7 Up has won generations of fans over with its crisp taste and bubbly body, but even frequent drinkers may not know about the early history of “the Uncola” as a brown, pharmaceutical-laced hangover cure.
1. Orange Crush’s Market Dominance Made It Possible.
When Charles Leiper Grigg opened his own beverage company in St. Louis in 1920, he wasn’t planning on creating a lemon-lime soda. He had his eye on a different citrus sensation: An orange drink called Howdy that was going to make his Howdy Corporation a fortune. Grigg’s plan was solid, and Howdy found its drinking public. However, within a few years, Grigg was in trouble. As Tristan Donovan writes in Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World, Chicago-based Orange Crush began muscling Howdy out of the market, largely because doctors started recommending orange juice as a source of vitamin C. Since Orange Crush’s recipe included real orange juice, it seemed like just the ticket for warding off colds. If Grigg and Howdy wanted to stay in business, they would need a new offering.
2. The Recipe Took Some Tinkering.
In 1927, Grigg realized Orange Crush was going to keep, well, crushing Howdy, so he started work on a lemon-lime soda to flesh out his product line. Two years of experimenting and 11 formulations later, Grigg finally had the fizzy, crisp soda that he felt was ready to take on the world. The Howdy Corporation started shipping the new drink in October 1929.
3. The Original Name Wasn’t Quite So Catchy.
“Howdy” is a solid name for a soda. It’s memorable. It’s straightforward. It sounds fun. It also wasn’t selling, which may have been what inspired Grigg to saddle his new offering with the clunky moniker “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” Grigg’s elixir strapped on his label and waded into a crowded market – there were over 600 lemon-lime soft drinks on the shelves at the time - at a premium price point just weeks before the stock market crash of 1929.
4. Grigg’s Drink Had a Secret Weapon.
What “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda” lacked in catchiness, it made up for with pharmacological transparency. That “lithiated” wasn’t just on the label for show—the soda actual contained lithium citrate. While it’s now used as a treatment for bipolar disorder, in that era lithium was utilized for a variety of mood-elevating and health-improving properties. This potential for soothing effects played a part in the soda’s early marketing, but lithium was eventually pulled from the recipe when the government banned its use in the late 1940s.
5. The Original Recipe Wasn’t Clear.
Even the most devoted 7 Up drinker might not have recognized Grigg’s early formulation. On top of the awkward name and psychotropic medications, Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda was caramel-colored. Just as the lithium fell out of the recipe, eventually the caramel coloring went by the wayside. Grigg also quickly came to his senses about the name and started calling the drink 7 Up relatively soon after it launched. By 1936 the new drink had become so popular that the Howdy Corporation changed its name to the Seven-Up Company.
6. No One Knows Where the 7 Up Name Came From.
No one can say for sure where Grigg found the new name, but that hasn’t slowed down the speculation. In Fizz, Donovan rattles off some of the theories: That Grigg saw a cattle brand that inspired the name, that he borrowed it from slang he heard in a card or dice game, or that the earliest recipe contained seven ingredients. In The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, Becky Mercuri adds the theory that the name may have been an attempt to get a boost from a popular St. Louis soda called Bubble Up. Others speculate that the drink was sold in seven-ounce bottles and that “bottoms up” was a fashionable phrase at the time. How deep is this mystery? Not even Snopes knows the real origins of the name.
7. Prohibition Really Helped 7 Up Find Its Footing.
As Grigg was breaking into that crowded lemon-lime soda space, he found a solid market for his new elixir in speakeasies. Prohibition and the rough flavors that often came with bootleg liquor heightened American drinkers’ appreciation for a good mixed drink, and 7 Up was more than up to the task. Even better for 7 Up, once the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, Grigg could aggressively market the soda as the perfect mixer.
8. 7 Up Advertising Also Touted It as a Hangover Cure.
Drinkers may have loved how 7 Up could “tame liquor,” but the company did what it could to ensure that 7 Up was in high demand after a night of drinking, too. Early advertising boasted of the drink’s abilities to combat “morning after toxicity,” while other ads promised the soda “Dispels hangovers...takes the ‘ouch of grouch’” and declared it was suitable “For Hospital or home use.”
9. The Spot Mascot Built Quite a Following.
The Spot advertising character sprang onto the scene in 1987. The anthropomorphic take on the red spot in the 7 Up logo was also known as Cool Spot – a redundant name since his sunglasses should have been a dead giveaway that he was extremely cool - and quickly found a Noid-like place in soda drinkers’ hearts. On top of prominently appearing in 7 Up’s marketing through the late 1980s and 1990s, Spot managed to appear in a series of video games, from 1990’s Spot to 1993’s Cool Spotto 1995’s Spot Goes to Hollywood.
10. 7 Up Nearly Had Its Own Ford Mustang Model.
In 1989, 7 Up enlisted Ford’s help in creating a unique marketing promotion. As Mustang 360 tells it, Ford was going to make a small fleet of special 7 Up-themed 1990 Mustang convertibles with emerald green bodies and white tops. During the 1990 NCAA basketball tournament, fans would compete for a chance to take a half-court shot during March Madness games. Anyone who sank their shot would get a 7 Up Mustang. When 7 Up scrapped the plan for the promotion in late 1989, Ford went ahead and sold the cars through traditional channels. The 4,103 cars produced for the promotion are now known as “7 Up Mustangs” and are a quirky part of the celebrated car’s history.
11. It’s as useful in the kitchen as it is at the bar.
It may not sound like a classic ingredient, but clever cooks have found all sorts of uses for 7 Up. With a bit of digging, you can find recipes for 7 Up biscuits, 7 Up pound cake, 7 Up Jello salad, and 7 Up shrimp. They may not be as miraculous as a hangover cure or a mood-improving soda, but they look pretty tasty.