August 19, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Charles Hires

If you like root beer, today's a day to celebrate!

On this day in 1851, Charles Hires was born in New Jersey. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he was 16 and worked in a drugstore until he save up enough money – $400! – to start a drug store of his own. He started selling an herbal tea made from roots and bark (primarily from sassafras plants and trees); when people purchased the tea mixture, they had to add their own water, sugar, and yeast.

The drink started to become popular, and Hires thought it would be even more popular if he called it root beer instead of root tea. He made the beverage similar to beer by bottling and carbonating it, and by serving it cold. At the time that Hires was introducing his drink to the American public, there was a temperance (anti-alcohol) movement, and root beer was supposed to be a healthy alternative to regular beer or other alcoholic drinks.

By the way, Hires did not invent root tea. He got a recipe from a restaurant owner, and her recipe was based on folk recipes. He fiddled with the recipe so he could manufacture the beverage for widespread sales.

And thus Hires made root beer famous, and root beer made Hires rich!

Enjoy a giant root beer float today.

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