Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer



Ulysses S. Grant was inaugurated as the 18th U.S. President.

Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia ratified suffrage and were readmitted as states.

Wyoming Territory passed a woman’s suffrage law, one of the first successes in the women’s suffrage movement.

The first U.S. transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

Major John Wesley Powell conducted the first scientific exploration of the Colorado River.

The first professional baseball team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in the first intercollegiate football game.

N. W. Ayer and Sons advertising agency was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The People’s Literary Companion marked the beginning of mail-order periodicals.

Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory was founded to provide circulation information and help standardize advertising space values.

John W. Hyatt, a New York City printer, invented and patented celluloid, the first synthetic plastic with broad commercial applications.

Bottled lemon soda and sarsaparilla were popular.

387 U.S. soft drink bottling plants were in operation.  Per capita consumption was 6.4 bottles. 

Continuing the October, 1913 American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record article, Charles E. Hires stated:

When embarking in business at Sixth and Spruce, I had less than $400 and did a great deal of work in assisting the carpenter in fitting the place up, and it was through the good offices of my wholesale drug friends that I got started.  Mr. Crenshaw, of Bullock & Crenshaw, Valentine H. Smith, Clayton French and Robert Shoemaker – these good friends gave me all the credit I asked, and to them I owe a great deal of my success.

Perhaps an incident of my first conspicuous success would be interesting.  This occurred about a year after embarking in business at Sixth and Spruce. It came about in this way:

I have always been active and energetic, and the time spent behind a prescription counter, especially in the dull part of the day, often became irksome and I longed for greater things to do.  One day when walking out Spruce street, I noticed a cellar being dug and from this excavation I noticed a lead colored clay like substance which attracted my attention, as it seemed almost of the consistence of putty.  I picked up some of it and took it back to the store and after drying it and examining it I found it was fullers' earth or potter's clay.  I returned to the place the next day and saw the contractor and asked him if I could have some of this clay.  I only wanted the clay from this certain strata.  As they had some distance to cart the dirt from this excavation, he very gladly, when he learned where to deliver it, assented to my having all I wanted of it, and was glad to give it to me.  I had him bring it to my place, and after boarding up a passage way along the side of my cellar, I filled the entire balance of the cellar, up to the ceiling, with this clay.

It occurred to me that I might put up potter’s clay in convenient sized cakes that would be handy to retail and more convenient for people to use, as at that time potter's clay was sold in a loose way in broken clumps and powder which caused a great deal of dirt and dust in handling.

At this time I was boarding next door, or taking my meals there, as I slept over my store, and I recalled having seen the women folks using an iron ring on which to stand their irons on ironing day.  It occurred to me that this would be the proper instrument to cut out or mold these cakes of clay, so I borrowed from my landlady a couple of these rings, after being charged very particularly to take care of them and return them in good order.

I then wet the clay, working, it into a paste, from which I moulded a dozen or two round cakes about one inch thick and about three inches in diameter, and put them on a board out in the yard in the sun to dry.  These after a day or two became thoroughly dried, and I found them to be a very fine texture of fuller's earth or potter's clay, and was very much elated over my project and the possibility of selling quantities of it.

 I then went down on Third street to a stencil and letter place and bought some lead letters, and after cutting out a round block, I glued these letters on to the block, spelling out the words "Hire's Refined Potter's Clay" in a circle.  My thought was that these cakes could be sold for five cents.

While the cakes were soft, I pressed these letters in, which made a very distinct impression.  After doing a few, however, I found that the moisture soon melted the glue and the letters would fall off.  Then I had to have a cast iron one made with which I could work much more rapidly and which made a very neat impression.

Together with a boy and my assistant in the store at leisure times we worked up several gross of these cakes.  In fact I first made up enough to fill a barrel and I found that a barrel would hold about ten gross.  Having everything ready and with two or three nice samples done up in tissue paper, I started out to visit the wholesale drug trade.  I remember I called on Mr. Crenshaw first and told him of my project and showed him my sample.  He thought it was a most excellent idea and would take because it saved a great deal of weighing out and dirty work that the old method of dispensing Fuller's earth necessitated.  At that time Fuller's earth was used quite extensively for taking out grease spots and cleaning woolens and flannels and had quite a large sale.  I concluded to put the price of $3.50 a gross on the cakes to the wholesale trade and they could sell them for 35 or 40 cents a dozen.  Mr. Crenshaw took hold of it at once and said "You may send me ten barrels."  I then visited Valentine H. Smith, who also took ten barrels.  Robert Shoemaker, John C. Hurst & Co., McKeon, Bowen & Ellis, Mahlon K. Smith & Co., afterwards Smith, Kline & Co., and I believe every wholesale druggist took three to five barrels.  Clayton French took twenty-five barrels.

I sold this mostly with the understanding that the amount was to be taken out in drugs or sundries as I should want.  In this way I suppose it was much easier to sell the quantity I did.  From these sales I was enabled to better stock my store, and after selling this supply of clay, I renewed it several times from, cellar excavations, because I found that nearly all Philadelphia is under laid with a strata of three or four feet of potter's clay.

After supplying Philadelphia, I went to New York and sold quite a lot in exchange for goods.  In this way I had quite a revenue from my drug business, having to pay but little out for merchandise.  But in the course of a year or two I soon had competitors; others finding out about commenced to put it up in a large way and it was very soon sold at prices that hardly made enough profit for the labor.

I have often thought when I have heard of the difficulties of a young man in getting along, that surely the reason for their not getting along is because of their lack of initiative or the lack of making or seizing opportunities when they come, because I think a business life is continually full of opportunities if one can grasp and utilize them.

Charles E. Hires provided additional details in this account of the Fuller’s Earth episode when interviewed for “The Story of Hires,” an article published in the April, 1921 issue of Printers’ Ink Monthly, and the May 1921 issue of The American Bottler:

The story of Hires’ Root Beer…begins with a spade full of earth thrown out of an excavation at the corner of Ninth and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia.  Three blocks away, at the corner of Sixth Street, a small drug store had recently been opened, and the youthful proprietor, Mr. Charles E. Hires, happened to be passing the spot where the excavation was in progress.  That was in 1869.  Mr. Hires…laughs with the zest of youth over the remembrance of that shovelful of common Philadelphia dirt.

“It just goes to show,” he told me, “how opportunity is sometimes cast at your feet, and all you need is the ability, or the good fortune, to recognize it.  I was just starting in the retail drug business with a total capital of $400, which had to stretch far enough to cover both fixtures and stock.  The latter, as you may imagine, was not very extensive, but I knew fullers’ earth when I saw it – even when it was thrown out of a hole in the ground.  Fullers’ earth was widely used in those days to take the oil out of wool, among other things, and every wholesale and retail druggist handled it.  A good deal of a nuisance it was, too, having to be stored in a drawer and weighed out five cents’ worth at a time, as a rule.  But when a shovelful of it was thrown at my feet I began to see the glimmer of an opportunity.

“I hunted up the contractor, who told me that the dirt was being hauled a mile or so away to be dumped, and he readily consented to separate the gray fullers’ earth from the rest and dump it only three blocks away.  I hired an Ethiopian roustabout with a wheelbarrow, and in a week’s time I had a ton or so of practically pure fullers’ earth piled up in the yard behind my store ready for use.

“At that time I was rooming in a house kept by a maiden lady, and I had noticed a number of iron rings which used to rest her hot flatirons upon.  After considerable persuasion she loaned me one of them.  I took it to the store, filled it with fullers’ earth, pressed it down solid, smoothed it off, and made a convenient disk of the material which would take up less space than the loose fullers’ earth, and do away with the muss which always accompanied its handling.  I went to a friend of mine who ran a metal-working shop, and got some die-cut letters which would stamp the words ‘HIRES’ REFINED FULLERS’ EARTH’ on the surface of my disks.  I procured an empty barrel, and figured out that it would hold ten gross of the disks, suitably packed to prevent breakage.  Then I called on the biggest wholesale drug house in town, showed my goods, and told them that I would be glad to accept payment in trade.  You will remember than my stock was pretty slender, and I was glad to pay for more in this way.

“I sold ten barrels to my first customer, and another concern took twenty to get a slight discount.  Within a few days I had three colored men at work in the yard, and the maiden lady’s ironing rings were all in requisition.  I kept on taking my pay in trade, and before other people got onto the game I had my store pretty well stocked.  Of course it wasn’t very long before contractors stopped giving away fullers’ earth to every Tom, Dick or Harry who came along, but not until it had served my purpose very nicely.  It was my first experience with a side line, and I have found side lines more or less interesting ever since.

Charles E. Hires included the following comments in “Some Advertising Reminiscences 1869-1913,” an article he authored for the July 24, 1913 issue of Printers’ Ink:

Looking back over my business history – which covers 44 years now…In 1869 I opened a retail drug store at Sixth and Spruce streets, Philadelphia, and in connection with my soda fountain – in those days by no means the elaborate contrivance it is today – I often experimented in getting up new flavors for soft drinks.  Thus I learned a good deal about public taste, what sort of flavors would please patrons from the start, and the kind of flavors which would remain in public favor.