Today we call them soft drinks. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were known as aerated waters. Fizzy water had long been available from certain European mineral springs and was thought to have health-giving properties. In 1772, an Englishman, Joseph Priestly, developed an apparatus that added carbon dioxide to water. His interest was scientific rather than commercial and, around 1783, it was Swiss watchmaker Jacob Schweppe who began the first large-scale production of artificial mineral water. Schweppe moved his business from Geneva to London in 1792.
Newspaper advertisements show that aerated waters, especially soda water, were being imported to Australia by the 1830s. Because of their supposed health benefits, they were primarily sold by pharmacists. In 1837, Messrs MacLachlan and Rowe of Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town, were advertising soda water shipped from North Wales. By 1841, they were making their own and spruiking Rowe’s Aerated Soda Water and Lemonade Manufactory: “always on hand from the fountain or in bottle, a good supply of the most refreshing and health beverage”.
By the end of the decade, businesses across the country had acquired machines for producing sparkling soft drinks. In Adelaide, Messrs Winter & Co. of Morphett Street had much pleasure in informing the public that they had just imported a new and improved machine for the manufacture of aerated waters. They were particularly proud of their Sparkling Champagne Lemonade.
This delicious summer beverage is manufactured after the recipes of the most eminent physicians of London; and is adapted, from its medicinal qualities, as a safe, healthy, and refreshing drink, calculated to invigorate all persons subjected to the variableness of this climate.
The industry continued to expand in the 1850s, with steam-driven machinery and apparatus for bottling and corking. The Schweppes company established a manufacturing operation in Melbourne in 1855 and many country towns soon had their own aerated waters factory. The Mount Alexander Mail in Victoria’s goldfields area commented in 1859 that “the consumption of aerated waters is constantly enlarging and the manufacture is likely to take a conspicuous place among our local industrial pursuits”.
Early products included soda water, seltzer water, lemonade, sarsaparilla, ginger ale and ginger beer. Bottlers also began to commercialise natural mineral waters, with the first being the naturally effervescent Ballan Seltzer Water in 1867.
By the end of the 19th century, most towns of any size had a business producing aerated waters and cordials. Often, the same companies also brewed beer. In the mid-20th century, however, a series of takeovers and mergers saw most of them disappear and the soft drink business became dominated by large multinationals.