If you are old enough to remember “soda fountains”, consider yourself lucky. The great age of soda fountains is long gone, but what a fun time it was for those of us that had the opportunity to experience this slice of Americana.
Three of Tampa’s popular soda fountains located downtown were Kress, J. J. Newberry and Woolworth’s. The three stores were all next to one another on Franklin Street. For 5 or 10 cents you could have a milk shake or malt with at least three scoops of ice cream. You could also ask the soda jerk to mix you a cherry or vanilla coke.
It was always fascinating to watch the soda jerk work. Everything was made with the utmost care and expertise. It was a challenge to concoct a delicious work of art complete with whipped cream and a cherry on top!
Samuel Fahnestock was the father of the soda fountain. He was awarded a patent for his invention in 1819, but the soda fountain increased in popularity during the drug revolution of the 1850s. During this time, pharmacists operated their own drugstores and soda fountains. People would head to the local drugstore and purchase a fountain drink that was used to cure some physical ailment.
The druggist sold fountain drinks that were made of extracts of various drugs that were flavored and effervesced to make them palatable. At times, drugs like cocaine and caffeine were used. The combination of the two was used effectively to cure headaches. However, rebound headaches were common so usually the sufferer would head back for another shot of the mixture.
Doctors and druggists believed that stimulants were good for you because people needed that extra “pep”. They believed these drugs were completely safe and effective. Many druggists even made and marketed their own secret formulations. Once the evils of these drugs were investigated, laws were enacted prohibiting the use of cocaine and caffeine.
By the early 1920’s, just about every drugstore had a soda fountain. It is felt the reason for the explosion of soda fountains during this time was mostly due to prohibition that began in 1919. The soda fountain filled the social void caused by the closing of bars.
However, the popularity of soda fountains declined with the introduction of fast foods, commercial ice cream, bottled soft drinks and restaurants by the 1950s.