Remember This?: Brad’s Drink

By Brad Dison

For hundreds of years, people have created drinkable elixirs and tonics which they claimed had medicinal purposes.  Salesmen, many of whom could be better described as con men, arrived in towns and communities and hawked their tonics.  They would tell tales of the miraculous cures that their product was responsible for, sell their drinks to the locals at a low price, and quickly head to the next town while no one was looking.

In the latter half of the 19th century, salesmen of these concoctions began advertising their goods in newspapers.  In 1882, “Hop Bitters” was advertised as an appetizing drink which was a “blood purifier, clears the brain, gives tone to the stomach, and cures all diseases of the liver, blood, stomach and bowels, nerves, kidneys, and purifies and cleanses the entire system.”  “Beal’s Cure Alls” advertisements claimed that the tonic cured “cough, asthma, bronchitis, spitting of blood, shortness of breath, rheumatism, gout, lumbago, sciatica, sprains, bruises, sore throat, and chilblains.”  Some of the names of these concoctions which are no longer in existence are “Brown’s Iron Bitters,” “Electric Bitters,” “Hartshorne’s Cure-All,” “Taraxacum and Podophyllin,” “Samaritan Nervine,” “Pond’s Extract,” “Egyptian Mystery – the Drink of the Ages,” “Charleston Pop,” “Bruce’s Juices,” “Red Head Flapper,” and “Brad’s Drink.” 

Most of the tonics had no real medicinal value and were created to make money.  However, some of the creators were professionally trained and believed that their drinks were medicinal.  Caleb Bradham graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then attended the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  Caleb was on the path to becoming a doctor until his father’s business went bankrupt in 1890.  Caleb dropped out of medical school and returned home to North Carolina.  He taught public school for a short time, but his interests were still devoted to medicine.  In about 1891 or 1892, Caleb opened the “Bradham Drug Company” in New Bern.

With a host of ingredients at his disposal, Caleb began experimenting with different tonics.  He wanted to create a new drinkable tonic which had some medicinal value.  Many of his experimental concoctions tasted too horrible to ingest more than once and were discarded.  In 1893, he mixed several ingredients in a beaker and handed it to his assistant, James Henry King.  Perhaps Caleb had tried too many bad mixtures on that day.  The hesitant assistant downed the drink.  To his surprise, the drink tasted good, and it seemed to sooth his stomach.  Caleb had done it.

Caleb knew he was on the right track.  He needed a name for his tonic.  As to include his reputation in his tonic, Caleb titled the drink after a shortened version of his last name, Bradham.  He called it “Brad’s Drink.”  He began selling his tonic in his own drug store and eventually sold franchises to other local pharmacies. 

After August 28, 1898, however, “Brad’s Drink” was no more.  Well, the name, “Brad’s Drink” was no more.  On that date, Caleb changed the name of his concoction.  The most likely reason for the name change was for marketing purposes.  Caleb used kola nut extract in his recipe and decided to use the term “cola” in the new name.  The new first name of the mixture could almost be called false advertising.  Caleb named the drink after an enzyme which aided in digestion similar to the way in which Caleb believed his drink aided in digestion, but his recipe did not include the enzyme.  “Brad’s Drink,” under its more common name, has become the second most valuable soft drink brand in the world, second only to Coca-Cola.  The name of that enzyme was Pepsin.  Caleb changed the name of “Brad’s Drink” to “Pepsi-Cola.” 


1.      The Daily Telegraph, September 7, 1882, p.4.
2.     Essex County Chronicle, August 21, 1885, p.2.
3.     The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), July 28, 1895, p.5.
4.     “The History of Pepsi.” Leader Distribution

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