Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer



President Rutherford B. Hayes ended Reconstruction by withdrawing the last federal troops from the South, no longer protecting the rights of African Americans. 

Strikes accompanied by violence promoted the growth of labor unions.  A strike by railway employees resulted in the deaths of nine people in Baltimore and 19 in Chicago and threatened to bring U.S. trade to a standstill.

Thomas A. Edison filed to patent his phonograph.  Edison made the first sound recording by reciting “Mary had a little lamb.”

Flag Day was observed for the first time.

Newly introduced products included toilet paper.

May 12, 1877 – Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Vanilla Bean, Mexican Prime

An ordinary in store and for sale by Charles E. Hires, importer, No. 9 Letitia St.

May 19, 1877 - – Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: an advertisement for Dr. Van Dyke’s Sulphur Soap lists Charles Hires as a wholesale druggist handling the product.

After being introduced to “homemade root beer” by a New Jersey farmer’s wife in 1876, Charles E. Hires described the evolution of Hires Root Beer as requiring a “great deal of experimenting” (Printers’ Ink, 1913), and also “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.”  (Printers’ Ink, 1921).  These recollections suggest it was 1877 before Hires Root Beer was made available for public consumption. 

Additional primary resource documentation supporting 1877 as the year Hires Root Beer was first introduced to the public includes these sources:

  1. “In 1877 he commenced the manufacture of root beer of a superior quality, this beverage having since became famous all over the country.  This enterprise proving such a decided success, Mr. Hires abandoned his drug business and devoted his attention entirely to the new industry.”  (Cope and Ashmead, 1903)

  2. U.S. Trade Mark registration for “HIRES ROOT BEER AND ROOT-BEER EXTRACT (AND THE DRY INGREDIENTS FOR MAKING ROOT BEER)” – First Use: 1877, First use in commerce: 1877.  Filing date November 4, 1905.  Registration date June 26, 1906.  Owner (Registrant) Charles E. Hires Company, the corporation, Pennsylvania, 210, 212, and 214 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Description of mark: The trade-mark of said company consists of the words "Hires Rootbeer."  These have generally been arranged as shown in the accompanying facsimile the word "Rootbeer" having a period after it and composed of the letters forming the two words "Root Beer." The letters are colored in black, the first letter of each word being in capital letters and the remaining letters small. Other forms of type may be employed or other colors used without materially altering the character of said trade-mark, the essential feature of which is the words "Hires Rootbeer." 

  3. In 1923 the Charles E. Hires Company published From Rum Running to Soft Drinks, a booklet that includes a table listing sales of glasses of Hires Root Beer from 1877 to 1922.  The table lists 1877 sales as 11,520 glasses, the earliest known reference specifically detailing annual sales of Hires Root Beer.


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

I believe that I was the first advertiser who was ever allowed to break the columns of the Philadelphia Public Ledger...I think it was the year of '77 that I was in the Public Ledger office one day, and George W. Childs, then editor and proprietor, saw me and led me back into his office. 

"Mr. Hires," he said, "why don't you advertise that root beer extract of yours?  It is good stuff."

I told Mr. Childs that I hadn’t seriously considered advertising it, and that I hadn’t any money to spend for advertising it in any event.

"I’ll tell you what to do,” said Mr. Childs.  “You advertise in the Ledger, beginning right away, and I’ll tell the bookkeeper not to send you any bills until you ask for them.”

So I started in the Ledger, along in the late ‘70s.  I wasn’t overconfident, and didn’t want to presume upon the kindness of my good friend, Mr. Childs.  So I used small space, gradually increasing until at the end of a year I was using two or three inches at a time.  Just about that time I first asked for the bills, and gradually paid off the indebtedness to the Ledger.  My space continued to increase, until finally Mr. Childs broke the rule about the integrity of columns and allowed me to use all the space I wanted up to full pages.

Here’s a slightly different description of the same incident that Charles E. Hires penned for an article first published in the April, 1921 issue of the Printers’ Ink Monthly journal:

“One morning in 1877, on my way to the store, George W. Childs, the editor and proprietor of the Public Ledger sat down beside me in the Market Street cable car.

“’Mr. Hires,’ he said to me, ‘why don’t you advertise that root beer of yours?’

“’How can I, without any money?’ I asked him.

“’Advertise to get money,’ he replied.  ‘It certainly will pay you, for you have a good article.  You come around to the Ledger office, and I’ll tell the bookkeeper not to send you any bills until you ask for them.’

“I thought it over for a few days, and finally accepted the offer.  A young man in the Ledger office prepared the copy, and the advertising ran every day in one-inch single-column space.

“Sales increased slowly at first, and then more rapidly, until I felt justified in asking the Ledger for a bill.  It amounted to more than $700!  I nearly had heart failure, for while I knew that advertising cost money, I had no idea that it cost that much.  That was really the turning point of my career as an advertiser, for I found courage enough to let the advertising go on running while I was paying off the $700.

For the next ten years I put every penny of profit from the root-beer business back into advertising.  I was the first advertiser for whom Mr. Childs consented to break the columns of the Ledger in order to run a big type head all the way across the page.  By and by I made a contract for five lines in quite a sizable list of newspapers, and a little later asked several advertising agents to give me estimates on one-inch spaces in these newspapers and certain magazines in addition.  I have since then O.K.’d appropriations for $200,000 a year with less anxious consideration than I accorded that estimate covering my first venture in advertising on a national scale.

Although the details of Charles E. Hires’ discussion with George W. Childs differ slightly between these two accounts, the end results match.  Charles E. Hires first initiated newspaper advertising for his Hires’ Root Beer Package in late May, 1877:

May 23, 1877 – Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (front page, second column):

Five (5) Gallons for 25 cts.

Hires’ Root Beer Package, made from Pipsissewa, Sarsaparilla, Dandelion and other Medical Roots.  A delicious beverage, possessing properties which will change any morbid action of the stomach, liver and kidneys, and keep them in a healthy condition, promoting strength and vigor to farmers and laboring men; it is indispensable in warding off the effects of heat and prostration during the summer months.  Manufactured only by C. E. Hires, Wholesale Botanic Druggist, No. 9 Letitia st., and for sale by all Druggists.

June 2, 1877 – Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (two separate, back-to-back listings, front page, second column):

Five (5) Gallons for 25 cents

The most cooling and delicious drink made from

Hires’ Root Beer Package.  Only 25 cents.


The Most Healthy Drink is

That made from Hires’ Root Beer Package, 25

cents.  Makes 5 gallons.

This small newspaper advertisement was placed on the front page of the Public Ledger in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania June 9, 1877:

(Figure 1877-01, Public Ledger, June 9, 1877)

The same advertising copy also ran in a different format in the Bucks County Gazette, Bristol, Pennsylvania, June 14, 1877:

(Figure 1877-02, Bucks County Gazette, June 14, 1877)

Here’s a more legible version of the advertising copy:


Root Beer Package,

MAKES FIVE GALLONS OF DELICIOUS BEER FOR 25 CENTS,  made from Pipsissewa, Sarsaparilla, Dandelion and other medical roots.  A delicious beverage, possessing properties which will change any morbid action of the stomach, liver and kidneys and keep them in a healthy condition, promoting strength and vigor.  To farmers and laboring men it is indispensable in warding off the effects of heat and prostration during the summer months.  Manufactured only by C. E. HIRES, wholesale Botannical Druggist, No. 9 Letitia Street, Philadelphia.  Ask your druggist for it.   829

The August 21, 1913 issue of Printers’ Ink, “A Journal for Advertisers,” included the following full page advertisement placed by the Public Ledger Company, publishers of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Public Ledger newspaper.  In order to illustrate the value of advertising (in the Public Ledger, of course) the Ledger profiled long-time customer Charles E. Hires.  Although the illustrated September 1, 1877 advertisement was purported to be Hires’ very first printed advertisement for Hires Root Beer, that is not true, evidence the preceding advertisements from May and June, 1877.  Also, the June 14, 1877 advertisement published in the Bucks County Gazette in Bristol, Pennsylvania proves Hires was in fact utilizing other publications.  These errors may have been due to the passage of 30+ years, or because newer staff members at the Ledger composed the 1913 advertisement.  The comments detailing the growth and ultimate success of Hires’ advertisements are factual.  

(Figure 1877-03, Printers’ Ink, August 21, 1913)