February 6, 2007


And the man behind the brands is...
Jacob Schweppe

All his life it seemed like Jacob Schweppe had people deciding his career path for him. Now, stranded in England as his homeland dissolved in revolution, Schweppe would make the call himself.

In 1752, at the age of 12, his parents considered him too delicate for work on the family farm in Witzenhausen, Germany and allowed a travelling tinker to care for him. Schweppe showed such a proclivity for mending pots with his skilled hands that the tinker returned him to his parents with advice to send him to a silversmith. The same thing happened. The silversmith convinced his parents to turn him over to a jeweler. So Jacob Schweppe went to Geneva and became a jeweler.

An amateur scientist, Schweppe devoured all the news he could find on the experiments of Joseph Priestly who was working with gas and water. Schweppe's own efforts with carbonated water were not satisfactory to him so he offered his artificial mineral waters to doctors to give to poor patients.

Finally he perfected his carbonation system with a compression pump and demand for his mineral water spread. Schweppe continued giving away his water to rich and poor. He was, after all, a researcher.

Many people insisted that he take money for his water so he started charging a nominal fee in 1780. So Schweppe quit the jewelry business and became the first manufacturer of artificial mineral waters. The soft drink industry was born.

After ten years the little business was firmly established when a friend and sales employee wanted to also make mineral water and sell it along with Schweppe's. He had only seen the machine in operation so he described the apparatus for well-known engineer Nicolas Paul to build him one. Paul did so but built a better machine for himself to compete with Schweppe. Rather than engage the fight Schweppe became partners in 1790 in the firm of Schweppe, Paul & Gosse.

The range of mineral waters expanded and the partners decided to start a factory in London. His partners, both younger than himself, convinced the 52-year old Schweppe to leave his family and launch the product in London.

Schweppe met little success. He was forced by economics to set up in a particularly nasty quarter of London. In 1792 there were many inferior mineral waters on the market and Schweppes was no novelty. He was selling virtually nothing, not even to doctors who usually preferred his product.

Schweppe wanted to come home. Besides the desultory business climate revolutionary fervor was sweeping through Europe. His partners persuaded Schweppe to stay in England and at considerable personal expense he sent for his daughter Collette, the only survivor among his nine children.

Suddenly a letter arrived from the partners calling him back. The partners were bickering, sales were dropping. Schweppe had had enough. He dissolved the partnership, surrendering the business he had built for ten years in Geneva. Now, in 1793 Schweppe was free to run his artificial mineral water business as he wished.

He introduced an egg-shaped bottle to hold his aerated waters that remained in use for over 100 years. Its shape insured the bottle would be kept on its side so the cork would stay saturated, sealing in the precious gas. Each cork was tarred and held in place with a string.

Schweppe gained the endorsement of Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles. He began referring to his product as "soda water" and recommended it for complaints of kidneys, bladders and indigestion. Schweppe's Seltzer was touted for its pleasant taste and as a mixer with liquor. It also helped fever and hangovers.

By 1798 Schweppe was clearing the handsome sum of 1200 pounds a year. His English fame had eclipsed his Geneva business, which collapsed among the bickering remaining partners shortly after the dissolution. He sold 3/4 of his company to three men from the island of Jersey for $2250 pounds, retaining 1/8 for himself and 1/8 for his daughter.

Schweppe retired the next year in 1799. Napoleon had annexed Geneva making Schweppe a French citizen. He travelled, dabbled in agriculture and tended bees until his death in 1821 at the age of 81. His daughter sold the last of the family's share of Schweppes in 1824.

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