Last Sunday marked the 88th anniversary of “Ale-8-One,” Kentucky’s crisp, ginger/citrus-flavored, caffeine-spiked, soft drink. Though bottled in Winchester, far from our side of the state, the drink belongs to all Kentuckians as it is the only soft drink invented in Kentucky that’s still in existence! So raise a glass, celebrate their belated birthday, and enjoy “A Late One” for “Bracing Pep.”
But, of course, that got us in the Local and Family History Department thinking…has Paducah ever had its own soft drink?
The answer is yes.
Well, briefly anyhow.
With the rise in popularity of soda fountains and the near simultaneous inventions of the cork bottle cap and automatic glass-blowing machines, the soft drink bottling industry took off in the late 19th/early 20th century. Paducah was no exception to this trend. Luther F. Carson, whose legacy includes Paducah’s Performing Arts Center, was the first to bottle Coca-Cola in 1903. Also in this era, the Paducah Bottling Company filled local glasses with such products as Kola Mint, Lemon, and Gay-ola Cola, an early rival of Coke. Former Paducah mayor George Jacobs (and creator of the Duke of Paducah award) owned a bottling company which, into the 1950’s, distributed numerous flavors including Suncrest Orange, Mr. Cola, Lucky Cola, Lemonette, Grapette, and Frostie Root Beer.
However, none of these soft drinks appear to have been actually invented or created in Paducah. The syrups were shipped to Paducah from elsewhere, and once combined with carbonated water, they were bottled and distributed to local and regional merchants. We in the Local and Family History Department haven’t yet found proof that Paducah had its very own soft drink (see note below*).
But we did have slim glimmer of hope that Paducah had a few native soft drinks because for a few years in the early 1900’s some local beverages were labeled as such. H. Friedman, also known as T.H. Reid, who did business as A.M. Laevison & Co., created, marketed, bottled, and distributed three separate drinks—Dr. Fizz, Cream Ale, and Temperine. To give you a sense of what sort of beverages these were, the full label for Dr. Fizz read “The Great Temperance Beer, Laevison’s Original Doctor Fizz Special Brew: Guaranteed by A.M. Laevison & Co., Paducah, KY., under the Food and Drugs Act, June 30, 1906.”
That’s right….Dr. Fizz, Temperine, and Cream Ale were all near beers, and because they claimed to contain less than one half of one percent alcohol, they could be called soft drinks, they could be marketed as soft drinks, they required no license to sell, and they could legally be sold on Sundays. In fact, the city business license to produce soft drinks in 1908 only cost Mr. Reid/Friedman/Laevison $25, whereas a license to produce alcohol would have cost him $250 (a difference of $600 and $6000 in today’s money).
Yet, there was a problem with Laevision’s purported soft drinks. They turned out not to be soft at all.
Local assertions were made against the drinks claiming they were intoxicating. Despite a non-guilty verdict at a couple local trials and an intense ad campaign in the Paducah Sun in which Mr. Reid/Friedman/Laevison professed his innocence and the truthfulness and quality of his product, the case of his “soft drinks” ultimately went before the US Department of Agriculture in 1911. His three beverages were tested by the Bureau of Chemistry and each was found to contain between 4% and 4.55% alcohol, the equivalent of a regular beer. Mr. Reid/Friedman/Laevison was found guilty of violating proponents of section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. He was fined $50 and the costs of prosecution, the case was recorded by the United States Department of Agriculture as Judgment No. 834 under the Food and Drugs Act, and his products were shamed in a book put out by the American Medical Association called “Nostrums and Quackery” in which Laevison’s beverages appear in a chapter called “Mislabeled Drugs and Food.”
Thus, Paducah’s only soft drinks were found to be hardened criminals.
Dr. Fizz fizzled out.
*Note: Just because we in the LAFH Department haven’t yet proved the existence of a local soft drink doesn’t mean one didn’t exist. In fact, we’re a little suspicious that a lemony/grapefruity drink called “Jurk,” distributed by George Jacobs in the mid-twentieth century, might have been a regional creation. We just can’t prove yet, so contact us if you know about Jurk (Be Perk, Drink Jurk!) or any other regional sodas.
Meanwhile, to learn more about nostrums and quackery, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.