Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer



The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (also referred to as the “St. Louis World’s Fair”) feted the 1803 Louisiana Purchase centennial from April 30 – December 1, 1904.  The Summer Olympic Games were held in the U.S. for the first time in conjunction with the fair. 

Over 1,000 people died when the paddle-steamer General Slocum burned in New York harbor.

Automobile racing began as an organized sport with the Vanderbilt Cup race.   

Henry Ford set a new automobile land speed record of 91.37 miles per hour.

Theodore Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States.

Cylinder and disk phonographs attained enormous popularity.

Journalists wrote about government and business corruption and the need for consumer protection.  The Ladies’ Home Journal published articles exposing quack patent medicines, ultimately contributing to passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.  Drugs were available without prescriptions and not a social problem, but alcoholism was rampant.

Nickelodeon theaters began to open, often in rented storefronts where customers sat on chairs or benches and watched one-reel films on a small screen. 

Cigarette coupons were first used as a draw for a chain of tobacco stores.

Coca-Cola’s annual syrup sales reached one million gallons.  The Coca-Cola Company initiated an advertising program in general magazines and had licensed 123 franchised bottlers. 

3,468 U.S. soft drink bottling plants were in operation.  Per capita consumption was 13.3 bottles.

One of Hires’ earliest 1904 publications was a Twenty Seventh Annual Message booklet.  The  introductory comments state “That my Beverage has become a necessity to man is amply shown in that during the 26 years of its life it has grown from nothing to national and international usefulness.”  The reference to “26 years” is another major clue helping to pinpoint the date of origin for Hires Root Beer.  This booklet was written in very late 1903 or very early 1904, and 26 years earlier means Charles E. Hires began selling Hires Root Beer in 1877, rather than 1876 as later claimed.  The content of the Twenty Seventh Annual Message booklet was presented as if it was authored by the Hires Boy himself.

(Figure 1904-01, Twenty Seventh Annual Message, 3.125” x 5.25”)

Hires’ “Offer for 1904 To The Retail Trade” was sent in the form of a 9.5” x 4.0” heavy cardboard “wallet” recipients could use to file and store receipts and other papers.  The inside flap provided details about Hires’ Novelty Booklets (“nothing so funny was ever printed…we are putting out several millions”), co-operative advertising opportunities, and how to obtain a free 21.0” x 16.0” “Ruth and Naomi” poster.  The inside of the wallet also contained an essay on “character” by Lambert Tree that was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post.  Lambert Tree was a Cook County Illinois Circuit Court judge famous for presiding over the trial of corrupt city council members.  He later served as President Grover Cleveland’s U.S. minister to Belgium.

The American Lithographic Company of New York City produced a simpler “The Parting of Ruth and Naomi” trade card in 1904.  The front text is in the lower left hand corner, and the text on the back isn’t framed.  The card is described as “a miniature of the larger lithograph 21 x 16 inches, free from all advertising marks, which we send to any dealer purchasing Hires Rootbeer Extract under our Offer for 1904.  If you make a Window Display, we will frame it handsomely for you.”

(Figure 1904-02, “Ruth and Naomi” trade card, front, 5.875” x 5.0”)

(Figure 1904-02, “Ruth and Naomi” trade card, back, 5.875” x 5.0”)

Twenty million St. Louis World’s Fair attendees viewed exhibits by 60 countries and most of the 45 states.  Hires had an Agriculture Building display, and operated five “Hires Rootbeer Oases...wherever the sun is hottest on the World's Fair Grounds.” 

(Figure 1904-03, St. Louis World’s Fair postcard, front)

(Figure 1904-03, St. Louis World’s Fair postcard, back)

(Figure 1904-04, Hires Rootbeer Oasis at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair)

For interesting observations about the impact of the St. Louis World’s Fair on the American diet, check out Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World by Tristan Donovan.

This aqua Hires pint bottle utilized either a cork or a Hires Patent Stopper for the closure (see Figure 1901-15).  Although the original paper label is missing, the base embossing clearly identifies the origin of the bottle.  Examples of these bottles bear embossed base numbers documenting the year the bottle was blown.  The "4" on the pictured example  indicates this bottle was blown in 1904.

(Figure 1904-05, Hires bottle - front and base, courtesy of Ron Fellman)