In the world of soft-drink collectibles, Dr Pepper is a pip-squeak compared to Coca-Cola, the 800-pound gorilla of carbonated sugar water, whose international ubiquity eclipses all other competitors combined. But Coke did not reach the top of the cola heap by being first. That honor goes to Dr Pepper, which was served in December of 1885 at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. In contrast, the first glass of Coca-Cola was poured at a pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, in May of 1886.
Dr Pepper, whose name has officially lacked punctuation since 1950, was invented by a pharmacist working at Morrison’s named Charles Alderton. When he wasn’t filling prescriptions for customers, he mixed and matched various fountain syrups until his 23-flavor concoction achieved that distinctive but difficult-to-describe fruitiness we recognize today as Dr Pepper.
The first Dr Pepper logo, used through the mid-1890s, touted a beverage called Dr. Pepper’s Phos-Ferrates and seemed to reveal two of the drink’s ingredients, wheat and iron. When the drink was introduced to attendees at the 1904 World's Fair Exposition in St. Louis, Dr. Pepper bottle labels proclaimed the drink to be the “King of Beverages,” but by the 1920s, the tagline had changed to “Good for Life.”
In fact, the 1920s were a pivotal decade for the beverage. For example, in 1923 the company moved its headquarters from Waco to Dallas, a signal that it was ready to play in the big soda leagues. That same year, a new advertising campaign was also introduced. On everything from print ads to porcelain, tin, and cardboard signs, a character named “Old Doc,” a kindly looking, old-timey country doctor who wore a monocle and a top hat, was paired with a new “10, 2, and 4” graphic, which resembled a clock with three hands pointing to the corresponding numbers. These were the hours of the day when Old Doc prescribed the beverage for an energy lift. In fact, the beverage was promised to be as sustaining as food, as slogans like “Drink a bite to eat” and “When Hungry, Thirsty or Tired” show.
By the 1940s, the word “lift” was tossed around freely in Dr Pepper ads, which relied increasingly on pretty girls to sell the soft drink. In one ad, a young blonde at a football game smiles at the offer of a bottle of Dr Pepper below the words “Quick Lift For Active People.” A pigtailed redhead in a flannel shirt and rolled up jeans takes a break from fishing near the legend “Smart Lift.” And in the 1950s, cardboard signs in wooden frames crowned by the 10, 2, 4 logo depicted square dancers and cheerleaders alongside a 10, 2, 4 Dr Pepper bottle cap and the slogan “A Lift For Life!”
During the 1950s, Dr Pepper was also advertised as “The Friendly Pepper-Upper” on everything from fountain dispensers to Dr Pepper branded menu boards. But the most recognized Dr Pepper slogan with the word “Pepper” in it is undoubtedly “Be a Pepper,” which was conceived in 1977. Less well known is the decades-long campaign to promote the soft drink as something that could be enjoyed in any sort of weather, be it hot or cold. Accordingly, Dr Pepper advertising thermometers bore sentiments like “Hot or Cold, Enjoy Dr Pepper” or “Hot or Cold, Drink Dr Pepper,” and the company even made electric heating units labeled “Dr Pepper Hot,” which were designed to heat up a mug of the sweet beverage on a cold winter’s day.