The Pepsi – UNC Connection

Fans of the sugary beverage known as Pepsi-Cola should note it was just 120 years ago this month that the beverage was “Born in the Carolinas,” as its logo claims. In August 1898, pharmacist Caleb Bradham renamed his healthy and refreshing ‘Brads Drink’ to ‘Pepsi-Cola’ and international enterprise began.

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Postcard of ‘The Home of Pepsi-Cola at New Bern N.C. – built by us for our own use’, 1920s. Durwood Barbour Collection of NC Postcards (PO77)

Bradham, from Chinquapin, NC, attended UNC in 1886, leaving for medical school in 1889. He became a pharmacist in the growing coastal town of New Bern, opening Bradham’s Pharmacy with an in-store soda fountain in 1892. Bradham enjoyed making delicious drinks as well as making medicines, and his pharmacy quickly became a staple of downtown. Bradham focused on making a safe drink from natural ingredients (his original recipe didn’t even have caffeine) believed to help with digestion. He was inspired by the Greek word ‘pepsis’ meaning ‘digestion’ and changed the name to Pepsi-Cola in August 1898.

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Carolina-focused advertising pin-back button, 2000s.
NCC Lew Powell Collection, (CK.1287.1745)

His Pepsi-Cola Company was worth more than $1 million by 1915, but tragedy was just around the corner. By the 1920s, World War I was over, but supplies, like sugar, were expensive. In 1923 Pepsi-Cola Company declared bankruptcy. Purchased by a Wall Street Banker forjust $30,000, Pepsi would never again be under North Carolina ownership. Although financially crippled, Bradham’s connection to UNC continued. He sponsored the Bradham Prize for scholarship at the School of Pharmacy until 1930.

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Pin-back advertising ‘Pepsi Fest East’ for Pepsi memorabilia collectors, 1996.
NCC Lew Powell Collection, (CK.1287.2154)

Pepsi-Cola moved to Richmond, VA after Bradham’s ownership, but the company continues to highlight its North Carolina roots. “Born in the Carolinas” is one of the official trademarks of Pepsi-Cola in its regional marketing strategy. Pepsi has also provided sponsorship to NASCAR and to North Carolina driver Richard Petty. Greenville’s PirateFest is co-sponsored by Pepsi, and Pepsi Fest collector events are held in North Carolina. The nation’s largest privately-held manufacturer, seller and distributor of Pepsi is claimed by Raleigh’s Pepsi Bottling Ventures. New Bern hosts the Birthplace of Pepsi, a private museum that celebrates the site of Pepsi’s beginning.

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Pin-back featuring two North Carolina-born companies. Food Lion was founded in Salisbury, NC in 1957.
NCC Lew Powell Collection, (CK.1287.2985)

The NC Collection Gallery in Wilson Library holds a variety of Pepsi-related items and artifacts. A small exhibit noting the 120th anniversary of Pepsi-Cola features some of these artifacts. The cabinet to the left at the entrance of the Gallery will now be used for small changing exhibits highlighting various events in North Carolina History.

  • – Bob Schreiner, NCC Gallery

3 thoughts on “The Pepsi – UNC Connection”

  1. Not finding it online, likely due to my ineptitude, but the collection has an interesting panoramic (cirkut) photo of a Pepsi bottlers convention in New Bern, early 1900s, with the plant in the background. Don’t know if Caleb was present, but posed in the center with a football (going from memory here) is a young boy who may have been Caleb’s son George…..

  2. The North Carolina Collection’s crack photoarchivist, Stephen Fletcher, found the photo to which Lew refers. You can view it here:
    https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/dig_nccpa/id/25723

    And, there in the the center, as Lew recalls, is a young boy. An adult is holding the ball. Based on the seemingly disapproving looks of a few in the front row, I wonder if the adult didn’t grab the ball from the boy! It sure does make a good story.

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