11 Things You Might Not Know About Dr Pepper

istock
istock

You already know that Dr Pepper has a unique, spicy flavor, but did you know its corporate history is just as crisp and interesting? 

1. IT'S GOT TEXAS ROOTS.

George Frey/Getty Images

Like many beloved soft drinks, Dr Pepper was the product of experimentation in a pharmacy. Charles Alderton, a pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, enjoyed experimenting with the flavored syrups at the shop’s soda fountain. Instead of just accepting the standard fruit flavors available at the time, in 1885 Alderton mixed and matched flavorings until he had crafted a unique drink that customers loved. 

2. THERE MAY HAVE BEEN AN ACTUAL DR. PEPPER.

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Once Alderton perfected his new concoction, it needed a name. Patrons originally referred to the drink as “a Waco,” but Alderton’s boss, Wade Morrison, thought the elixir needed a catchier name. Morrison dubbed the drink Dr. Pepper in a nod to a Dr. Charles T. Pepper who he claimed had been a colleague in his younger days in Rural Retreat, Virginia. In one telling of this story, Morrison had left Virginia for Texas after a love affair with Dr. Pepper’s daughter went flat, but signs point to this romantic origin tale being mostly urban legend. 

3. THE TEXAS SODA TOOK THE NATIONAL STAGE AT THE 1904 WORLD'S FAIR. 

Texas’s favorite soda fizzed its way into the national consciousness at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. As the Dr Pepper Museum notes, the drink joined the ice cream cone, the hamburger, and the hot dog in making their first big splashes at the event. 

4. LEGALLY, IT'S NOT A COLA.

For much of Dr Pepper’s history, the drink was a regional delicacy confined to the South and Southwest. Coca-Cola and Pepsi had used their head starts on Dr Pepper to build nationwide networks of independent bottlers who had exclusive franchise contracts to turn their respective syrups into colas. Dr Pepper simply couldn’t crack into new markets with the deck stacked so squarely against it. 

That all changed in 1963. A federal court ruled that Dr Pepper’s unique flavor kept it from being a “cola product,” which meant that bottlers were free to distribute Dr Pepper without running afoul of their exclusive deals with Coca-Cola and Pepsi. By the end of the decade, Dr Pepper was available from coast to coast. 

5. COCO-COLA DIDN'T TAKE THIS EXPANSION LIGHTLY.

Dr Pepper, Facebook

A terrific 1975 D Magazine profile of Woodrow Wilson “Foots” Clements, the executive who took Dr Pepper national, chronicles Coca-Cola’s response to the upstart’s growth. In June 1972, Coca-Cola announced Mr. PiBB, its in-house answer to Dr Pepper. The article contains some classic sniping between the two brands, with a Coke spokesperson dismissing any resemblance by saying, “I haven’t tasted Dr Pepper myself so I wouldn’t know how similar Mr. PiBB is to it. I don’t think it was meant to compete with Dr Pepper - as far as I know Coke just felt there was a market for this kind of soft drink." 

Clements, for his part, countered that Coke’s efforts had actually helped Dr Pepper’s sales. The executive crowed, "I don’t suppose they like to hear me say this in Atlanta, but Mr. PiBB has just stimulated the taste for Dr Pepper. In fact, we’ve found that whenever they quit giving it away in big promotions their share of the market drops way down." 

6. THERE'S NO PERIOD IN THE NAME.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It may have allegedly been named after a physician, but the correct styling of the name is “Dr Pepper,” not “Dr. Pepper.” The company dropped the period from the name in the 1950s as part of a redesign of the corporate logo. Most sources suggest that the revamped logo was easier to read without the punctuation, and Dr Pepper was reborn. 

7. IT'S NOT JUST FOR DRINKING COLD.

OBSEQUIES, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A cold Dr Pepper can be heavenly on a hot day, but very few families gather around their Christmas trees for a frosty soda in December. In the ’60s Dr Pepper tried to stimulate holiday sales by marketing hot Dr Pepper with lemon as a festive alternative tipple for winter gatherings. The ads found some traction in the South, but as you’ve probably noticed, warm Dr Pepper didn’t become a holiday staple. Still, hot Dr Pepper had its devotees. In the ’70s Foots Clements told multiple journalists that he would have three or four hot Dr Peppers in the morning and a half-dozen cold bottles every afternoon. 

8. THE ORIGINAL RECIPE MAY HAVE SURFACED IN 2009.

Six years ago, Oklahoma manuscript collector Bill Waters paid $200 for an old store ledger at a Texas antique shop. Notations in the ledger referred to Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store, examples of Charles Anderton’s handwriting, and a curious recipe for “D Peppers Pepsin Bitters” mixed from mandrake root and syrup. A spokesman from the Dr Pepper Snapple Group indicated that the notes were probably a recipe for a bitter digestive aid rather than a soft drink, but the historical find went up for auction as the original formula for the beloved soda. Attendees at the auction agreed—the item did not fetch the $25,000 minimum reserve price. 

9. ROANOKE CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF IT.

Whether or not there was ever a real Dr. Charles T. Pepper in Virginia remains a matter of debate, but one Virginia city would rather drink a cold Dr Pepper than engage in fact-checking. Roanoke has been Dr Pepper’s biggest metro market east of the Mississippi, and in 1957, the city became the “Dr Pepper Capital of the World.” One secret to the drink’s success in the area? That story about Wade Morrison’s youthful heartbreak at the hands of Dr. Pepper’s daughter may or may not have been true, but the local romance resonated with Roanoke’s soda drinkers and appeared prominently in area promotions.

10. A SPECIAL VARIANT DISAPPEARED IN 2012.

For 121 years, a bottling plant in Dublin, Texas made and bottled Dr Pepper. By 2012, the Dublin Bottling Works was the country’s tiniest bottler and also the most unusual. Its “Dublin Dr Pepper” was still being made with cane sugar years after the rest of the country had switched to high fructose corn syrup. It was also sold in special retro bottles. After a yearlong legal dispute over distribution territories and labeling, in 2012 the Dr Pepper Snapple Group bought the franchise rights to the area and discontinued Dublin Dr Pepper. However, the news wasn’t all bad for fans of the product—Dr Pepper Snapple Group agreed to keep making real-sugar Dr Pepper for this region of Texas. 

11. THERE'S A DR PEPPER MUSEUM.

Ann W, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

If you need to inject some Dr Pepper into your next road trip, Waco is home to a museum devoted to its native beverage, including its creation and iconic advertising campaigns like 1977’s “Be a Pepper.” 

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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