7-Up history, plus find out the soda’s (terrible) original name

The history of vintage 7-Up soda

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Looking back at the history of 7-Up soda, you can see that it’s a testament to the lemon-lime soft drink’s popularity that the brand could weather so many stumbling blocks — not the least of which included being introduced right before the Great Depression.

Along with a bunch of colorful vintage ads, we found two stories about the soda company, each offering a different perspective — one from the early 1970s, and the other from the late 1930s — about the soda that has been around longer than either Sprite or Sierra Mist.

7-Up history: How to succeed by starting wrong (1971)

from The Journal Times (Racine, Wisconsin) August 19, 1971

The success story of 7UP, The Uncola, now the third-largest soft drink seller in the nation and throughout the world, reads like “how to succeed by starting all wrong.”

7UP on a singalong hayride (1962)

According to Ben H. Wells, president of The Seven-Up Co., the world-famed soft drink had at least three strikes against it at the beginning back in the late 1920s, and probably only one thing going for it, the quality of a unique product.

Wells, a corporation president with a keen sense of humor, chuckles when he compares the early merchandising efforts to today’s fast-moving complicated marketing. 

“Would you believe a beverage named ‘Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Carbonated Soda’?”, he asks. “But that’s what later became 7UP, and a good thing it did.

“Imagine trying to get that original name onto advertising signs, bottles, cartons, and through the mouths of announcers in radio and television commercials,” he points out.

Old 7UP ad in The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida) March 26, 1933
Old 7UP ad in The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida) March 26, 1933

But at that time, Wells notes, the only advertising for Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Carbonated Soda consisted of small black-and-white placards that hung from light cords in grocery stores.

They had to be small and inexpensive for a young, struggling company, and perhaps that’s what prompted the name truncation to 7UP, he suggests.

With that one strike on the firm, Wells observes that strike two same from the timing of the beverage’s introduction. It went onto the market just before the disastrous stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting depression.

“It seems that the founders had an urge to do it the hard way,” Wells comments, “since they were adamant in setting a price higher per case than other soft drinks in order to insure that local bottlers and dealers could make a profit in those economically hard times.”

Vintage green 7-UP bottles in 1949

But he avers that the originators of 7UP kept coming to bat despite that third strike and other problems which included the necessity of having bottlers treat local water to make the beverage taste exactly the same throughout the country.

They even required colored bottles, first brown and then green, to protect the freshness of the drink, although others were sold in clear bottles.

“Early advertising emphasized the benefits of the product in counteracting gastric acidity and other internal complaints,” Wells observes, “but gradually it became clear that people just liked it as a soft drink, and, slowly, bottling firms took on franchises, so that by 1938, the entire nation was being developed for 7UP distribution.”

7UP lemon-lime soda for toddlers (1953)
7UP lemon-lime soda for toddlers (1953)

Wells views the basic uniqueness and quality of the beverage, plus the persistence of its “inventor,” as the elements that overcame all those strikes.

“The founder of the company, C.L. Grigg, whose son is now chairman of the board of The Seven-Up Co., St, Louis, was a man who sold ideas,” he comments.

Grigg began as a general store proprietor in the tiny Missouri village of Price’s Branch, but his suggestions for improvement in merchandising ideas brought him to St. Louis to handle advertising for a national dry goods supplier.

Ten years later, he went to a St. Louis soft drink firm, but couldn’t sell the idea of the company’s rewarding him for development of a popular orange drink — so he started his own soft drink firm with two friends.

MORE: 1950s orange soft drinks & sodas, including old Bireley’s & Crush bottles

7up TV show 1958 food party

The new orange drink, Howdy, was successful. However, Grigg was looking for something new and different, a versatile, multi-use drink that really quenched thirst.

It took of decade of testing, tasting, and trying, but on the 13th formula, he knew he had it — the soft drink that was to become 7UP despite the starting strikes against its success.

Not even his son, H.C. Grigg, knows how his father arrived at the shortened name, although people suggested it might have related to card or dice games, or even cattle brands.

The elder Grigg only shook his head and said that 7UP meant what the new drink tasted like and did for people.

ALSO SEE: See how Sprite lemon-lime soda hit store shelves in the ’60s, and soon bubbled its way to the top

7UP soda for the prom in 1960

But it is known that Grigg insisted from the beginning upon the rigid standards of purity and scientific precision in quality controls that are a part of the 7UP trademark today.

The carefully protected formula is still the basis for the drink today, and it is created at the parent company’s international headquarters in St. Louis in a concentrated lemon-lime extract as it was from the start.

The firm also produces Diet 7UP, introduced last year, and a line of Howdy flavors.

Vintage Diet 7-Up soda ad with Lynda Carter and Don Rickles

7UP extract is distributed to franchised bottling organizations throughout the nation and the world, including the Racine 7UP Bottling Co., to be blended, bottled, and distributed in strict quality controls as it was in the early days.

Wells notes that today millions of dollars in advertising and promotion are vital to survival and growth in modern merchandising as contrasted to the simple light-cord placards of the 1920s.

And with a grin, he observes that it’s fortunate the original tongue-twisting name was changed to 7UP, or the firm would have a staggering translation problem in its international distribution and promotion. 

ALSO SEE: Teem soda: Remembering Pepsi’s lemon-lime soft drink before Sierra Mist

Wet and wild 7-Up (1966)

The early days of 7-Up soda, as the story was told in the 1930s

By R Kenneth Evans – Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, California) December 23, 1939

7-up bottling company of Bakersfield adds further strength to the enviable industrial structure of this metropolis

Its new, beautiful and pretentious building, 230 East Eighteenth Street, heralds to the world Bakersfield’s progress; 7-up is a delicious, health-promoting beverage recognized for its flavor, purity and “Zip”; a solution to the hostess’ problem

1956 7-up soda for a baby

When one drinks a refreshing bottle of 7-UP this Christmas day — or any day in the week — and experiences the relaxation and exhilarating effect that comes from no other similar drink, he can thank the 7-UP Bottling Company of Bakersfield, Inc., for the privilege of this experience.

7-UP — not given this name because it is only seven years old, but because it is one of the finest health-promoting carbonated drinks known to the bottling industry. The company is the newest acquisition to Bakersfield’s industrial structure, with its imposing and handsome building, 230 East Eighteenth street, representing an investment of more than $200,000.

It has brought to this city the distinction of being the home of the finest flavored 7-UP bottled in the nation — attested, to by a nationally-known chemist — and 7-UP is bottled in almost every locality in the United States.

Today, delicate china, gleaming crystal, snowy linens and “gay talk” all suggest 7-UP. At the perfectly planned party, the hostess serves this delightful, exhilarating beverage.

Like an artist, who first sees the picture in his mind’s eye and transfers it to the canvas, D W Washburn envisioned this bottling plant in Bakersfield as one most completely equipped, for the purpose of bottling only one beverage. Months of thought and preparatory work went into the planning. The plant was formally opened to the public June 14, 1939.

Seven Up and Popcoirn (1954)

7-Up history when the company was only seven years old (in 1939)

7-UP was originated by a chemist for the Howdy Company of St Louis, Mo., seven years ago. It was brought to Kern county two years ago in bottles, processed in a Los Angeles plant and distributed by truck transportation.

Because everything in 7-UP comes to the public with ingredients as nature produced them, not artificially colored, flavored or preserved, it was given universal acceptance from the beginning, two years ago, which, prompted the establishment of this industry as a home institution.

The plant as it stands today is recognized as the best-planned bottling plant in the western section of the United States. Not the largest, perhaps, but the most efficient, having a floor space of more than 16,000 square feet.

The building, two stories in height, of concrete construction, is strictly modern in every detail and the appearance enhanced by beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding it.

Offices, bottling equipment and storage space are on the ground floor level while the mixing laboratory, isolated for sanitation, is on the second floor. On this floor is also a public auditorium, well planned for the environment and available to Bakersfield civic service clubs and individuals for private meetings.

7-up vintage ad from 1950

Well-planned utility room

The basement is one of the best-planned utility’ rooms to be found in an industrial plant. Here are located the water filters, air conditioning units, water pumps with a battery of electrical controls that governs the entire operations of the plant. The loading stages are sufficiently large to accommodate four of the attractively decorated 7-UP trucks at one time.

The bottling rooms on the main floor are of tile construction with, stainless steel throughout. From the moment the processing operations start to the bottles in the cases, they are not touched by human hands, every operation being automatic. In the mixing laboratory, after every operation, the entire room is thoroughly sterilized from the standpoint of ultra-sanitation.

Superlatives are not necessary in explaining the beauty, efficiency and environment conducive of acceptance of the product, from the standpoint of its processing. To say that it is as near perfect as creative genius can make it should suffice.

Vintage 7-Up ad from 1955

Carbonic gas, an element found in approximately all foods, gives to 7-UP its zest and sparkle. Carbonic gas, as a fixed gas, was discovered by an English scientist in the sixteenth century.

Water bubbling from the ground, containing natural carbonic gas, has been responsible for the founding of the world’s leading spas. The same contribution to health has been accomplished, scientifically, by the bottling of this beverage. From a food measurement, it has more calories than many vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, tomatoes, rhubarb and even more than are contained in buttermilk and oysters.

Inverted sugar, another ingredient in 7-UP, is a food that is the best for quick energy. It might be termed as a lithiated soda — a lithiated lemon soda that has no equal — thorough in its purpose as contributing to health; its smacking tingle has a well-defined place in any social gathering.

Old-fashioned green 7-UP soda bottles
7UP bottles photo by teresa_m via Twenty20
Extract shipped

The 7-UP extract is manufactured by the Seven-Up Company of St Louis, Mo. Lemons and limes of the finest quality are used in its preparation. In all instances, government supervision safeguards its purity and aromatic content.

Pure cane sugar is used exclusively and, the Braun Corporation, a California industry, furnishes the citric acid required. The reagent — in a powder form — is truly the secret of 7-UP formula, supplied with each shipment of the syrup. In the finished drink this powder reacts to any bacteria that might, accidentally exist, and at the same time adds sparkle. . . !

Strange as it seems, Bakersfleld city water is used in the manufacture of 7-UP. Two reasons warrant the use of this water. One is that Bakersfleld water is known, far and wide, for its taste, and second, carbonic gas blends more readily with it than any other water used in experiments.

7Up - real thirst-quencher (1958)

Not satisfied with this safety in water, it is also submitted to a rigid filtration process through the latest improved Hydro-Darco filtering plant. The process, recognized as thorough elimination of any foreign matter, is scientific in every respect.

Carbonated beverages are, by no means, new. Realizing that science has perfected machinery that is a far cry from those originally used, the 7-UP Bottling Company of Bakersfield, Inc., has installed the new Cem method of saturating the water with carbonic gas.

By this natural absorption method, the water in the reservoir is always uniformly saturated and lies in a quiet, unagitated condition making it favorable for filling purposes. All of this equipment is of stainless steel, with a few pieces of nickel silver. This Cem system of saturation gives a champagne-like carbonation.

7-UP drink - Nov 22, 1954 Party home

An automatic, perfectly synchronized machine which does the work of washing, brushing, and rinsing of bottles in one continuous motion is used in this plant.

Over 32 years of research are behind the perfection of this trustworthy machine, manufactured by the George J Meyer Company of Milwaukee, Wis.

The importance of using absolutely clean, sterile bottles was responsible for installation of this machine. It is composed of a combination of immersion tanks, double brush conveyors and a progressive washing unit. Bottles are never touched by human hands after being placed on the loading rack for process through this machine.

Vintage 7-Up soda bottle and glass of lemon-lime beverage

Emphasizing the industrial aspect and value of this new plant in Bakersfield is that it maintains an annual payroll running into many thousands of dollars.

It is definitely a Bakersfield industry, giving regular employment to more than 20 trained people, headed by D K Washburn as president and, under, the intimate and direct management of A J Crocker. In the beginning, many looked with askance on Mr Washburn’s idea of developing an industry with one beverage as his product.

Enjoy family outings with 7UP – Be a “fresh up” family! (1948 )

On vacation trips to faraway places, you have to give a thought to the purity of what you drink! With 7-Up along, that’s no problem … you’re all set with a drink you like, and one that likes you-wholesome, fresh-flavored 7-Up!

Clean, crystal-clear 7-Up is the all-family drink. You, and your youngsters, too, can enjoy the happy “fresh up” feeling it gives.

Be a “fresh up” family. Take along a case of 7-Up on your family jaunts or pick up a case along the way. You can get 7-Up wherever you see those bright 7-Up signs on display.

Enjoy family outings with 7UP - Be a fresh up family! (1948 )

Get real action: 7-Up shoots your thirst away (1964)

Any thirst you can get, 7-Up can quench! Seven-Up is all action. It tingles. It freshens. It re-starts the natural moisture in your mouth. That’s why 7-Up can quench your thirst quickly and completely.

So get real action. 7-Up your thirst away.


ALSO SEE: Why vintage Squirt soda wasn’t sweet like other soft drinks, plus five ’60s cocktail recipes with Squirt

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Comments on this story

3 Responses

  1. Anyone know how I can get a value of a vintage 7 up crate w/ 24 bottles from the 1930’s (8 bubbles & all the bottles) in mint condition.

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