Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer



New Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union.

The presidential election pitted former President Theodore Roosevelt against incumbent President William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, Governor of New Jersey.  Wilson won in a landslide.

The British ocean liner Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, killing about 1,500 persons.

Newly introduced products included Life Savers candy, and shopping bags.

This invoice reveals bottler’s syrup was $1.50 per gallon, with a 3% discount if paid with 30 days.  Form 336 continued to indicate The Charles E. Hires Company was established in 1870.

(Figure 1912-01, Form 336 invoice, April 15, 1912, 8.25” x 6.75”)

(Figure 1912-01.5, Hires envelope postmarked May 1, 1912)

Note this advertisement’s invitation for readers to “Write for premium puzzle.”

(Figure 1912-02, The Youth’s Companion, May 2, 1912)

The Hires name appeared frequently in Printers’ Ink articles during May, 1912.  This article written by Roy W. Johnson was published in the May 16, 1912 issue and provides considerable insight into the major challenges Charles E. Hires faced when striving to catch up with the soft drink industry’s shift to the use of soda fountains, while also contending with “substitution evil.” 



Twenty-five years ago the family gathered around and imbibed home-brewed root beer which was made with “household extract” and yeast purchased at the grocery store.  Five gallons of the product were prepared at a time, and stored in bottles down cellar, to be used as wanted.  Today the family foregathers at the nearest drugstore and chooses, from a large assortment, the drinks which are prepared on the spot in exactly the quantity desired for immediate consumption.  They pay more per drink, it is true, but there are no bottles to open or to rinse afterwards, no thoughts of the glassware which must be “washed up” and no danger of a discovery that the supply is exhausted.  Looking back over the of twenty-five years it is easy to see how the market has changed from the patent beer bottle to the soda-fountain, from the grocery to the drugstore, but it didn’t all happen in a day or a year and it wasn’t so easy to recognize what was going on.

The Charles E. Hires Company, of Philadelphia, makers of the original root beer extract, didn’t recognize it until some people would have said it was everlastingly too late.  Charles E. Hires, the founder of the business, is frank in saying: “I should have put a syrup on the market years ago.”  But it was not done, and there are plenty of reasons why it was not done which seem perfectly reasonable.

Briefly stated, the distribution of the company for the “household extract” was chiefly through grocery stores, and to put out a syrup would mean the development of drugstores with a consequent feeling on the part of the grocers that the company was competing with them.  Add to that the fact that the soda-fountain business was regarded as more or less of a fad, and you have the reason why a Hires Root Beer syrup was not put on the market twenty years ago.

But the results were disastrous.  Root beers sprang up on every hand, in response to the demand for the drink – a demand which Hires had created by the sale of the household extract for a number of years.  These were sold simply as “root beer,” and the name of Hires dropped out of sight except in connection with the home preparation of the drink.  Moreover other drinks – Coca-Cola, Moxie, Grape Juice, etc. – came in with the force of consumer advertising behind them, and took a large share of the soda-fountain trade.  The consumer stopped calling even for “root beer,” and began to demand drinks by their trade names.  And all the while there was less and less demand for home-brewed refreshments, and more and more demand for the soda-fountain beverages.  The soda-fountain habit spread into the smallest towns, leaving only the truly rural districts to make any consistent demand for household extract with which to make their own root beer.

Out of four “business doctors” three would probably have said that the market was gone beyond recall, and it would be better to quit than to spend money trying to compete with the heavy advertising of rival drinks and to try to win back trade to a forgotten brand.  In many ways it would be easier to win them over to a new brand.

And even if they were won back, there was the substitution evil to face.  Anybody could make a “root beer,” almost exactly similar in taste, and make it a whole lot cheaper than Hires.  Of course, it wouldn’t be quite so wholesome, but that wouldn’t have any effect upon the sale of it, because wholesomeness isn’t a prime requisite to the soda-fountain patron.  Recreating a demand for “root beer” would be simply making a market for a lot of unbranded syrups, and to create a demand for “Hires” would mean the usual uphill fight for a brand which, in the minds of a good many people, was a “has-been.”

But in spite of the rather gloomy outlook, Mr. Hires determined that he would “come back,” and not only would he come back, but he would advertise Hires.  A careful analysis of the new market developed, as a real analysis usually does, some important facts.

In the first place, it developed that the weakest spot in the soft drink business is the lack of uniformity in the product unless the drink complete is poured from a bottle.  The flavor depends upon the quantity of syrup placed in the drink, and in the hurry of mixing by uninterested clerks the usual procedure is to supply too much syrup.  If there is too little, the customer will not find the drink palatable, while too much is erring on the safe side at least.

Some soft drink manufacturers have endeavored to get around the difficulty by supplying the product ready mixed in bottles.  But the soda clerk is not partial to this system because of the extra labor necessary to open the bottle, re-cork it and place it on the ice.  Bottled soft drinks have been successful to a certain extent when sold by the case for home consumption, but it was not considered wise to put out another bottled beverage for soda fountain use.  It would not only run up against more or less opposition from the clerks who served it, but would also run counter to the habits of customers, who were used to seeing the whole process of mixing before their eyes.  Indeed, so strong is the prejudice against having things done where the customer cannot see them that practically all soda clerks are instructed to perform every operation as openly as possible.  Breaking an egg under the counter would not be tolerated for a moment in any good drug store.

From the standpoint of the manufacturer, the practice of giving too much syrup per drink was not altogether a bad thing, because it used more syrup.  But from the dealer’s standpoint it represented a loss, and the Hires people needed the good-will of the dealers quite as much as that of consumers.  So it was decided that some means of measuring the syrup accurately was wanted, both to win over the dealer by increasing his profits, and to satisfy the consumer by giving him his root beer always in the right proportions.


The result was the Munimaker, a pocket edition of a soda fountain.  It contains a reservoir for Hires syrup, and a coil running through an ice chamber to which a soda tank is connected.  Pushing the controlling handle to the right automatically mixes the Hires syrup with the carbonated water in exactly the right proportions, and a turn to the left dispenses plain soda water.

The addition of this machine to the Hires line not only provided the means for serving the drink easily, quickly and accurately, but widened the market for Hires syrup enormously.  For the syrup could profitably be sold through this machine in places where there was no soda fountain.  The machine, plus a few bottles of flavoring syrups, was a full-fledged soda-fountain in itself.  So the company is equipping cigar stores, steamboats, railroad stations, etc., with the means thereby they become customers of the Charles E. Hires Company.

Not only does the machine earn a profit by selling the syrup, but it is actually purchased at a profit from the company.  The dealer pays $150 for his Munimaker, and signs a contract to use it only in connection with Hires syrup.  He is privileged to use it as a soda-fountain all he likes, so long as the reservoir is filled with Hires syrup.  But it is a standing and continuous advertisement for Hires, since that is the only name which appears on it, and it is prominently displayed.

The dealer is persuaded to part with his money for the machine, on the showing of the saving it will make for him.  The average number of five-cent drinks per gallon of syrup under ordinary conditions is sixty-five, while the machine will dispense 140, and do it with less trouble.  A certain department store which set up Munimaker booths in several places throughout the store, reported to the Hires company that in one day a single machine dispensed more than 1,400 drinks.  So the saving on syrup at $1.50 per gallon is not inconsiderable.

But perhaps the most striking feature of the machine system is the new sales auxiliaries it developed.  One of the company’s salesmen sold a machine to a Y.M.C.A. to serve drinks to its members as a means of getting a little revenue.  By and by the sales manager received a letter from the secretary of this Y.M.C.A. branch stating that the Munimaker was earning three dollars a day.  It was not a very big return, but looked promising enough to warrant a little investigation of the Y.M.C.A. field.  As a result the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A. has taken up the matter officially, and it is stated that the company is the only concern ever invited to attend a meeting of the International Committee in a business capacity.  The machine appeals to the Y.M.C.A. people because it earns an income, and moreover is in line with their campaign against the liquor traffic.  Thus we find a definite section of the campaign devoted to sales promotion among Y.M.C.A. secretaries, and they are rapidly being turned into boosters for Hires.

Stranger still perhaps, while the Y.M.C.A. is boosting the machine because it helps fight the liquor traffic, the liquor traffic itself is getting interested.  A hotel keeper who had bought a machine for use in his barroom wrote to the company that it had increased his sales of soft drinks from two gallons of syrup per month to eleven gallons per week, and he wanted to know if he couldn’t have the exclusive agency for it in his territory among saloons.  He liked the machine because it earned a profit, saved opening bottles, and tended to reduce the frequency of “drunks.”

The company is going after cigar stores, railroad stations, steamboat lines, pool rooms, and other places where people congregate, selling a machine and reaping the attendant harvest of syrup sales.

So much for the dealer.  It remained to put the goods into the mouths of consumers, literally and figuratively.  It was fairly widely known, from the household extract advertising, that Hires made root beer.  The company desired to get all possible advantage from this knowledge of the name, but it was highly important that the consumer should not ask for “root beer,” because, except in places where the Munimaker was installed, it would be extremely likely that it would not be Hires.  Of course, the Hires company sells syrup to a great many dealers who have not purchased a machine, for serving in the ordinary way, and it was not possible nor advisable to direct consumers to look for the Munimaker.  Such a process would be entering into competition with the company’s own trade to a certain extent, and could hardly be successful without a wide distribution of the expensive machines.


The line followed has been to gradually eliminate the words “root beer” from all consumer advertising (except that which deals with the household extract).  The consumer is directed to “Ask for Hires” and is told that it is not necessary to say “root beer.”  The latest series of dealer signs put out by the company do not include the words “root beer” at all, and previous series have gradually subordinated it more and more to the name of the maker.  The public is told about the Munimaker in a roundabout way, without laying any special emphasis upon it.  Once or twice a year an ad is run which features it, and the rest of the time the drink itself is made the prominent subject of the ad.

The most striking results, of course, have come from those places in which the Munimaker is installed, and the machines are being sold rapidly because they are recognized as a help to the dealer.  The company has more than a thousand testimonials on file from users of the machine, and practically all of them report increases of from 15 to 300 percent.  These increases, of course, can mean only one thing: a corresponding increase in the sale of Hires syrup.

I asked Mr. Hires about the household extract, which is still being sold.  I wanted to know whether he did not think that it was a form of competition with his soda fountain trade.  He said emphatically “No.”  It helps the business, he maintains, in so far as it has any effect upon it, for the person who gets the root beer taste doesn’t always want to wait until he gets home and will drop into a place where there is a soda fountain.  And the fact that it is advertised as “root beer” while the syrup is “Hires” tends to keep the two separate.  It is obvious, moreover, that the household extract is seldom if ever advertised in the same mediums which carry the advertising for the soda fountain trade, for people within easy reach of a fountain will not take the trouble to prepare the drink at home. 

This little distinction between “Hires” and “root beer” doesn’t look very important, but it counts on the balance-sheet at the end of the month.

The May 23, 1912 issue of Printers’ Ink included this related follow-up article:



When the Charles E. Hires Company, makers of Hires Rootbeer, started the campaign to regain the lost market, as told in Printers’ Ink for May 16, it was desired to use every means would be profitable.  Some said billboards would pay – others said they would not.  The only way to find out definitely was to try and see.

So the company resolved to try the experiment, and to make it as fair as possible, the district sales manager of the territory where the posting was to be done was told nothing about it in advance.  Moreover the territory selected was one in which competition was particularly keen.

It was just at the time when the agitation over the Pure Food law was at its height, and it was thought that some advantage should be taken of the popular interest in the subject.  So the line “A Drink – Not a Drug” was given a prominent place in the poster, as it was in all the magazine and newspaper advertising.  Other prominent features desired were, of course, the name Hires and the familiar trademark.  A background of a meadow scene was added to connote the origin of the drink from familiar roots and bark.

As has been mentioned, the posters were placed without notice to the district sales manager.  In a few days he wrote in and wanted to know how widely they had been distributed through his territory, but got no specific information.  A little later he wrote that “business had improved somewhat.”  By the time the posting contract expired, the company had a letter from that sales manager stating that his business in Hires had increased three hundred percent since the posters went up.

Mr. Hires attributes the unusual results to the fact that public sentiment was aroused over the Pure Food agitation.  However the line “A Drink – Not A drug” might easily be construed as a “knock” or at least an insinuation, and as such it was not considered good advertising for continuous use.  The company is using posters again this year, as a part of the general campaign to popularize the name “Hires” following the wider distribution of the dispensing machine.

N.W. Ayer & Son, Hires’ long-time advertising agency, placed a two page advertisement in the May 23, 1912 issue of Printers’ Ink including a billboard image Ayers produced showing “One of the 16-sheet Hires posters just off the press.”  The sign features the Hires Boy admonishing readers to “Say Hires to the fountain man but don’t be put off with a substitute – Get Hires!  Hires!  Hires!”  The same issue of Printers’ Ink also included this article quoting Charles E. Hires:


Views and Experiences of Leading Advertisers in the Matter of Opening Up New Territory or Renewing Demand in Old

Poster advertising is a sort of double-barreled proposition, in that it appeals to both consumer and dealer about equally.  Newspaper and magazine advertising can be “addressed” to the consumer.  It will, of course, be read by numbers of dealers, but it doesn’t stand out in the bold fashion of talking to everybody as a poster does.  And of course trade-paper advertiser does not reach the consumer at all.

That double-barreled quality in the poster makes it a particularly strong medium in a campaign for getting distribution, because the dealer not only sees it himself, but he knows that at the same time his customers cannot help seeing it.  It is particularly strong and tangible evidence that something is “happening” to promote the product advertised.  It is a valuable aid to the salesmen in a distribution campaign, but just because it has an effect upon the consumer as well as the dealer it must be used with care lest consumers be sent to ask the store for the goods before they are in stock.

Just when, in a distribution campaign, it is best to post a town – if ahead of the salesmen, how far ahead? – is a delicate question, and the opinions of national advertisers who have used posters in this way should be interesting…Charles E. Hires, president of the Charles E. Hires Company (Hires Root Beer):

“We find the best results in advertising through posters are achieved when the billposting is done almost simultaneously with the appearance of the sales force.

“Too many promises have been made by would-be conquerors of what they ‘will do’ or what they ‘expect to do,’ to set the world afire, and merchants have become weary of such promises, and skeptical as to their fulfillment.

“But have the town painted red on Monday and the sales force enter on Wednesday, and they are sure of a hearty welcome, provided, certainly, that they come to offer an article of proven excellence, an article of good repute.

1912 brought the publication of a postcard featuring “Alice," a beautiful young woman who was considered “The Hires Girl.”  The back includes a pre-printed message from Alice to “Jack.” 

(Figure 1912-03, “Alice” postcard, front)

(Figure 1912-03, “Alice” postcard, back with pre-printed message)

Alice’s larger-sized image for this poster reveals the long white gloves she wore in the original portrait.  The lower right-hand corner is marked “© 1912 THE CHARLES E. HIRES COMPANY.”   

(Figure 1912-04, “Alice” cardboard poster, 14.0” x 11.0”)

This fancy sign was manufactured by Mayer and Lavenson of New York City.

(Figure 1912-05, pressed tin sign)

(Figure 1912-05.5, newpaper advertisement, 7.0" x 9.5")

(Figure 1912-05.8, Chicago American newpaper, July 24, 1912)

This “Just Say Hires” series ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, California.

(Figure 1912-06, San Francisco Chronicle)

(Figure 1912-07, San Francisco Chronicle)

(Figure 1912-08, San Francisco Chronicle)

(Figure 1912-09, San Francisco Chronicle)

Charles E. Hires Company sales for 1912 were listed as 166,066,176 glasses.