The Discovery & Evolution of Sparkling Water: A Drinking Catalyst
Before the discovery of sparkling water, people enjoyed consuming their alcoholic straight without mixers. But all this changed when they began adding carbonated water to their spirits, which aided in diluting alcohol and enabling easier absorption.
It all started in 1767, when Joseph Priestley suspended a bowl of water over a beer vat in a brewery in Leeds, England, and accidentally discovered a method of infusing water with carbon dioxide. Not only did the sparkling water invention change the way people drink, but it also opened a whole new spectrum of beverages to the masses.
Natural spring water is known as the very first carbonated water. Since ancient times, people have revered it for its healing properties and health benefits. Before the invention of Aspirin, people treated common digestive problems by drinking a glass or two of volcanic spring water. Enriched with minerals, it is good for metabolism and alleviates indigestion.
Inventors and chemists were curious about this natural carbonation process, and some of them tried to emulate it. History shows that Christopher Merret, an English scientist, created the very first sparkling wine in 1662. His discovery inspired the inventor of carbonated water to study and investigate the same process in still water, leading to sparkling water invention.
The English chemist Joseph Priestley, who is more notable for isolating oxygen in its gaseous state, made the first successful attempt to carbonate water artificially in 1767. He hung a water-filled vessel over a fermentation vat and dripped vitriol (sulfuric acid) onto powdered chalk (calcium carbonate) over the top of the vat to induce chemical carbonation.
The produced carbon dioxide gas was then infused into the water, creating effervescence. And the sparkling water was born.
After further experimentations, he finalized his study and designed his carbonating apparatus. In 1772, he demonstrated this device to the College of Physicians in London, suggesting that it would be much easier to impregnate water with fixed air by using a pump.
Priestley also published a paper entitled “Impregnating Water with Fixed Air,” which described his discovery. Although the public reception was poor and Priestley didn’t try to market it commercially, the publication attracted other inventors who proposed modifications and advancements to his original design.
After Priestley’s publication of his technique on carbonating flat water, Thomas Henry, an apothecary in Manchester, England, took an interest in his works. And in the late 1770s, using an apparatus based on Priestley’s design, he instigated the first production of carbonated water contained in 12-gallon barrels.
Another notable event in the history of carbonated water happened in 1783 when Priestley’s paper captivated a young German watchmaker in Geneva, Switzerland, and led him to leave his current work behind to build the famous Schweppes Company. His name is Johann Jacob Schweppe, and he was responsible for the mass production of sparkling water.
After conducting numerous experiments, Schweppe was able to simplify Priestley’s carbonation process by using two common compounds—sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid. He named this process the Geneva System and used it to manufacture carbonated water in large amounts. It was a huge success and brought sparkling water to the masses.
In 1792, after less than a decade of his initial success in Switzerland, Schweppe moved to London to set up a business that would cater to a much broader market.
Schweppes & Co. utilized a patented bottle invented by William Hamilton as the perfect vessel for their carbonated water. With a unique torpedo shape and round base, the Hamilton bottle required storing on its side, ensuring that the cork stopper was wet and swollen for a leak-free seal.
Initially constructed of earthenware, it was replaced by glass when Schweppe noticed that gas was slowly escaping through its porous material. Due to its popularity, many Hamilton bottle replications existed, but only the original ones bore the name Schweppes & Co.
In 1872, Hiran Codd from Camberwell, London, introduced the Codd neck bottle or globe stopper bottle. Specially designed for containing carbonated liquids, it featured a pinched neck with a marble inside. Once the bottle was full of liquid, the gas build-up would push the marble against a rubber seal, creating an impenetrable seal.
There were additional pinched stoppers on one side of the neck where the marble could rest, keeping it in place and preventing it from getting in the way when pouring. A wallop, a small wooden stake, was used to clear the marble off the neck to open the bottle.
At first, bottled waters became famous for their medicinal benefits. As time passed, manufacturers started adding mineral salts, sweeteners, and flavorings to relieve the palate. The sparkling water invention paved the way for the emergence of other drinks such as ginger ale, tonic water, and cola.
During the Prohibition of 1920 in the United States, local pharmacies with soda fountains became an integral part of the American culture. A soda fountain is a carbonated water dispenser that would mix syrups into the water to create sugary beverages. Pharmacies became the go-to place for social drinking at that time.
With consumers being more health-conscious nowadays, carbonated water starts gaining popularity again. Recent surveys show that its sales have boomed in the last decade while soft drink sales continue to plummet, indicating that more and more people prefer carbonated water over sodas.
The sparkling water invention has impacted the beverage industry in so many ways. For more than 200 years now, it has changed the scenery of drinking, yet it remains the same. Offering the benefits of still water while providing the bubbly twist of soda enables you to enjoy a drink while keeping yourself hydrated and healthy.
If you have any questions regarding sparkling water, feel free to leave a comment down below.