New Bern Shares Pepsi’s Past and Present
New Bern, the second-oldest city in the state, harbors the Trent and Neuse rivers and creates a truly picturesque destination. Filled with fantastic eateries, a thriving arts culture, and more than 300 years of history, it blends a respect for the past and the draw of modern innovation.
“New Bern is a unique little city,” says Sabrina Bengel, managing partner of the Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. “We’re a great location at the confluence of two rivers and have a great history. New Bern holds many ‘firsts’ of North Carolina, including the first colonial capital, first bank, first post office and first charted fire department.”
With so many attractions, ranging from Tryon Palace to a plethora of historic homes, one feature sets this Eastern North Carolina destination apart from other charming towns: Pepsi.
One of North Carolina’s most widely known beverages, along with the cherry-flavored soda Cheerwine from Salisbury, the popular soft drink got its start in New Bern. Like many innovative products, Pepsi’s beginnings didn’t necessarily grow from inspiration; instead, it resulted from necessity – and indigestion.
Walk to the corner of Middle and Pollock streets, where the Birthplace of Pepsi stands today, and you’ll soon learn the story of how Caleb Davis Bradham invented Pepsi. He certainly didn’t set out to become a beverage pioneer.
Born in Chinquapin, N.C., Bradham worked part-time as a pharmacist while attending medical school in Maryland. “When a family crisis occurred, he had to leave school and move back to North Carolina and took a teaching job in New Bern,” Bengel says.
Shortly after that, at the site of what’s now the Birthplace in downtown New Bern, he opened Bradham’s Drug Store. The pharmacy featured a soda fountain, and visitors to the shop today can still enjoy a Pepsi for less than the price of a latte.
“We leased the building in 1998 and opened the store for the 100th anniversary,” Bengel explains.
Back in 1893, Bradham was looking for a refreshing digestive aid for his customers, and he created something unlike anything found at other drugstores. Dubbing it “Brad’s Drink,” the beverage blended sugar, water, caramel, lime juice, phosphoric acid, trace amounts of alcohol and the oils of lemon, orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander and petitgrain.
Five years later, Bradham renamed it Pepsi – a shortened version of “dyspepsia,” or upset stomach – as a way to promote its beneficial effects.
Word about the new beverage began to spread. “One reason was that it tasted so good – and it was pure,” Bengel says. “Unlike some of the other ‘drinks’ of the day, Pepsi did not contain any harmful ingredients.”
After trademarking the name “Pepsi-Kola” in 1902, Bradham began growing his business. By 1905, it was in such high demand that Bradham opened a bottling plant to expand the operation.
Throughout the years, Pepsi-Cola (with the spelling changed along the way) flourished, with syrup gallon sales increasing from 38,605 in 1906 and to 104,026 in 1907, as the bottling network grew to 40 franchises. But Bradham bet on sugar prices in World War I, which ultimately bankrupted the company in 1923.
However, all was not lost. The company was sold and the trademark purchased to form the Pepsi-Cola Corporation, which still thrives today.
Now, visitors wanting a literal taste of history can stop in the Birthplace and enjoy a fountain drink, Pepsi float or glass bottle of Pepsi in the same place where Bradham first mixed up that fizzy drink more than a century ago.
“Bradham was a small town entrepreneur that took an idea and made it a worldwide brand known to millions around the world,” Bengel says. “How cool is that for New Bern?”
READ MORE: Discover New Bern, N.C.
– Christina Vinson