books detailing the historical development of competing beverages, such as Moxie, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, and Schweppes.  Considerable credit has been afforded to the founders of those beverages and their contributions to the growth and success of the soft drink industry as we know it today.  HiresBook.com is our attempt to document the factual history of Hires Root Beer and properly acknowledge Charles Elmer Hires' important role as an outstanding innovator and marketer of his famous root beer.

Welcome to HiresBook.com

CHAPTERS

Given Hires Root Beer's 100+ year evolution, the most logical way to deliver the product's history is sequentially, so the chapters are presented in date order, with each chapter detailing developments during a calendar year.  What happened at and to the Charles E. Hires Company during specific years is, of course, only part of the story, as environmental, economic, social, and political factors, newly introduced inventions and products, and soft drink industry developments and competition all combined to continually impact the company and its target customers.  In order to facilitate consideration of external influences, each chapter includes a sidebar highlighting several of those factors for the given year.  Fully understanding the historical development of Hires Root Beer prompts readers to also consider the state of the world in addition to reading and comprehending the Hires-specific text and images.

HiresBook.com is a product history.  By design, rarity ratings for individual items are not listed, and no price guide is included.  Rarity opinions and the tracking of dollar values are left to those involved with the ever-evolving marketplace for advertising collectibles. 

TEXT

As much as possible, the text is based on the writings by and interviews of Charles Elmer Hires, the company's founder, other Hires family members, and carefully selected authors who personally interviewed Charles Elmer Hires.  Previous attempts to document the history of Hires Root Beer have routinely fallen into the trap of presenting conjecture, rumors, and fiction as facts.  This is particularly evident since the advent of the Internet, where many writers' idea of "research" is to "Google" a subject and believe whatever they read, rather than seeking primary research sources.  Presenting a factual account of Hires' history has also caused us to tackle many of the myths which don't hold water, let alone root beer.

IMAGES

HiresBook.com contains over 2,000 individual digital images, each of which has the best resolution we could obtain.  These images have intentionally not been compressed.  Although that means download of some images may be be slightly slower than you are used to, the payoff is the high quality of the images.  In addition, each of the images includes "one-click" capability, allowed the viewer to click the image and open a separate window displaying an enlarged image.  This feature is particularly useful for reading the "fine print" used in many of Hires' periodical advertisements.  

INDEXING

An extensive, highly-detailed Subject Index provides guidance to information about specific topics.  Many of the topics evolved over multiple years, e.g. marketing campaigns, plant openings/closings, product names and enhancements, slogans, etc., so the Subject Index entries often point readers to more than one year.  Using "Hires R-J Root Beer" as an example, one needs to go thru both text and the almost 300 images presented in the 1932-1952 chapters in order to fully understand how the R-J product name was introduced and evolved.  

Co-author Comments

Before you dive into the chapters, here are some comments from both of us about how we became involved with this project.

  

"The Hires Guy"

by Steve J. Sourapas

Hires advertising and promotional pieces are sheer Americana.  The fragrance, flavor, and delight of ice cream floats made with Hires Root Beer speak of the “good old summer time” and come to life in these artistic pieces.  My collecting activities have brought me as much satisfaction as the soft drink business itself. 

Our family held a Hires franchise in the 1920s and 1930s, and then resumed it again at the end of World War II when we were licensed as the Hires franchisee in King County, Washington.  I started working at our family-owned bottling plant during summers in high school and liked it.  After two years at the University of Washington, I enrolled at a Seattle business college to study accounting while simultaneously working in our company office and sometimes in production.  During the summer months I loaded trucks at night and then started full time doing the downtown sales route as a driver/salesman.  I then moved to the south end route and after driving truck for a couple of years, I was promoted to supervisor of the South King County sales routes.  That’s when I caught selling fever.  My goal was to be the top salesman.  Calling on grocery store owners and obtaining additional space for my products gave me the incentive to keep going.  It was a real “battle” getting space in the stores; a person has to have fire in their belly to run a business.

I was fascinated with the advertising associated with the soft drink industry and tended to look closely at all types of point of sale items.  Having started at the simplistic positions in our business and slowly working up into sales, it was quite clear point-of-sale advertising was critical to the success of any product.  After spending years in route selling soft drink business and placing, hanging, and nailing thousands of point-of-sale items, they became an interesting segment of my route salesman duties.  Of course, over the years various companies changed their logos, paint colors, graphics, etc., leading most bottlers/distributors to dispose of old advertising items.  This was quite common in the industry and I am sure millions of signs made their way to garbage dumps.  As a result, I personally did not have a great interest in collecting any current signs/advertising that were in use during my years as a route salesman.

THE COLLECTING BUG STRIKES

In 1962 I happened to visit an antiques store in the neighborhood where I grew up.  The shop specialized in advertising signs and to my astonishment two metal Hires Root Beer signs I had never seen before immediately caught my attention.  A closer look at them revealed the signs were from the late 1920s and in perfect condition, so I had the owner wrap them up for me.  Those signs were the beginning of my collection of pre-1940 Hires Root Beer memorabilia.

I soon created a collector’s business card seeking “Hires pre-1940 Memorabilia,” and then started running advertisements for Hires items in the Antique Trader.  The response was astonishing, producing leads to other collectors and contributing significantly to my exposure as a collector of Hires Root Beer advertising.  I soon developed a reputation as “The Hires Guy.”  As the years went on, those ads were dropped due to a lack of responses and, of course, that was just as the Internet became a viable alternative to advertising in antiques journals. 

I also started attending major advertising-related shows, leading to meeting many collectors with similar interests in antique advertising, and often found myself in unique situations.  An advanced Hires Root Beer collector in Portland, Oregon was very informative and helpful in my search for additional Hires advertising.  Our friendship led to an opportunity to acquire the majority of his collection a few years later.  That acquisition gave my collection a huge boost from the standpoint of quality pieces of older advertising.  Another friend told me a California dealer had a number of rare Hires advertising items that she was willing to sell.  I contacted her by mail and was excited when she returned a list of extremely rare Hires items I had never seen before.  I went to Los Angeles and was successful in purchasing a number of very rare Hires pieces from her.  This was my second largest purchase and very important to the growth of my collection. 

Most of my items were acquired one by one with a lot of hunting, searching, cajoling, and traveling.  Visiting many collectors’ homes to view their collections usually brought about indirect information regarding a Hires item someone owned that might be a potential acquisition. 

I was having a great time collecting early Hires pieces and also began to realize that not only was the fun of the hunt very stimulating, but the value of the items kept appreciating. 

CHASING HIRES’ HISTORY

Collecting also fueled my passion for researching Hires’ history in order to ascertain what types of advertising materials they had issued since inception.  My next goal was to travel to Philadelphia, original home of the Charles E. Hires Company, to research the history of their advertising.  I discovered significant information at libraries and museums, and also was very fortunate to meet Charles Edgar Hires, a great-grandson of Charles Elmer Hires.  (He preferred to be called Edgar, as there were too many Charles’ in the company and it was confusing for visitors.)  Edgar was a Hires Company executive and in the operations end of the business.  I visited with him a number of times and we talked about his role and the history of the company.  By that time the family had sold the company and Edgar was retired like the other family members who had been associated with the business.  Edgar and I developed a long-standing friendship through my visits and letters.

During my first visit, Edgar showed me the company advertising items he had acquired over the years.  He had an interest in retaining certain facts and company advertising during his tenure.  When I saw what he had, I was completely amazed, as a number of the items I had never seen before and that is one of the ultimate highs motivating most collectors.  I expressed an interest in acquiring some of the items, however Edgar wanted to first consult with his daughter before selling anything.  In 1997 Edgar told me his children were not interested in his Hires items, so I was able to purchase a number of them that weren’t rare, plus a salesman’s sample Munimaker dispenser (see Figure 1905-14), the ultimate Hires collectible item.  This was my third major acquisition and the most significant addition to my collection due to the dispenser’s inherit completeness. 

I also visited Peter Hires in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  Peter was Charles Elmer Hires’ grandson and president of The Charles E. Hires Company from 1955-1960.  I realized I had so many advertising pieces and photos that I should do a book on the Hires business history, similar to what the Dr Pepper Company did.  I thought the Hires family would be interested, because there is a significant story to tell.  To my frustration, they were not interested.  They had sold the company in 1960 and there did not seem to be any dedication to their heritage.

When I was visiting Peter Hires, he allowed me to go through two or three scrapbooks with Hires advertising in them.  The advertising department of the company had been careless in the way they archived the original pieces.  They used masking tape to secure them into the scrapbooks, so the pieces were ugly and ruined.  I took photographs of items I had never seen before.  It was tenuous, believe me, turning the pages, because the scrapbooks were falling apart.  Such careless archiving is devastating behavior to a collector.

In addition to the scrapbooks, Peter Hires still had an original, highly coveted, Maxfield Parrish portrait advertisement.  Charles Elmer Hires was a personal friend of Maxfield Parrish, the famous painter and illustrator of the early 20th century whose work was characterized by idealized, neo-classical imagery.  Parrish created several pieces of Hires advertising, and Peter Hires had the only remaining one of the originals.  I saw it on the floor facing the wall in the dining room when I visited him to look at the scrapbooks.

By the time I decided to make a second contact with him, Peter Hires had passed away, so I met with his son, Peter Jr., who was living in Florida.  When I asked what happened to those amazing scrapbooks, he said, “Well, my Dad downsized to a smaller home in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, before moving to Florida.  He put the scrapbooks in the basement, and when we had a flood they got soaked.”  That was devastating news to me! 

I then asked Peter Jr. what happened to the Maxfield Parrish artwork.  He said, “My father put it in an auction and got maybe $50,000 or $100,000 for it.”  That very illustration had been used at the top of a Hires letterhead for responses to customers inquiring about Hires products, an example of how extensively Hires used fine artwork.  At one point I acquired one of the promotional letters that had been sent to a dealer and had it framed.  I sold it several years later but have photographs of the Parrish ads in my photo collection. 

Another ad created by Parrish for Charles E. Hires features two gnomes facing each other (see Figures 1921-01 and 1921-02).  The original drawings of the gnomes were cardboard figures, four feet tall and facing each other with Hires steins in their hands.  The originals of these drawings are extremely rare.  I have seen only one in all my years of collecting.  It belonged to a Los Angeles collector who took me to his storage locker to show it to me.  He wanted $5,000 for it in 1988.  It was unusual for a collector like him to have this piece, as it generally would be found among such collections as the Haskell Coffin drawings of the early 1900s.

Originally there were four or five Hires scrapbooks.  The Hires family was left with only two because they sold three of them with the assets of the corporation.  Their fate was uncertain, as Hires had been sold to Consolidated Foods, who sold to Crush International, who then sold to Procter & Gamble, who sold to Cadbury-Schweppes.  As a bottler of Cadbury Beverages myself, I was invited to Cadbury’s headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut in 1988 for training on making presentations of their sparkling waters and seltzers.  I asked the national sales manager if I could visit their property room where they had placed archives of memorabilia and advertisements purchased from Procter & Gamble.  I took photos, but what ultimately happened to the inventory is unknown, as Cadbury subsequently sold the Hires brand to Dr Pepper/Snapple.

FEVERISH COLLECTING

Sometimes my passion reached ridiculous heights and involved people all around me.  One year I found myself in pursuit of a cardboard piece that had the Hires Boy pictured on it.  He’s kind of a homely kid, but Hires “grew him up,” put a tuxedo on him in later years, and he became a sort of mascot.  That’s where this piece comes in.  Hires distributed a lot of trade cards and the manufacturer was listed on the rim of this piece.  This one was very unusual because it is round (see Figure 1895-05).

There was an antique show in Tacoma, Washington that I couldn’t get to, but afterward, a collector acquaintance called and said, “Did you see that round piece down at the Tacoma Dome show?”  I said no and he said, “Well, I think this is a piece that you don’t have in your collection.”  That got right to me – I had a lot of Hires items, but not that one.  So I asked my friend to go back and check with the dealer the next day to see whether he still had it.  He didn’t; he had sold it.  That’s what is frustrating about collecting.  So I asked my friend to go back to the dealer and ask him whether the buyer left a card or paid by check, so I can find out his name.  The guy had paid cash.  He was from Bremerton, Washington.  That’s all we knew.

Well, I couldn’t let it go.  I had my secretary cost out an advertisement in the newspapers surrounding King County.  An ad in the Bremerton paper was just two bucks for two weeks, really insignificant, so, I ran this ad in the paper: “WANTED: The customer who bought the scrapbook of Hires trade cards at the Tacoma Dome Show” on such and such a date.  I ran the ad for two weeks and lo and behold, about two months later I got a call from a guy who said, “I don’t know if I’m the guy you’re looking for, but I bought some Hires stuff at the Tacoma Dome show.”  He had bought a scrapbook with a bunch of trade cards in it and said the last one in the book was round!  So I took the ferry over to Bremerton to meet with him.  He handed me the scrapbook and I flipped through it; they were all common trade cards until the last one.  It was round.  That was it!  I asked if he would sell the round one for $15.00, he said “yes,” and I said “Okay, you’ve got a deal.”   If I had said $200.00 he wouldn’t have sold because he would think it was valuable.  So, I framed it and sold it about eight years later for $2,500.  I’ve only seen one other like it in 40 years.

DISPLAYING THE COLLECTION

I put my collection on display at our bottling plant in Seattle.  The building had an upstairs storage room that we converted to a conference room.  The room had a sliding fire door that was permanently closed and I had it converted into a display case with sliding doors.  That was the start of many acquisitions, and I adorned the many walls of our offices, mailroom, and lunchroom with framed Hires advertisements.  We spent 15 years in that building, allowing me to expand the collection extensively.

When we moved to a new plant in 1991, I had a huge office on the upstairs floor.  I purchased and installed three four foot tall, glass-topped display cases and also hung the framed Hires advertising pieces on the walls.  It was great going to the office and being surrounded by the collection that I continued to develop while there.

TIME TO SELL THE COLLECTION

At times one’s collecting goal might be to find every advertising piece the Hires Company issued.  After a few years of collecting, however, I realized this goal was unattainable due to the vastness and complexity of the time period and frailty of the items. 

After selling the business in 1997 I put my collection in storage.  After a few years I realized that it was time to start selling it, so I started cataloguing and documenting the various pieces, and took digital photographs of each item.  Once my selling was in motion, I sent a list to advanced collectors.  A couple in California has purchased a major portion of my collection over the years, about 40 percent.  I have the remainder down to about 10 percent of the original collection.  I recently sold some remaining pieces through an auction company in Michigan and the items did quite well.  My green dispenser was purchased by a sheik in the Middle East (see Figure 1906-11).

THE HIRES ROOT BEER BOOK

This book has been on my mind for many years.  This undertaking was inspired by decades of passionately collecting Hires Root Beer memorabilia, and also by acquiring books about competing beverages such as Moxie, Pepsi-Cola, Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola, and Schweppes.  A great deal of credit was afforded to the founders or creators of those beverages over the years and how each individual contributed to the growth and success of the soft drink industry as we know it today.  This was all the more reason I wanted to produce a book about Hires Root Beer, and give Charles Elmer Hires due credit as an outstanding innovator and marketer of his famous root beer.

The Evolution of HiresBook.com

by Ron Fowler

While gathering information about early bottlers for Washington Sodas - The Illustrated History of Washington's Soft Drink Industry, I discovered the Sourapas family had been bottling soda in Seattle since 1919, and they were still in business!  Opportunities to interview the descendants of early bottlers is an extremely rare research treat, so it was exciting to perhaps be able to establish contact with a family member who was both knowledgeable and interested in the family's business history.  I found a phone number for Angelika Sourapas, widow of the firm's original owner, and called her to explain my book project.  She suggested I "call Stevie at the plant."  "Stevie" turned out to be Steve Sourapas, president of the family-owned Dr Pepper Bottling Company in Seattle.  I called him and in short order scheduled an appointment for an interview. 

When I arrived at the plant for the interview, my eyes feasted on the glass display cases and many framed wall hangings showcasing Steve's incredible collection of Hires Root Beer memorabilia.  Most of the items were extremely rare and Steve's passion for collecting Hires items was on full display.  Steve and his brother Gus provided substantial information for my Washington book, with the added benefit that meeting Steve has turned into a 40 year friendship because of our shared passion for both collecting and documenting soft drink industry history.

FIRST ATTEMPT

Fast forward to 1998 just after the Sourapas family sold their bottling company and Steve had retired and he and I met to discuss the lack of a factual, detailed history of Hires Root Beer.  Although I was still working full time and knew I wouldn't be able to devote much of my spare time to such a project, the subject was so appealing (and Steve is such a great salesman), that I agreed to partner with him on the project.

As I researched Hires during the next two years it became increasingly obvious (1) factual information was going to be extremely challenging to find, and (2) available material was frequently based on conjecture or myths and often plagiarized from the efforts of earlier writers.  Clearly properly researching Hires was going to require far more time than we originally anticipated, so the project was moved to the backburner until my retirement.

SO MANY PROJECTS, SO LITTLE TIME!

Since retiring I have tackled several major book projects, with the largest by far being the over 18,500 hours I have invested into the Hutchinson Bottle Directory (HutchBook.com) since 2004.  Steve and I met in late 2014 to discuss breathing new life into the Hires book project and I agreed to resume my research starting January 1, 2015.  Although Steve had sold the bulk of his incredible Hires collection by then, he wisely had professional photos taken of all the items before they were dispersed.  He provided me with full access to his remaining items, plus his files containing an assortment of original Hires documents and publications.  Steve's photos and materials were the cornerstone of the process of researching and constructing the historical development of Hires Root Beer.

It is now four years later, our book project has grown tremendously, and I have invested over 3,400 hours into gathering, inventorying, dating, organizing, and drafting a factual history of Hires Root Beer.  The material has been organized into individual chapters by year from 1860 to the present.  Each chapter also includes a sidebar listing the year's major social, economic, and political happenings, plus new inventions and product introductions with special emphasis on soft drink industry milestones.  Given the huge quantity of information presented along with over 2,000 accompanying images, publishing anything less than the full Hires Root Beer story would be a disservice. 

This past April I devoted a full day to printing a 1,430 page paper draft for Steve's final review.  Unfortunately, that same day he fell at home, suffering a very serious spinal cord injury.  After extensive hospitalization, surgery, and rehabilitation therapy, Steve isn't able to resume his active participation, so I have completed the project solo.  Consequently, I accept full responsibility for the accuracy of the final product.

HIRES TO YOU! BECOMES HIRESBOOK.COM

Publishing the Hires material we have prepared in book form would require two or three volumes and be so expensive that few would or could afford to purchase copies of the books.  Our intention from the start has been to produce a factual history of Hires Root Beer that would be widely available at an affordable price.  It makes no sense to publish material that very few can access, so we have instead opted to build HiresBook.com and make Hires to You! The Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer available for free to the public via the Internet.  We hope you enjoy this history as much as we have enjoyed the process of shepherding it into production.

HiresBook.com launched January 4, 2019