Most people may be surprised to find out that many of their beloved soft drinks were originally meant to be used as pharmaceuticals or medicinal tonics. Coca Cola started life as a nerve tonic, and was invented by a doctor. Pepsi was created and first marketed as an energy drink and digestive aid. And Dr Pepper was originally marketed as a brain tonic. One of the most interesting of these pharmaceutical sodas, however, was the drink we know as 7 Up.
7 Up was invented over 80 years ago by a man named Charles Leiper Grigg. He had been working as a salesman for another soft drink company when he started trying to invent his own soda. His first creation, called “Howdy”, was an orange flavored soda. Finding the market for orange sodas dominated by Orange Crush, he decided to focus on making a lemon-lime flavored drink.
At the time, medicated soft drinks were also in fashion, as the popularity of drinks like Dr Pepper and Pepsi proves. Lithium was also being touted as having curative properties, and the rich and famous flocked to natural springs that contained lithium-rich water. These two facts gave Grigg the idea for a soda that would soon become a household name.
Grigg initially released his lemon-lime flavored soda under the name “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” Bib-Label referred to the type of paper label that was on the drink’s bottles. The Lemon Lime Soda obviously referred to the flavor and type of drink. And the Lithiated part refers to the lithium citrate that Grigg included in order to market the drink as a health tonic.
Unfortunately, the drink was released just two weeks before the stock market crash that started the Great Depression, in October 1929. On top of that, Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda was one of the more expensive soft drinks on the market at the time. To make the drink easier to recognize, and hopefully help increase sales, Grigg changed the name of the drink the 7 Up.
This name possibly reflected the seven main ingredients that were in the drink. Some claim, though, that the “7” refers to lithium’s atomic number. Whatever the case, Grigg marketed the soda as a drink that could affect the mood of the drinker. And it’s true that lithium is regularly used as a medication for people suffering from severe depression. It’s doubtful that 7 Up ever contained enough lithium to be used as a treatment for any mental illness, however. Grigg’s marketing ploy must have worked, though, because by the mid-1940s, 7 Up was the 3rd best-selling soda in the world.
Nowadays, if you’re feeling a little down, 7 Up is not likely to help you. The US government banned the use of lithium citrate in soft drinks in 1948, at which point 7 Up removed it from their formulation. But the loss of the mood-stabilizing ingredient hasn’t stopped it from being one of the most popular soft drinks on the market still today.