Dr Pepper

Texan's Favorite  Coke

My favorite snack as a teenager was a Dr Pepper with salty peanuts. You could do it with Coke, too, but to me Dr Pepper was clearly superior.

You remember: You pour the peanuts into the Dr Pepper and let them float around and season the drink, then swig the soda and eat the peanuts as they slide down through the bottle’s neck. Didn’t get much better than that.

Dr Pepper has a pretty good claim — though it’s disputed by Vernors — to being the oldest major soft drink that’s still under production in America. It’s older than Coca-Cola by a year.

It was created in 1885 by a pharmacist, Charles Alderton, in Waco, Texas.

He began serving it there at the soda fountain at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store, and patrons originally called the pharmacist’s blend of fruit syrups a “Waco,” according to the Dr Pepper Museum. Customers would sit down on one of those old spinning stools and say, “Shoot me a Waco.”

The unusual drink was an instant hit. As its popularity exploded, other local soda fountains began buying the syrup blend from Morrison’s. Alderton and store owner Wade Morrison couldn’t keep up with the demand, so Morrison and a partner founded a company to develop it as a soft drink. And a new name was created.


The name “Dr. Pepper” (the period was dropped in the ‘50s) is credited to Morrison. The most commonly repeated story is that Morrison named it after a doctor he had once worked for back in Virginia whose comely daughter had taken his fancy. The Dr Pepper Museum, however, doesn’t give that story any more credence than the dozen others it says it has collected over the years.  

Dr Pepper was already a regional success by the time of the 1904 World’s Fair; like so many other American pop-culture food classics, the fair’s popularity launched it onto a national stage.

Maybe the unluckiest person in this whole affair was Charles Alderton, the pharmacist who created Dr Pepper. He simply gave away the recipe, evidently, because he was more interested in medicine than marketing.

These days, Dr Pepper’s formula is held under stout security in a vault in the company’s Plano headquarters, according to Texas Monthly, with backups in two separate bank vaults in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.

Contrary to soda-pop mythology, Dr Pepper is not made of prune juice, according to both the Dr Pepper website and a brochure put out by the company to debunk this persistent rumor. “There are 23 flavors and other ingredients (none of which are prunes) that produce the inimitable taste of Dr Pepper,” according to the brochure.

But the unique blend of flavors, along with the carbonation, has garnered many die-hard fans. Many people swear that Diet Dr Pepper is the most un-diet-tasting soft drink in existence. And let’s not forget Dublin Dr Pepper, now sadly out of production, but once regarded as the finest Pepper of all, thanks to the use of Imperial pure cane sugar.

A little side note: The ‘50s marketing slogan urging folks to take a Dr Pepper break to pep them up at “10, 2 and 4” o’clock is the source of the poker variant called Dr Pepper. The numbers 10, 2, and 4 used to appear on every Dr Pepper bottle cap, in clock-face fashion. In the Dr Pepper poker game, tens, twos and fours are wild.

A poker purist will not play Dr Pepper, but I like it. It is the only game in which I’ve ever held four of a kind.


"No time to travel through every town in Texas? You’re in luck, ain’t no better guide than W.F. Strong. His prose is as refreshing as floating down the Brazos River on a summer afternoon: clear, stirring and full of discovery. “Stories from Texas” will make Texans gush with pride and us foreigners wish we were from the Lone Star State. ‘Nuff said." 


former KERA (Dallas) Health, science and technology reporter; now senior producer for Gimlet Media 


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