Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer



General George A. Custer and 265 men of the Seventh Cavalry lost the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana to Sitting Bull’s Sioux Indians.

Colorado was admitted to the Union as the 38th state.

Several libraries banned The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as unfit for young readers.

Thomas A. Edison invented a mimeograph that employed a stencil for making impressions.

Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone.

John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh Day Adventist, began developing new types of flaked cereals claiming that if included in a vegetarian diet they would help to curb the sex drive.

The Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for president, and the Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden of New York. 

Newly introduced products and inventions included arc lighting, carpet sweepers, internal combustion engines, refrigerators, and Heinz ketchup. 

Charles E. Hires placed this advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper less than a month before the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 opened (note he included no mention of Hires Root Beer):     

(Figure 1876-01, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18, 1876)

“The International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine,” took place May 10 thru November 10, 1876 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Popularly referred to as the “Centennial International Exhibition of 1876,” this event was the first official world’s fair held in the United States and timed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

New inventions, technologies, and products introduced at the Centennial Exhibition included the telephone, typewriter, air-powered tools, bananas, popcorn, and Heinz ketchup.  As for soft drinks, according to Organization in the Soft Drink Industry – A History of the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages, authored by John J. Riley, Secretary of the ABCB, in 1946:

Some indication of the acceptance of carbonated drinks by the American consumer at the time is shown by the sale of the concession, for $50,000, to Charles Lippincott & Co. of Philadelphia and James W. Tufts of Boston, for exclusive sale of soda water at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.

John J. Riley’s 1946 history of the ABCB makes no mention of Charles E. Hires in conjunction with the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. 

Contradicting himself, in 1958 John J. Riley authored A History of the American Soft Drink Industry and stated:

Charles E. Hires exhibited his package of dried roots and herbs, for making ‘Hires’ root beer, at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, and sampled the finished drink.

Here, however, is how John J. Riley footnoted his 1958 statement:

6. (COMPANIES; SOURCES) Many of the major soft drink manufacturers have published historical data concerning their particular product and company.  Some of it has appeared in the trade papers, and in their own house organs, and is usually made available upon request.

Between 1946 and 1958 John J. Riley apparently fell victim to Hires Company marketing hype.  Although Riley and numerous other sources repeatedly claim Charles E. Hires demonstrated and either gave away or sold samples of Hires Root Beer at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, this is a myth fabricated for marketing purposes.  There is no documented evidence Charles E. Hires exhibited at or had any involvement whatsoever with the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.    


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:

Centennial year, I think – my wife and I were boarding at a farmhouse in the country, over in Jersey.  The farmer’s wife was accustomed to gather teaberry leaves, sassafras bark and berries, and to steep them, making a tea.  The result, when fermented with yeast, was called “homemade root beer.”  I conceived the idea of putting a similar product on the market, and after a great deal of experimenting I hit upon  what I considered the right combination of roots and barks to produce a flavor which would please at the moment and would also send the customer back for more.  For some time I sold the dry herbs in the package, with directions to the purchaser to steep them, later adding the yeast and sugar just as it was done by the farmer’s wife in Jersey.  Later, however, to save the customer the trouble of boiling and straining the dry herbs, I put it up in the form of Hires Root Beer Extract, just as it is still sold today.

Charles E. Hires and Clara K. Smith were married January 5, 1875.  Hires’ reference to “Centennial year” (1876) suggests they were not in New Jersey on their honeymoon, dispelling yet another myth about the origin of Hires Root Beer.  Also note Hires mentioned being served “homemade root beer,” a clue that the various stories about how Hires Root Beer was named are also myths and he simply added his name to the existing terminology for the beverage.  Lastly, Hires’ reference to “after a great deal of experimenting” suggests he was working on perfecting the Hires Root Beer formula but not selling it during 1876.

When Charles E. Hires placed this 2.375” x .25” advertisement on the front page of Philadelphia’s Public Ledger newspaper the 1876 Centennial Exhibition was under way and still there was absolutely no mention of Hires Root Beer.

Sponges and Chamois Skins.

C. E. Hires, Importer, No. 123 North Front Street

(Figure 1876-02, Public Ledger, September 16, 1876, re-typed for clarity)

Hires ran the following advertisement in the November 24, 1876 issue of Philadelphia’s The Times newspaper.  The 1876 Centennial Exhibition had ended two weeks earlier and once again he included no mention of Hires Root Beer.

(Figure 1876-03, The Times, November 24, 1876)

Charles E. Hires discussed the origin of Hires Root Beer once again for “The Story of Hires,” an article first published in the April, 1921 issue of the Printers’ Ink Monthly journal:

“It was some years after the fullers’ earth episode,” he said.  “I had a man in the store, and spent most of my time selling flavoring extracts which I had developed into a fairly substantial business.  My wife and I were staying at a farmhouse in Morristown, N.J. and were served with a very pleasant, sparkling drink which the housewife had made by gathering herbs, boiling them with sugar, and bottling with yeast.  It was highly agreeable to the taste, but indulgence in it was apt to produce a laxative effect which was not so pleasant.  I thought I saw a chance to put a similar product on the market if that fault could be corrected, and I suppose I experimented for two years, off and on, in the effort to produce a pure herb drink which would be entirely neutral in its effects.  After making almost innumerable changes and additions I arrived at a formula which has stood the test of time pretty well, as it remains unchanged today. 

“The package of dry herbs (as it was then) from which the housewife could brew her own root beer sold pretty well over the counter of my Spruce Street store, and gradually it was introduced to the trade in and around Philadelphia.  I did the selling work myself, because I still had no money to spare for salesmen.  Finally I found two young men who were willing to tackle the proposition on the chance of making enough cash sales to pay their traveling expenses, and they were the first salesmen I ever hired.  They traveled thru the South and clear up into the Northwest on this rather precarious basis, getting enough cash from dealers in a town to carry them to the next stop.  Sometimes they came pretty close to being stranded, but they made the round trip to Philadelphia all right, and many trips after that.

 Note Charles E. Hires’ references to “I experimented for two years, off and on…making innumerable changes and additions,” and “The package of dry herbs…sold pretty well over the counter of my Spruce Street store, and gradually it was introduced to the trade in and around Philadelphia.”  Also note he didn’t mention any involvement whatsoever with the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876.  Hires’ 1913 and 1921 descriptions match the newspaper advertisements he placed in the Philadelphia Public Ledger starting in the spring of 1877.