Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer



The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution permitting the levying of income taxes on individuals and businesses without apportionment based on each state’s population.

The Anti-Saloon League scored a nationwide victory with passage of the Webb-Kenyon Interstate Liquor Act banning shipping of liquor to states where selling liquor was illegal.

Henry Ford’s 250’ long assembly line turned out 1,000 Model T’s per day.

Newly introduced products included Erector Sets, crossword puzzles, and Camel cigarettes.

Popular new soft drinks included Orange Smile, Cherry Blossoms, Orange Julep, Grape Julep, Cherry Julep, and Cherry Smash.

Hires’ 1913 dealer marketing campaign included a tri-fold packet containing a 1912 Alice postcard.  An attention-grabbing, round, die-cut hole was perfectly positioned so Alice appears to be inviting the reader to “Look into this carefully!”  An overly zealous copywriter penned the comment that “Hires’ HOUSEHOLD EXTRACT For Making Rootbeer at Home is the same today as mother used to make more than 40 years ago.”  40 years prior was 1873.  Here are both sides of the packet.

(Figure 1913-01, Hires’ 1913 dealer packet, outside, with postcard inserted)

(Figure 1913-01, Hires’ 1913 dealer packet, inside, with postcard removed)

Another copywriter exaggeration declared “HIRES was America’s first popular drink – 1870.”  

(Figure 1913-02, Saturday Evening Post, May 25, 1913, 10.5” x 7.0”)

Note the Munimaker dispenser on the soda fountain counter in this advertisement.

(Figure 1913-03, Saturday Evening Post, 5.25" x 13.75")

Both of these two half-page advertisements were placed in the June 21, 1913 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. 

(Figure 1913-04, Saturday Evening Post, June 21, 1913)

(Figure 1913-05, Saturday Evening Post, June 21, 1913)

The following article by Charles E. Hires appeared in the July 24, 1913 “Silver Anniversary Issue” of Printers’ Ink, the weekly “Journal for Advertisers.”  Given that Charles E. Hires personally experienced these events, his accounts are the best primary source material available.  Excerpts appear in other chapters based on references to specific years, time periods, events, and developments.  This is the complete article as written:    

Some Advertising Reminiscences 1869-1913

By Charles E. Hires

President, The Charles E. Hires Company (Hires Root Beer), Philadelphia

I often think that what a tremendous advantage the advertiser of today enjoys over the advertiser of twenty-five to forty years ago.  Nowadays the young business man can walk into the office of any one of a dozen advertising agencies, and be told in ten minutes some of the things which we older advertisers spent years and small fortunes to find out.  Looking back over my business history – which covers 44 years now – I think the piece of advertising matter which brought most direct returns was a circular to dealers which I sent out in the early ‘90s.  It was a single sheet, printed on both sides in one color, and called the dealers’ attention to the advantages of selling the well-known, advertised root beer extract instead of unknown brands.  In it I tried to show how the sale of the advertised product insured the dealer in getting his full profit, since it was easier to sell, and could be sold for full price.

Almost any good advertising agency nowadays could instantly recommend better dealer promotion literature than that was, and would include such matter in a campaign automatically, and without question.  But in my case it was a new thing.  It had to be thought out from the start, and there were no precedents (so far as I knew, anyway) to show whether it would pay or not.  The point I wish to make is that I was obliged to purchase my experience first hand, while the modern advertiser, in return for a commission of fifteen percent of his appropriation, can get the benefit of the experience of a lot of other people.


But the Editor of Printers’ Ink has asked me for reminiscences – not for moralizing. 

I believe that I was the first advertiser who was ever allowed to break the columns of the Philadelphia Public Ledger.  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.

Some years after this – 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.

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.

My experiment with the Ledger was so successful that I began to wonder if the same thing could not be done in a national way and in the late ‘70s N. W. Ayer & Son placed a half-inch ad in the standard magazines.  I believe the term “standard” had not yet been applied to them, but the list included several which have since become designated by that title.


I think it was the year that I first went into the magazines that my expenditures for advertising amounted to $10,000 or thereabouts, and the profits from the root beer business were $2,800.  Next year I increased my space in the magazines, and, encouraged by my success in the Ledger, added a list of big city newspapers.  My newspaper space continued to increase until I was using full pages in the large city dailies.  The magazine space increased in proportion, and I went into the street cars in the very early days of that medium.  For a great many years local sales were stimulated by painted signs on barns, fences and the like.

I think we have used every form of advertising which can possibly be applied to our products – magazines, newspapers, trade papers, street cars, billboards, dealer literature, house-to-house distribution, novelties, premiums – and we are still using them all.  House-to-house distribution is followed only in a few localities, owing to the fact that most towns now have ordinances governing the scattering of handbills.  Premiums are given with Hires Condensed Milk – not with root beer.

In the ‘80s and early ‘90s the druggist, and to a less extent the grocer, were regular distributing factors for manufacturers’ literature.  How much of it was effectively distributed is a question, of course, but there was almost always a pile of cards or booklets or almanacs in the store from which customers were at liberty to help themselves.  Just at this time, too, there was a fad among the young folks – and some older ones – for collecting colored advertising cards, much as picture post cards are sometimes collected nowadays.  I think this fad for the cards was the real genesis of the pretty girl in advertising, for there was great rivalry among advertisers to secure attractive pictures, and pretty girls began to be in evidence as recommending everything from patent medicines to stove polish.


One of the most successful cards ever issued for Hires Root Beer was one which bore the picture of a sixteen-year-old miss wearing a three-cornered cocked hat made of a folded copy of the Public Ledger.  I have in my desk today a letter from Mr. Childs, written in 1891, thanking me for including the newspaper, and asking for a few copies for himself.

The picture card era was followed by a season in which we made great use of juvenile booklets – usually containing rhymes and illustrated with sketches.  This was about the time I tried to experiment by putting out the product ready to drink in bottles.  The household extract, which needed preparation and a certain period of aging before it was ready to drink, was naturally a seasonable product, and it was thought that by putting the goods in bottled form, more or less of a sale could be induced the year round, and more expensive advertising matter could be used.

The experiment was not a success on account of the price we put on the bottled goods.  Transportation charges were too heavy, and we found it much more economical to license the bottling privilege to local concerns, as we are doing today.  Of course we know this now but advertising agencies did not know it until somebody tried it, I assure you.

Speaking of agencies, I have stayed with Ayer continuously except for a year with J. Walter Thompson, long ago, and one season when I shifted the account to a Middle Western concern – since defunct.  It was the custom then for advertisers to get competitive bids from different agencies, covering a certain amount of space in a definite list of mediums, and contracts were usually placed through the agent whose bid was lowest.  This Middle Western agency I am speaking about gave me a very low bid on a series of one-inch newspaper ads, and landed the business.

Some time later one of Ayer’s men was passing, and dropped in for a chat.  “I see, Mr. Hires,” said he, “that you cut down somewhat on your newspaper space.”  “No, indeed,” I replied.  “We’re running inch copy, just as we planned.”  “I beg your pardon,” he rejoined, “but you’re only running twelve lines.” 

It was true.  A saving of two lines an issue in our list of papers represented a saving of close to $1,100 in a year, and it is no wonder that the agent’s bid was low.  Since then I have spent very little time listening to the siren of the cut-rate agent.


I have been asked a good many times about the origin of the Hires Root Beer Boy, who has been featured in our copy for more than 20 years.  The original was a photograph of a German boy which was taken by one of my friends.  When he was taken the little fellow had a piece of cake in one hand, and was trying to attract the attention of some member of his party.  I used the boy to illustrate an ad, and he proved so attractive that he has been run continuously while the original has been growing up and, I suppose, getting some boys of his own. 

As was told in Printer’s Ink a year or more ago, the greatest problem of this business has been that of substitution.  Anybody could make root beer, and sell it as root beer.  Right there is another advantage of starting in this day and age; there will be plenty of people to advise you to choose a fanciful name which can be protected instead of a descriptive name which anybody can use.  We have been very successful in the courts in restraining dealers who tried to substitute some other kind of root beer when “Hires” was actually called for, but of course we cannot force any dealer to serve Hires when “root beer” is demanded.  During the last three or four years we have been gradually eliminating the words “root beer” from our copy, and the posters now on the boards all over the country simply direct the reader to “Drink Hires.”

The transition period in our business came when the bulk of the soft-drink trade was shifted from the cellar at home to the soda fountain on the corner.  It brought with it a whole lot of new problems, among which was our old friend substitution in a more subtle guise than ever.  How was the consumer going to know whether he was served with Hires at the fountain or with something else?  When he bought a package of the household extract to take home, he could read the proprietor’s name on the label, but there is no label on a glass of root beer at a soda fountain.  Labeling glasses won’t solve it, because the clerk will keep the bottle under the counter where the customer can’t see it.  Indeed, I hesitated a long time about putting a fountain syrup on the market because of those facts, and because I felt that it was necessary to the success of the drink that the syrup and water be mixed more accurately than the average soda clerk is accustomed to handle them.

The dispensing machine which we call the “Munimaker” solved both problems at once.  It mixes the syrup and the soda water automatically and instantly, in exactly the right proportions.  It identifies the resulting drink as Hires, for the dealer would be a bold pirate indeed who would venture to serve any other kind of root beer syrup through the machine.  He would be liable for violating the patent laws and his contract, and we would catch him without delay because his purchases of Hires syrup with us would stop while he was substituting, and one of our men would be around to see if his machine was out of order.

Best of all, the Munimaker has opened up a great many new channels for the sale of the goods – in places which do not provide regular soda fountains.  We have installed a great many in department stores, in Y.M.C.A. buildings, and even in saloons.

I remember very well when Printers’ Ink was started, and I have been a subscriber pretty continuously since.  There have been intervals when I have not seen the paper, but they have not been of long duration.  I had the pleasure of meeting George P. Rowell on several occasions, and for some years did business through his agency in connection with his list of country weeklies.

These rather random remembrances would hardly be complete, I suppose, without some reference to the picture called “The Parting of Ruth and Naomi.”  I saw it when it was first placed in the Liverpool gallery, twenty-odd years ago, and got permission to have it photographed.  Of the resulting lithographed copy – which I had copyrighted in this country – we have sent out millions, first and last, in all sizes from a post card to a large framed picture.  More people know the picture, of course, than know that it was published by this company.  But that is only natural.  If we had made the advertising feature too prominent we should not only have failed to secure much distribution which we actually received, but would have gone far towards spoiling a beautiful picture. 

In the course of forty-odd years I have tried many experiments, some of which have failed and many of which have succeeded.  I tried to foster sales all of year round by advertising Hires Root Beer served hot, without success.  I gave premiums for a while for trade-marks cut from household extract cartons, but I found that on a seasonable product the premium interest did not carry over from one season to the next.  So I switched the premium offer to the condensed-milk business, where it works splendidly.  Sometimes I like to think that my experiments have made the advertising business plainer to a good many other people, and since in the meantime I have been moderately successful, I suppose I have not advertised altogether in vain.

These four advertisements ran in a nationally-distributed, newsprint supplement for several large, Sunday newspapers. 

(Figure 1913-06, The American Sunday Magazine, July 1913)

(Figure 1913-07, The American Sunday Magazine)

(Figure 1913-08, The American Sunday Magazine)

(Figure 1913-09, The American Sunday Magazine, September 13, 1913)

In 1913 Hires’ Purock Water Department introduced Champanale, “The Great Dinner and Banquet Beverage,” a non-alcoholic grape drink which “should rank with the mellow wines of Southern France and Italy…The most sparkling beverage of America.  Serve in wine glasses.”

(Figure 1913-10, introductory Champanale brochure, front and back)

(Figure 1913-10, introductory Champanale brochure, inside pages)

The label on this cardboard sign indicates Hires Ginger Champanale was “Bottled exclusively by Charles E. Hires Co. Purock Water Department, Philadelphia,” and copyrighted in 1913.

(Figure 1913-11, bottle-shaped cardboard sign, courtesy of Mike Godown)

This clear, flared champagne-style glass is acid-etched “Hires GINGER Champanale.”

(Figure 1913-12, Hires GINGER Champanale glass)

  (Figure 1913-13, Hires Ginger Champanale paper body label, 5.0” x 2.25”)

Removal of the word “GINGER” from the pictured bottle’s paper body label and the lettering below appears to be original to this tin over cardboard sign, a suggestion Hires’ Purock Water Department was wrestling with the product name.  Including the fancy lamp and lobster images was likely an attempt to convey the idea Champanale was an upscale product.

(Figure 1913-14, tin over cardboard sign)

This sign’s original “Hires Champagne Ginger Ale” wording was subsequently overprinted to read “Hires Champanale,” further evidence of product name changes. 

(Figure 1913-15, cardboard sign, courtesy of Mike Godown)

The neck label affixed to this emerald green crown top bottle reads “Made from the juices of the finest White Niagara Grapes, and the body label states “Hires Sparkling Champanale - A Carbonated, Non-Alcoholic Beverage with the Bouquet and Aroma of Champagne.  Have ICE COLD before serving.”

(Figure 1913-16, Hires Sparkling Champanale bottle)

The word “unfermented” was added to the description for this newspaper advertisement.

(Figure 1913-17, Philadelphia newspaper advertisement, 2.75” x 3.0”)

Responding to an editor’s request for a description of a “typical old fashioned Philadelphia drug store,” Charles E. Hires penned a lengthy article for the October, 1913 issue of the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.  The article is included in the 1860 - 1868 chapter.

(Figure 1913-18, Philadelphia Bulletin, December 15, 1913, upper half)

Advertising copy in the lower half of the illustrated Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper advertisement mentioned:

So welcome at the family table!  And so appropriate for evening parties and informal luncheons, and for dinners, banquets, receptions and similar pleasant occasions!

Mothers can serve it to children with full assurance of safety.  Robust or delicate folks will find it a cooling, invigorating tonic.  It cannot irritate tender throats.  Everyone – everywhere – can drink lots of it, and feel better every time. 

Now being served in Philadelphia’s finest hotels and leading clubs.  Among them the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Bellevue-Stratford, Union League Racquet Club, Art Club, Acorn Club, Philmont Country Club, Philadelphia Racquet Club, University Club, Princeton Club, Merion Cricket Club, Downtown Club, Cornell Club, Columbia Club, Overbrook Golf Club, Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, Stragglers’ Club, Progress Club, Poor Richard Club, Engineers’ Club, Mercantile Club, Pickering Hunt Club.  Also obtainable at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  This is proof positive of supremacy.

Why not phone your grocer – right away! – and have him send you enough for the Christmas feast.  You’ll be delighted! 

Splits – Pints – Quarts

The Charles E. Hires Co., Purock Water Department, 1226-1226 Parrish Street

When in Atlantic City, Stop at Our Store, Boardwalk and S. Carolina Ave.