WACO, Texas — The Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in downtown Waco is dedicated to telling not just the story of Dr Pepper, but the story of the entire soft drink industry.
The origins of the nation’s most popular soft drinks often followed a similar course in their early days: A pharmacist looking to create a medicinal concoction developed a tasty beverage. And Dr Pepper is no exception.
In the case of Dr Pepper, it was Charles Alderton who developed a unique combination of flavors in 1885 in Dr. Wade Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store. The soft drink — which, according to legend, Morrison named after the father of a girl he once loved — quickly became known as a “Waco.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re here to promote the soft drink industry. It’s more preservation,” said Jack McKinney, executive director of the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute. “We have one of the biggest collections, if not the broadest collection, of soft drinks in the world here.”
The museum is located in the former Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company building. Completed in 1906, the structure was the first building built specifically to bottle Dr Pepper and remained in use until the 1960s when operations moved to a facility with more room for canning.
The building remained vacant for roughly two decades until 1985 — the centennial of Dr Pepper — when work started to convert the building into a museum. The museum officially opened to the public on May 11, 1991.
“The No. 1 artifact is that building,” McKinney said. “It was the very early plant built specifically for bottling and there’s some architectural things inside the building that make it that way. They had a water still on the third floor and the gravity flowed down on the second floor, they had a laboratory area with a nice wood floor that they mixed everything.”
A portion of the museum is dedicated to the W.W. “Foots” Clements Free Enterprise Institute, which offers classes that teach kids how to develop a new soft drink flavor and how to market their creation. The museum is named for a former CEO of Dr Pepper who started out driving a truck in Alabama for the company before rising through the ranks to lead the organization.
The museum’s three floors feature a re-creation of Morrison’s drug store, a working old-fashioned soda fountain and a gift store with a plethora of Dr Pepper memorabilia. Peppered throughout the museum are artifacts that help tell the story — from old soda bottles to vending machines to commercials.
“The most popular thing is the commercials,” McKinney said. “That’s always a big draw.”
In 2001, the museum acquired the nearby Kellum-Rotan building, and the museum is planning to expand its exhibits to include a working bottling line. When the museum first opened, it had roughly 1,600 artifacts; today, the museum is home to more than 100,000 artifacts, including vending machines from different eras.
“We have probably 40 to 50 different vending machines from over the years,” McKinney said. “We’re kind of the shelter for abandoned or orphaned vending machines. … We have one from just about every era that kids grew up with.”
Added McKinney: “When you were out of school or walked home or went to the store … and put your money in (a vending machine), there’s a certain nostalgia that goes with that.”