Categories: Business and Industry, Expansion and Reform, Food and Drink, Health and Medicine, Invention and Technology, Science, Who Knew?

Benjamin Silliman and Soda Water – Who Knew?

that Yale’s first professor of chemistry, Benjamin Silliman, was also the first American to produce soda water in bulk.

An illustration of Nooth's apparatus from Mineral and Aerated Waters by C. Ainsworth Mitchell, 1913

An illustration of Nooth’s apparatus from Mineral and Aerated Waters by C. Ainsworth Mitchell, 1913

The English chemist Joseph Priestly was the first to produce artificially carbonated water in 1772. Building on Priestly’s work, Silliman proposed that the medicinal effects of natural mineral waters could be mass produced and distributed on a commercial basis. In 1806 Silliman purchased a Nooth apparatus to infuse carbon dioxide in water. To test his hypothesis Silliman analyzed the composition of spring water and combined ingredients in the proper proportions to produce an artificial version. Silliman’s ads proclaimed it was even possible to improve water by removing what was harmful and enhancing what was good.

A May 4, 1808, advertisement in the Connecticut Journal described the two types of artificial water Silliman manufactured for sale – Soda Water and Ballston Water. The Soda Water’s suggested application included “complaints of the stomach, to correct acidity and indigestion, and as a palliative…” as well to simply enjoy as an “article of luxury.” The Ballston Water, on the other hand, was “too well known to need any statement of its properties.” In the early 1800s the mineral water spring at Ballston Spa in Saratoga County, New York, was famous for its healing powers.

Unable to find glass bottles or containers capable of standing up to the pressure or containing the gas for any length of time, Silliman soon began distributing his water in soda fountains across the state. A July 1, 1811, ad in the Connecticut Mirror described the artificial Ballston Water as being “so nearly like the celebrated springs of that name, that they answer the same valuable purposes.” Though the enterprise was never a commercial success for Silliman, he is credited with popularizing carbonated water in America.

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Documents

“Guide to the Silliman Family Papers, 1717-1977.” Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library, 2014. Link.

Books

Fisher, George Park. Life of Benjamin Silliman. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner and Company, 1866. Link.

Articles

“Advertisement.” Connecticut Mirror. July 1, 1811.
“Advertisement.” Connecticut Journal. May 4, 1808.
DiBacco, Thomas. “Soda’s Patron Saint.” Hartford Courant. September 23, 1986.
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