How Old-School Soda Fountains Switched Up Their Drinks In The Winter

With their gleaming chrome appliances and general aura of congeniality, soda fountains were iconic fixtures of 20th-century America. Reaching their peak around the 1920's, soda fountains served up a wide range of beverages, including sour phosphate sodas, milkshakes made with milk and ice, and ice cream floats. As you might imagine, these cold drinks were very popular during the summer months when people needed a break from the heat, but business died down once the weather cooled off. That's why some soda fountains brought back customers in the winter by serving hot drinks.

Soda jerks — the people who worked at soda fountains — poured out the usual winter beverages you would expect, like hot tea and coffee, but those weren't the only hot drinks you could find. An 1883 clipping from the Harrisburg Telegraph notes excitedly that "hot soda water will be on draught" at the local soda fountain for the winter. And a 1913 menu from Northwestern Druggist lists even more obscure and unusual drinks like hot lemonade, hot malted milk, and hot egg phosphate alongside traditional hot chocolate.

Hot drinks ran supreme during winter

In addition to the wide variety of "interesting" drink options, many soda fountains also dished out hot soups during the winter. Straining the limits of the term, fountains described these soupy offerings as "hot sodas." On that Northwestern Druggist menu, for example, there's an entire section of "Hot Clam Drinks" like clam broth, clam and ginger, and "malted clamette," which one has to assume was only drunk by those that bought into claims about purported health benefits. There is also a variety of beef and tomato soup options, as well as a mysterious menu item called "hot liquid lunch." They may not sound appetizing, but these soups made great quick lunches for people on the go.

As unusual as the idea of hot sodas is to us today, we must assume that the business model worked since soda fountains remained a staple of American culture until the 1970s. Despite the strange menu, soda fountains provided valuable social spaces for people, especially teenagers, for almost a century, regardless of the weather. So, the next time the weather turns cold, and you're looking for something to warm you up, try a hot egg snap instead of a latte for an instant blast from the past.