creator of the
first commercially produced root beer
Charles Elmer Hires was born on
a farm in Elsinboro, New Jersey, on August 19,
1851, the sixth of ten children born to John and
Mary (Williams) Hires. He received very
little formal education and held his first job
before he reached his teens.
Hires was only 12 years old when he went to
work at a local pharmacy. Intrigued by the
profession, he moved to Philadelphia four years
later to take a similar job. By 1867, Hires was
working at a wholesale drug house while attending
night classes at the Philadelphia College of
Pharmacy and the Jefferson Medical College. He
then moved to Bridgeton, Pennsylvania, where he
helped operate a local pharmacy in partnership
with two other men. The venture was short-lived,
however, and Hires soon moved back to
Philadelphia. In December 1869, he borrowed some
money and opened his own pharmacy.
Soon after opening his pharmacy, Hires
happened across some workmen digging the
foundation for a building. The workmen had come
across a type of clay known as Fuller's earth
that was popularly used for removing grease spots
from wool clothing. Recognizing the financial
potential of the find, Hires arranged to have a
large amount of the soil brought to his house and
dumped in his cellar, where he and a helper
shaped it into cakes and packaged it as
"Hires Special Cleaner." Sales of his
product to local wholesale drug houses ultimately
netted him $6,000, which he used to pay off all
of his debts.
In 1875 Hires married Clara Kate Smith, with
whom he would have five children -- Charles Jr.,
Harrison, John Edgar, Linda, and Clara.
Hires and his new wife were
honeymooning at a New Jersey boarding farm when
they tasted the landlady's special pie mixture
made of sassafras bark, wintergreen,
sarsaparilla root, hops, juniper berries,
pipsissewa, and other herbs. Hires liked the
mixture so much that he got the recipe from the
landlady and, after returning home, began
experimenting with it. He finally ended up with a
powder that produced a sweet drink when mixed
with water, sugar, and yeast. He then began
selling the powder as "Hires Herb Tea,"
in both his own pharmacy and to other
pharmacists. Although it sold fairly well, it was
the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition that
made it a sensation.
According to company tradition, Hires changed
the name of his drink mix after Dr. Russel H.
Conwell, a minister, author, and founder of
Temple University, said that Pennsylvania coal
miners would never drink herb tea but they would
drink something with "beer" in its
name. On the basis of this advice, Hires Herb Tea
became Hires Root Beer before being introduced at
the Centennial Exhibition. The success of Hires
Root Beer at the Exhibition prompted Hires to
begin selling it outside the area through
pharmacy soda fountains and as a mix to be brewed
at home. Before long people across the country
were buying the 25-cent Hires Root Beer Kit,
which contained enough concentrate to make 5
gallons of root beer. Despite the success of the
home kits, Hires decided in 1884 that he could
sell more root beer if people didn't have to brew
it, so he developed a liquid concentrate form.
The Charles E Hires Company was established in
1890, and Hires Root Beer in convenient pre-mixed
bottles was introduced in 1893.
To build awareness, Hires became the first
U.S. businessman to aggressively advertise his
product, and he was the first person to purchase
a color advertisement on the back page of the Ladies'
Saturday Evening Post
Clara Hires died in 1910. In
1911 Charles married Emma Waln, who survived him.
Charles Hires remained active in the business
until his son Charles Jr. took the reins in 1925.
He died of a stroke at his home in
Haverford, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1937, and is
buried in Westminster Cemetery near
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