Rio History: The Torpedo

By Steve Hathcock

A woman called me the other day to tell me about her recent beachcombing trip to the mouth of the Rio Grande River. While exploring in the mudflats that lie directly north of the riverbank, she found shards of glass and several unbroken bottles. “One of the bottles is very odd” she said. As soon as she started to describe her find I knew what it was,but I still needed her to send a photo before I could verify my conclusion.

Yup, I was right, the bottle she found is called a “torpedo” or “soda bottle” and was common during the 1800s. I have written about sodas in the past so the following  information was easily located. Though the name, soda, was first used in the late 1700s, man has enjoyed the healing properties of carbonated waters for thousands of years. Romans documented many of Europe’s most famous mineral wells during the first Century AD. As word of the sparkling water’s healing properties spread, so did the demand for the product. But herein lay the problem: Carbonated water’s fizz would mysteriously disappear during travel across long distances. Shipping carbonated water was replaced by people traveling to the springs, which of course, only the rich could afford. Then came the invention of the torpedo bottle.

Jacob Schweppe and his partner Nicholas Paul were the first to use the egg-shaped bottle. The rounded end made it impossible to set the bottle down in an upright position, this kept the cork wet, preventing it from shrinking and allowing the carbonation to escape. The design benefited

the merchant in a devious sort of manner. The consumer had to finish the drink before he could lay the bottle down. They’d drink faster, and likely more, as a result.

By 1838, several entrepreneurs added artificial flavors and the drinks popularity took off. Soon there were dozens of bottling plants throughout the United States. The shape of the bottles changed to a flat bottom with improvements made to the stoppers. In 1857, Henry Putnam of

Cleveland, Ohio invented a wire retainer for holding the cork in the bottle. Ginger Ale was first bottled at the onset of the Civil War in 1861 and in 1876 Charles Hires began bottling “root beer.”

In 1885, W.B. Morrison, a druggist at the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, began

distributing a beverage called Dr. Pepper. John Pemberton’s Coca-Cola followed a year later and sodas as they were now called, were here to stay.

The torpedoes, used mainly in the bottling of mineral waters, remained popular in Europe until the early 1900s.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2020/04/17/rio-history-the-torpedo/

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  1. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for the fascinating bit of history on early sodas and the torpedo bottle. I did a fair amount of research on the subject for my recent book “Charles Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation.” but was unaware of this ingenious container.
    By the way, Hires did indeed introduce his root beer extract in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition. It soon became a national favorite. But it was several years until he began marketing Hires Carbonated in bottles. As you indicate keeping the gas in the bottle was a major problem that was not fully solved until invention of the crown cork bottle cap in 1892. I recount this history in a chapter titled “Bubbly Water Begets an Industry.”
    More info about my book is available at http://www.billdouble.net if you are interested.
    Best wishes,
    Bill Double

    • Steve Hathcock on April 21, 2020 at 11:04 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Bill,
    Root Beer has always been one of my favorites…..Hires and A&W……just the thought brings back many memories…..”Bubbly Water Begets an Industry” sounds like a good read.
    Best Regards
    Steve Hathcock

    1. Thanks Steve,
      Ironically, the two root beers you mention are now produced by the same company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Dr. Pepper was recently absorbed by another beverage maker, Keurig of coffee pod fame. Go figure,
      Dr. Pepper Snapple has elected to promote A&W, while keeping Hires on life support. Hires Root Beer is still available via Amazon. It is sourced from a bottler in Ottumwa, Iowa, far from its Philadelphia birthplace.
      Best wishes,
      Bill Double

      1. Hi Bill, it seems fitting that Ottumwa is also the home of Radar O’reilly from M.A.S.H which was one of my favorite TV series.
        Thanks again for sharing this history.
        Sincerely
        Steve Hathcock

    • Pat Aderman on April 24, 2020 at 7:56 am
    • Reply

    I didn’t know Dr Pepper was actually older than Coca Cola.
    Few people realize there is no period in the trade name “Dr Pepper”.
    Pat Aderman

  2. Hi Pat, thanks for the comment. You are partially correct about the lack of a period in today’s Dr Pepper logo. However that was not always the case. Here is a link to a history of Dr Pepper and early advertising. You will note that the period was included in the logo. I did a little research and found that the period was removed in 1950 as the company modified and changed the type style used in their logo.
    Best regards
    Steve Hathcock

    https://drpeppermuseum.com/history/
    https://culinarylore.com/sodas:why-is-the-period-missing-in-dr-pepper/

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