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The Civil War lasted four years and Vernors is traditionally aged four years in an oak barrel. Coincidence? No, sir!

Vernors is America's oldest domestic soda. Vernors was first formulated by Detroit's James Vernor. In 1858 he started working at a drug store. He noticed they were selling a lot of ginger ale imported from Ireland. He thought he could cook up his own domestic variety (as a nod to its inspiration, the Vernors logo for a long time featured a smiling Irishman). He made a batch in an oak barrel. However, the civil war broke out and James quickly enlisted on the Union side. He returned home after four years and found the ginger ale still in the oak barrel. He tasted it and darn well liked what he tasted. Vernor returned to working at the drug store and eventually became a pharmacist and owner of his own drug store on Woodward Ave. There he would sell his Vernors ginger ale. In 1896 he was making so much money selling just his soda that he closed his drug store and opened a manufacturing/bottling plant just down the street on Woodward. He enlisted his 19-year-old son James Vernor II as his first employee.

The plant's location proved to be as fortuitous as America engaging in four years of carnage. It was close to ferry docks that took Detroiters seeking a respite from the city's growing urban hell to the relaxing environs of Belle Isle on the Rio Detroit. Ferry passengers loading and unloading found their way to the Vernors plant for a refreshing sip.

James Vernor Sr kept a close eye on merchants selling his ginger ale. He frequently sent them directives on how Vernors should be stored, dispensed, and sold. When the beverage became available in a new city, sales were frequently driven by word of mouth about how James Vernor Sr's high standards and hands-on approach.

The company nearly did not survive the prohibition era. Vernors was a golden ginger ale, with a deep taste. However, when used as a mix by Speakeasies it over powered the taste of their illegal hooch. The preferred mix was a pale ginger ale that lacked the sweetness and bite of golden ginger ale.

Much of Vernors' competition went out of business and after prohibition ended, Vernors found itself much more alone on the ginger ale playing field.

In 1929 James Vernor Sr died and James Vernor Jr ran the company until 1952. Upon retirement he passed the company on to his nephew J. Vernor Davis. J. Vernor Davis further expanded. In 1963 sales were over $9 million a year. Its big sales and private ownership made the company an attractive take over target.

In 1966 a group of investors purchased the company, but they proved to be incompetent managers and sold Vernors to American Consumer Products in 1971. ACP sold the brand to United Brands in 1979. In 1985, United Brands closed Vernors historic bottling plant. Two years later the brand was sold to A&W. A&W was bought in 1993 by Cadbury. Cadbury eventually merged with 7UP in 1996. Production shifted to Dallas.





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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer

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