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.
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.
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.
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.
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